It's been over 48 hours since it happened and most 49ers fans are still debating this issue: who is at fault for the 49ers loss to the Cowboys last Sunday at Cowboys Stadium, ahem, Candlestick Park? At this point, I selfishly commend myself for mostly staying out of said discussions as I tried to come to grips with my own theory for the debate, and now that I seem to have settled on an answer I've come here to share it with you all.
* I blame the offensive line
: for multiple reasons --> for following up on their poor run blocking effort from last week vs the Seahawks. Matt Barrows reported yesterday that starting center Jonathan Goodwin stated the 49ers should be able to get four yards per carry no matter what the defensive front is. I agree. Frank Gore, however, is averaging 2.5 yards/carry. (Eric Branch gives us a more detailed, yet painful breakdown of Gore's carries this season). I know there are many of you out there bashing Gore as well, and maybe with good reason, but think about this: Vernon Davis is one of the best blocking tight ends in the game, we have a another tight end whose sole purpose is to block, and Moran Norris can still get it done as a run blocker as well, yet the 49ers have to bring in two extra linemen to run the ball on heavy formations, and they still can't consistently open holes to run through. Call me crazy, but that's a problem.
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--> and I'm not done blaming the offensive line, you know what else is crazy? Leaving DeMarcus Ware, the league's sack leader last season, absolutely unblocked at any point in the game, let alone a play-action call during what could have possibly been the last drive of the game as the 49ers tried to run out the clock. After not allowing any sacks last week vs the Seahawks, the 49ers gave up six yesterday, four in the second half, one in overtime. For the love of Kwame Harris, get your act together!
* I blame Tramaine Brock
: bless his soul I'm sure he didn't mean to fall down on the Cowboys last drive of the first half, as the home, ahem, visiting team desperately looked for a break in a game the 49ers were all but dominating. Nonetheless, his fall let Miles Austin wide open down the middle of the field for Tony Romo to find him for the Cowboys' first touchdown of the game. Momentum = Gone. Sure, Brock did come up with an interception later on in the game off a tipped pass by Aldon Smith (in coverage, may I add), and Alex Smith did hit Delanie Walker for a sweet-looking 29-yard touchdown pass in the very next play, but the impact of the Cowboys' first touchdown of the game was much greater than the 49ers retaking the lead. I'm sure you didn't mean to fall down Tramaine, but I still blame you.
* I blame Tarrell Brown
: for constantly getting abused up and down the field by Cowboys' wide receivers, whether their last names were Austin or not. Good grief, I used to think he would turn out to be an excellent contributor to this secondary, yet he contributes more to opposing teams' passing games than he does to this defense.
* I blame Alex Smith
: for that ill-advised throw to Alan Ball for an interception where he absolutely read him wrong. The 49ers were in position to retake a two-score lead if they could put a drive together early in the third quarter, instead Dallas tied the game at 14 five plays later.
* I blame Jim Harbaugh
: yes, for his decision to take the points: did he have David Akers on his fantasy team?. Look, I've been back on forth on this since it happened, and I understand hindsight is 20/20, but getting the ball at the the opponent's 22 yard line with a first down? He has to take that, he takes more time off the clock, he can even have Alex Smith take three consecutive knees if he is so scared of a turnover, then he can kick a shorter field goal with a 13-year kicker who has an 82% success rate on field goals. Less fantasy points, sure, but it probably gets this team a win: the Cowboys needed just about every second left on the clock to tie the game.
Look, if you haven't figured it out by now, I blame the whole team. There aren't many sports in the world that define team the way football does: each and everyone of the 49ers I'm "blaming" on here could have changed the outcome of this game if they had just avoided that one mistake, if they had just made that one play in favor of the team instead of against them. I can't really blame any one of them specifically, they played/coached their hearts out and almost came away with a victory that most people outside of San Francisco, and many in the city, didn't expect them to get; but that's football, it happens, you win some and you lose some. There's no way to solely place this loss on one specific individual, just like there's no way to credit one specific Cowboys player for the win they earned. The last time I can remember being able to blame a single player for the 49ers losing a game, it would be Nate Clementswhen the 49ers played at Atlanta on October 3rd, 2010.
So although this loss hurt, just move on to the next game - the season is young, and whether the 49ers can finally get back into the playoffs it's totally up to them, because if there's something we learned on Sunday is that this team CAN compete against playoff-caliber opponents this season, and that bodes well for this team so early in the season.
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Date: September 24, 2011 at 9:49 AM
Comment: I also blame the officials for the bogus penalty that gave Dallas a 1st down before their first TD. The announcers even went back and drew a line with their magic on screen marker, and asked the question "who's offsides?"
I was sitting in a sports bar in Dallas and the Cowboys fan next to me even said that it was a VERY LATE flag.
Still, what it really came down to is that when the 49ers needed their QB to make a play in the 4th Q, he couldn't do it.
Harbaugh's playing not to lose was killer too. I said at the time that if nothing else, the 49ers could burn another couple of minutes. A first down might have burned 3-4, and a TD wins the game.
Date: September 23, 2011 at 7:43 PM
Comment: Back way back when football was football I would never have taken the three pts off the board. But in this offensive minded league three points isnt anything. The team lost the game. Too many mistakes overall. Remember we played a good team and should of won. Seems like when we play good teams something seems to go wrong somewhere to prevent victory. Remeber all the hoopla about special teams. I tried to explain to people that we had a - running into the kicker penalty and a personal foul on another special team play. I tried to point out the good teams will take advantage of mistakes. Cowboys did. I caught a lot of heat for that observation.
Date: September 22, 2011 at 4:32 PM
Comment: You forgot the fan base that showed up wearing Blue. Otherwise you hit the nails right on the heads
By: Maui Dave
Date: September 22, 2011 at 1:37 PM
Comment: Who's to blame for not putting more heat on Romo when he re-entered the game with a broken rib and punctured lung? Should have been sending the house to hit him every play, rather than sit back in a zone and let him throw for 400 yards. Or how about our safeties? Williams, Whitner and Smith all sucked and gave up big plays. You are correct it was a team loss with about 6-8 guys playing to their potential and the coaches orchestrating this mess.
Date: September 22, 2011 at 4:50 AM
Comment: Harbaugh made the right call. You don't take poins off the board. He actually broke this rule last week and rlling the dice again would have been foolish but no one remembers it because we won the game. It's not uneasonable to expect your defense to preserve a two-score lead in the 4th quater against a QB with a punctured lung.
Date: September 21, 2011 at 2:06 PM
Comment: Have to agree with most of your opinions other than the pick on Smith's throw to Davis. Watch the film and you'll see that again Vernon was lost in space as he drifted over to the sideline--Smith was expecting him to turn around an STAY PUT--he would have had an easy 7 yd pickup. Now you know why the OC is not building the offense around Davis. He needs to wake up and start playing football and quit thinking about what he has planned for the offseason.
Date: September 21, 2011 at 1:42 PM
Comment: Thanks for the candid and rational observations. All I would add is support for the "season is young". Our team has been a bottom dweller for almost a decade and I think the fans are shell-shocked and unable to reconcile the slow development the team will have to follow to become legitimate. Unfortunately, 2010 will be the season dedicated to improving at a snails pace. Anyone who has played or coached football, which I am included in both, realizes that football is a team sport and changes do not happen instantly but incrementally. I see improvement from last year. Offensive scheme is improved. Multiple personnel groups and varied alignments on the O is already 1000% better than last year. The oline is under-performing and will get better as the season goes on. Alex Smith has improved, he's not Tom Brady or Drew Brees, but he's definitely not the reason we lost on Sunday. I think losing Braylon during the game had a bigger impact than the media and fan base realize. I think if Braylon was in the game the whole game the Cowboys would of had to start respecting the pass and if that happened the running game would of performed better...
By: Dallas Niner Fan
Date: September 21, 2011 at 12:39 PM
Comment: My thoughts are this:
If either the offensive line or the defense,especially the secondary would of played a better game there is no doubt in my mind we would of won that game. If Harbaugh would of made a different decision and took the penality all things being equal it would of been a toss up as to whether we would of won the game or not. Therefore, should we not conclude that the offensive line and/or the defense is the problem and not the decision making by the coach?
Date: September 21, 2011 at 6:49 AM
You're one of the few Bay Area sportswriters who can write a balanced assessment of the game. I'm so sick and tired of the Jeff Kaplan's and Ray Ratto's of the world...they rarely have anything positive to say. Joe Montana said it a few weeks ago...that Niner fans (& I'll add media, too) need to be patient with this team as they learn the intracacies of Harbaugh's WCO. Joe knows what he's talking about...he went through the same learning curve under Bill Walsh. It wasn't pretty at first, which is exactly what we're seeing now with Harbaugh. All things considered, I think the team's playing pretty well. Let's face it, the coaches are still getting to know their players and vice versa. It was written by many non-Bay Area sportswriters that teams like the Niners would likely struggle early on because of that fact. Seems that logic was lost on many of the local beatwriters. Be that as it may, I truly appreciate your objectivity...keep doing that, because Niner fans need to understand Harbaugh's team is truly a work in progress. Those expecting instant results are simply not being realistic.
By: Jason D
Date: September 20, 2011 at 10:44 PM
Comment: Well said! Changes need to happen. Williams and brown need to be benched for Goldson and Spencer or Culliver. I've been listening to the niner faithful complain for the past couple days. We should've won the game and knowing that means we can compete.
No more of this conservative offense, open up the playbook and have some confidence in your team Harbaugh.
Date: September 20, 2011 at 8:48 PM
Comment: Blame blame blame. Assumptions assumptions assumptions. I was there and I've watched the tape. I find it funny to hear the rants and raves from all the know it all armchair coaches and their all to certain decrees about what why and who. THe 49ers were winning that game, good enough for three plus quarters. It takes four and they made mistakes that cost them the game at the very moment Dallas made theirs. IT's football and what went down has far less subjective meaning than all you emotional wannna be coaches purport.