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Sleepless Again, Anyway

Dec 10, 2013 at 4:50 PM

See, I told you.

Told me what, exactly?

After week two, you were moaning about the "talent gap" between us and Seattle. You complained that the Seahawks were "simply better, and they'd beat us at the Clink, at the ‘Stick, or on the moon." And I told you that you were overreacting. I told you that by December we'd have a "title-worthy receiving corps," and I told you we'd show that we're better. And that's precisely what we did.

As I recall, though, you also told me more than that. You told me we'd win the division, since Seattle was just an "average" road-team. You told me we'd avoid a playoff trip to that rainsoaked hellhole. And you told me you knew how important that was; you ADMITTED it: "We go there, we lose." So I'm not quite sure what you're crowing about. We got a nice win, but too little too late. Seattle's got home field in the bag, and that means they're going. The season's over; you said it yourself.

Okay, just wait a minute. Yeah, I know, I promised you the division, and if the Texans, Rams, and Bucs hadn't wet their pants against Seattle, we'd have it. But Seattle got lucky, again and again, so yeah, we're gonna have to go back. You're taking me too literally, though. Obviously I didn't mean that it's IMPOSSIBLE for us to win there; we won there two years ago, for cryin' out loud. And don't forget: home field in the playoffs has meant less and less; in the past 20 years, only twice have the #1 seeds gone on to the Super Bowl. The playoffs are about who's hot and who's healthy, and we're gonna be just hitting our stride. It'll be tough, but we'll go there and win.

Sounds great, but now you're just dreaming. Sure, we won there two years ago, but that was BEFORE Russell Wilson and the Legion of ‘Shrooms. Seattle now just has it all. They've got a great team (though they still get away with too many fouls), and they've got a great crowd (though the noise is mostly just stadium design). I hate them with every fiber of my soul, but it's time to face the tough reality. We've had our shot, and we've blown it. This is THEIR year, and they might have many more years to come.

Calm down. Take a close look at Sunday's game. Our defense was dominant, holding down both Russell Wilson (2-of-8 beyond 10 yards) AND Marshawn Lynch (only 22 yards after halftime). Our special teams, despite one lapse in coverage, were spectacular. And our offense, which couldn't do a thing against Carolina and New Orleans, racked up 318 yards against the league's stingiest D. Yeah, I know, the score was close. But we were the better team by a mile, and that had nothing to do with a home-field advantage. (I highly doubt that the Seahawks were bothered by our "celebratory battle cry" of "Ahhh-Oooo, Ahhh-Oooo, Ahhh-Oooo!")

I'm going to pretend that you didn't just cite our "Home Field Advantage Plan," the most mortifying document since the invention of the written word. Let's get back to Sunday's game. Our defense and special teams were indeed magnificent. But let's take a look at that offense you're so proud of. There's no question that Michael Crabtree's miraculous return has injected some life into the passing game. (Mario Manningham's return, unfortunately, has been much less miraculous.) There's also no question that Greg Roman has started to play around with it more, relying far less on two backs and two tights. However, something's still fundamentally wrong. We continue to run into stacked boxes, even on long-distance downs. And then, when we pass, we're rarely scheming receivers open, and we're hardly using the backs at all. Put another way, the West Coast Offense should make things easy, but everything we're doing looks hard. Hence our persistent trouble on third down and in the red zone. Oh, and I love how you say that we "racked up" 318 yards, while failing to note that 51 of those yards were one play, which averted what looked like a certain defeat. Yet we were "the better team by a mile"? Keep dreaming, friend.

Me? YOU'RE the one ignoring the facts. I know our O doesn't look like it did in 2012, but you make it sound like it's 2011. During that season, we ranked #31 on third down and #30 in the red zone. This year, we're at #18 on third down and #7 in the red zone. That third-down ranking ain't so hot, but it's hell and gone from 2011. And we score touchdowns on 60% of our red-zone trips! So once again, just calm down. Since Crabtree and Manningham aren't quite at full strength yet, the O still isn't quite up to speed. So we're gonna have issues, particularly against better Ds like Seattle's. But you saw how (mostly) smooth we looked against Washington and St. Louis. It's only gonna get better from here.

Don't you see what you're doing? You're acknowledging that "we're gonna have issues" against good teams, yet you're assuming that we'll solve those issues based on how we've looked against BAD teams. By now we know what this team is, and you've just described it perfectly. By and large, we look good against bad teams, and bad against good teams. But guess what? In the playoffs, there aren't ANY bad teams. And it's not like we've got plenty of time to work out these "issues." It's mid-December, for crissake. You're counting on this team becoming something it hasn't been all year. That just can't happen.

Sure it can. Last year, the Ravens lost four of their five December games. The year before, the Giants were 7-and-7 with two games to go. They both got hot at the perfect time; they both snuck in and won it all.

What you're forgetting is that this has been the plan all year. Just hold on ‘til the receivers come back, and then take off when they do. Sure it's not an ideal plan, but we've played the hand we were dealt in May. And now that we've beaten Seattle—a GOOD team, and perhaps the best—we're likely to finish at 12-and-4, riding a six-game winning streak. Going into the playoffs, we'll be as hot as anyone there.

So don't worry so much. Jim Harbaugh knows what he's doing. (To a lesser extent, Greg Roman does too.) We will go back up to Seattle, and when we do, we'll be playing at a championship level, better than we have all year. Naturally, that game will be tough. But here's one thing I know, beyond any doubt.

They won't want to see us coming.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


  • RamItOn
    Second great article in a row, Jeff. I like the dialogue between the two mindsets (Owen Optimist vs Debbie Downer, if I may). The scarring that the Decade to Forget (2003-2010) inflicted is difficult to forget, and it will be awhile before I am as optimistic as many other Niners fans are, especially after the throttling we received from Seattle in Week 2, and the rip-off that was the Saints game three weeks ago. Are we for real?--I guess that's what the playoffs will determine, provided we get there. Write more stuff, Kaplan.
    Dec 12, 2013 at 12:19 PM
  • Socal9erfan
    This is exactly what I suspected - thanks for articulating it - definite possibilities - Great writing ! Am so excited to watch them play in Seattle with a new mindset - reminds me of what we did in Atlanta last year - love what Harbaugh has in store for them in the playoffs!
    Dec 11, 2013 at 4:05 PM
  • Chantos
    Jeff... standing ovation for your article! Excellent. And I could not agree more with wasting plays by running into 7 - 8 man lines, it pisses me off to see them calling those plays... it is against common sense! Why aren't they doing any screen passes? I still see CK7 a bit too nervous in the pocket, though. He tends to run too fast as soon as he sees a man coming... I wonder why he lost that smoothness he showed last year in the playoffs, it might be that the O-line is not at the same level, or perhaps he is just under a lot of pressure not to mess up after the fire he has been getting (me included).
    Dec 11, 2013 at 4:00 PM
    Response: Or it could be that he's been put into too many bad situations: too many third-and-longs, too few open receivers to throw to. I'm a known apologist, but that'd be MY theory.
  • Dan B
    Looking forward to Tampa Bay, which has a very underrated D. What do you most want to see out of this Niners offense?
    Dec 11, 2013 at 12:37 PM
    Response: You know me, Dan. I want to see an offense that passes on first-and-10s and second-and-longs, setting up manageable third-downs that are key to keeping drives alive. I want to see an offense that spreads the field and uses high-low route combinations that guarantee an open receiver. I want to see an offense that never throws plays away by running into eight- and nine-man fronts. I want to see an offense that deploys every available weapon. I want to see an offense that never, NEVER, lets up on the gas. Basically, I want to see the West Coast Offense. Harbaugh promised it, and I think it's time for him to deliver.
  • Frank
    Jeff, good rant! Everybody knows Seattle's the team to beat this year. Yes, they've had luck on their side, which goes along with talent toward ultimate success. Are they unbeatable...no, they're not. They'll make it tough on everyone, assuming they'll maintain home field advantage. That said, what we saw on the field at Candlestick on Sunday were two of the best teams the NFL has to offer. Seattle has to play the Giants in NY, then 'Zona and the Rams at home. Anything can happen, but with a 2-game division lead, they look set to host throughout the playoffs. Somebody has to beat them...might as well be us. Roman will have to develop some better ways for the offense to communicate and avoid the costly mistakes of their past two visits.
    Dec 11, 2013 at 9:24 AM
  • Katsumuro
    Wow. I haven't read an article this well put together in years, and I spend an unhealthy amount of time reading sports-related articles.
    Dec 10, 2013 at 10:39 PM
  • Gonzola
    I only pray the 49ers put their EAR PLUGS in now or at least 2 weeks prior to the hopeful rematch in Seattle. That way they can learn to read lips and learn that being without your hearing will actually sharpen your other senses. They should wear ear plugs that completely silence their surroundings -- they should wear them 24/7 for at least 2 weeks. You won't hear the defensive end coming in to crush you at quarterback, but you might sense or "feel" him coming at you if you practice like this for a couple of weeks. This is a MUST. Might seem crazy, but so is a stadium loud enough to make some fans' ears bleed. Get crazy, call Eddie D at least once a week, and floss dammit! Now get back to bed Jeff. Go NINERS!
    Dec 10, 2013 at 9:19 PM
  • Ron m
    Great writing. Love the Jekyll and Hyde style. I do believe the niners are getting better every week because of the strength of the defense and the offense getting more dimensions.
    Dec 10, 2013 at 7:35 PM
  • Aman
    Very good article, thx for writing it.
    Dec 10, 2013 at 7:12 PM
  • fernando
    I think this is part of a plan... maybe we didnt want to show all of the playbook... maybe we are waiting for those playoff games to put everything in the game... maybe the read option... maybe more explosive plays... we are getting healthy... we are getting better...
    Dec 10, 2013 at 7:02 PM

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