Alex Smith's best game as a pro. Really a series of signature moments on the game-tying TD drive and 2 pt conversion. Great protection for him all night from the O line -- no sacks allowed. Frank Gore was an absolute monster. Running and receiving for almost 170 yds, he was the Niners best weapon. Vernon Davis got down field for a huge catch plus the 2 pt conversion, and Josh Morgan looked very good.
The knocks come from what could have been. First, the Crabtree Conundrum. It's a difficult problem on any team when your most talented player is questioned by others - for injury, attitude, or anything else. If he continues with 1-catch nights, the questions are going to mount. It's already obvious after 2 games that showing up during the preseason may have been a good idea for the team. Secondly, the effectiveness of Alex Smith was majorly displayed on the game tying drive. We saw it last year during comebacks, when the pace of the offense picked up so did Alex Smith's passer rating. He just seems better when the pace is hot. He's not a drop back pocket passer, and has seemed at home scrambling. It never looked like he was rushing on the final drive. He gets the ultimate football compliment: the drive was very Joe-like.
The major knock on the offense came from earlier in the game, when the Niners gave the ball away twice near the end zone. Filed in the "most overused phrases in football" file, you just can't turn the ball over and hope to win.
They didn't create any turnovers, which has been a problem. Bush ran free most of the game, but they held Brees under 300 yards, and only the late 30 yd catch by Colston picking on Goldson (most appropriate Niner Name ever) separated them from OT. Most importantly, the defense tightened up when needed, nearly overcoming the turnovers. And when it counted most near the goal line, the Niners defense held the Saints to a FG, leading to the Alex Smith moments down the stretch. The run defense was stout... allowing only 50 yards on the ground, 2.1 per carry.
The negative is the last taste in our mouths. They allowed Brees to go 51 yards to set up the winner. He dinked and dunked and then found Colston. A shame after a solid Monday night effort.
The Stats on games where 1 team turns it over 4 times and the other team turns it over 0 must be about 1,000 victories for the team that didn't turn it over, and no wins for the team that turned it over. Yet.......... there we were: One nearly blocked, knuckling, ugly pig of an awkwardly spinning field goal separating the Niners from going OT with the Who Dat Champs. So they must have done something right.
So close, so close, so close. Within an hour of the game on Monday the words "moral victory" were thrown around 100 times. And just as many times, someone said: There's no such thing as a moral victory in the NFL. Actually, those people are very wrong. Maybe there's no such thing as a "good loss", but in the Niners case this game was definitely a moral victory.
Painful? Yes. Disappointing? Yes. One they'd love to have had? Yes. One they had counted on winning before the season? No. That was the previous week against the Seattle. Against a team that the Niners should just beat. This was a gutty performance, a put-your-season-on-the-line performance. And they came up just short. A few seconds short. And after watching the winning kick over and over and over.... a few inches short, too. A blocked field goal there leads to OT. Maybe Alex Smith gets his hands on the ball first and wins the game. We'll never know.
But what you do know is how you felt this week compared to last week. Last week the Niners looked like a bunch of quitters. This week they looked like a group of winners. They just didn't win.