It has been a long wait, in fact nine long years since we actually clinched the National Football Conference Western Division. Head Coach Jim Harbaugh referenced this moment in winning the division to as achieving a diploma or a certificate you might receive from school. The list of accomplishments and your name is on it, now frame it, hang it, move on. Playing to be the undisputed National Football Conference's second seed is now the main object in our endeavor right now.
Winning the division was a result of our shutout victory over our division rival St. Louis Rams inside Candlestick Park as San Francisco 49er fans did a tremendous power wave to celebrate the crescendo 26-0. 49er running back Frank Gore the very face of this franchise snatched a large 49er flag from personal trainer Lucas Ortiz from Mountain View and waved it to fans in one end zone and jogged to the next and did the same. Ortiz's words summed up that moment as he watched transfixed with marvel: "I wasn't going to stop him. He earned it."
This great achievement is one all of us as die-hard believers in our beloved team have patiently waited for in nine long years. The Lord God is to be praised for his divine blessing of this franchise and for every coach and player that sets foot on Bill Walsh Field and every other enemy field we walk out onto. We are now living a dream that has been ongoing in all our minds from one year to the next waiting and wondering when the real possibility of this will actually come true. Now the wait is over.
Frank Gore himself interviewed confessed that he had a sick stomach for well over six years watching other teams make the playoffs while we packed our things in the locker room and went home early. Between the tackles and the many bruises Gore reminisced about the past and in particular the end of the 2008 NFL season where the Arizona Cardinals made it to the Super Bowl. The San Francisco 49ers from Dennis Erickson, Mike Nolan and Mike Singletary all looked from the sidelines while others flourished until now enters Jim Harbaugh and his talented coaching staff.
This game against the St. Louis Rams was a very physical game as San Francisco 49er offensive coordinator Greg Roman described it. Although a shutout the Rams played tough and dug deep in the trenches as you can tell by the many field goals we had to kick in this game. On top of that Frank Gore was held to 21 carries for 73 total yards averaging 3.5-yards per carry which is a low mark for him personally. Still he officially placed himself in first place on the all-time list of 49ers running backs.
The storyline of Frank Gore is well known and still very underrated when you consider the perceptions around the league as we know it. Injuries that he has endured over his career that would end the careers of lesser men, he has overcome shoulder, knee and hip injuries that were significant enough to end known careers. The selflessness of this athlete speaks words to what the new team philosophy is running rampant in and out of the locker room today under the Jim Harbaugh administration.
Alex Smith himself in an interview admitted that he is more of a selfless athlete today under this new philosophy with the Harbaugh administration then any other before it. Can he be a possible Super Bowl quarterback of the future is a relative question I think we still have to wait and see. He believes he has the talent and the will to play with just about anyone. Watching left tackle Joe Staley douse head coach Jim Harbaugh with a large container filled with Gatorade culminated what we have waited for such a long time. Harbaugh being a 15-year veteran quarterback in his days dodged the ensuing cascade of Gatorade that is considered NFL Holy Water for a moment of praise.
Red zone efficiency is really at the top of our area of opportunity. Getting within 20-yards of the end zone and being limited to field goals has to be gut-wrenching not only to us but coaches and players as well. To effectively say that David Akers is you leading point man from one game to the next is something we really have to look at changing. Offensive coordinator Greg Roman acknowledges some of the frustrations and admits that it has been less then ideal, but believes the tide will turn soon.
Alex Smith demonstrated in this game his ability to connect with the accurate deep ball in touchdown passes in the second half to Michael Crabtree for 52-yards and Kyle Williams for 56-yards. Still negatives exist with Alex in under-throwing and over-throwing potential targets as well as stepping up and into the pocket as he tends to throw the ball anytime in such a situation right into the ground. Others are not his fault as witnessed with veteran tight end Vernon Davis dropping a pass in the end zone in a perfectly placed throw that should've been a completion.
Being (10-2) and staring into the NFL Playoff abyss, the celebrations after achieving the division title were rather subdued as left tackle Joe Staley admitted to in the locker room, especially watching locker room televisions display the Green Bay Packers victory over the New York Giants. Players know that the new focus is on the game ahead with the Arizona Cardinals, taking one game at a time just set in all over again at that moment. Still let us as fans revel in the limelight for what we are right now National Football Conference Western Division Champions.
Sources of Information: Mercury News.com, SF Gate.com, Inside Bay Area.com, NFL.com and my own personal analysis and opinion.