Fourth and Tenuous

Nov 11, 2014 at 1:31 PM


Once again, Ahmad Brooks sacked Drew Brees. Once again, Brooks went high, grabbing Brees around the shoulders. Once again, Brees fumbled. Once again, the Niners recovered, clinching the game.

And in that split-second, you had to wonder if once again, the refs would agree, as Brees whined last year: "That's got to be a flag."

But this time, they didn't.

And to Brees's credit, he didn't whine; the whining, instead, was Jimmy Graham's. After catching Brees's Hail Mary at the end of regulation, Graham insisted that he hadn't pushed Perrish Cox out of the way, apparently unaware that NFL games are videotaped. And despite the footage of Graham's two-handed shove, Cox had to defend himself against charges of flopping, as if any player would give up a play on the ball and instead depend on an NFL ref. Even the notion that he sold the call was a little ridiculous; if you're six-foot and 198, and you're shoved by a guy who's six-seven, 265—and if, at the time, you're running full-speed—you'll be too busy sailing to do much selling.

But now that we're done with this week's edition of Reffing Weekly—or is it Reffing Weakly?—let's get back to the game, the first of eight straight must-wins.

After the Rams debacle, Greg Roman became entrenched as Public Enemy #1. ("That's news to me," Roman said, proving that he doesn't spend enough time on this site.) And on Sunday, almost poetically, he had to face his demons immediately. Although Antoine Bethea picked off Brees's third pass at the Saints' 41, he returned it almost precisely to the 20. And so, Roman would start in the red zone, where his offense, inexplicably, ranked dead last.

And continuing this year's theme of repeating the past, I remember a team with the same problem. It had scored only 3 touchdowns in 19 red-zone trips. "Frankly I've never seen anything like it," an observer wrote. "This team, which once was imbued with unshakable confidence, now looks like it just knows it can't score. [And] with each failed trip, the pressure mounts, increasing the odds that the slump will continue."

That team was Roman's, from three years ago. And sure enough, the slump has continued.

But this time, for once, Roman didn't get cute. Frank Gore left tackle for five (and a facemask). Frank Gore left tackle for three. And Frank Gore left end for four and the score.

Then again, maybe Roman does read this site.

It's weird. On the one hand, you give credit to Roman for proving he can learn, eventually. On the other, when you think of the time he's wasted, the games he's lost, and yes, even the titles he's squandered, you just can't help but shake your head.

In any event, Roman kept going. After a run-run-pass-punt by the Saints—see, even Sean Payton can lose his mind—Roman engineered a 13-play drive that consumed 7 minutes and 79 yards. Gore again led the way to the 20, and then, once more: Gore, Gore again, and Carlos Hyde for the score.

As you might know, I'm generally a pass-first guy. But here in the red zone, I've been as exhausted as anyone by Roman's cuteness. By now it couldn't be any clearer. Here in the red zone—with Gore, Hyde, Kaepernick, and an offensive line that's built for the run—the Niners should never pass again. (Except, okay, for fades to Anquan Boldin.)

Of course, the Niners didn't score another touchdown, because only some of Roman's demons live in the red zone; the rest live in the second half. An 85-yard drop by Boldin was deadly, but there was more than that. Whether the issue is Roman, Kaepernick, or both, the quick-hitting, high-percentage pass is virtually absent from this offense. And as the Saints clamped down on Gore, the Niners countered with their usual mid-to-deep shots, with predictable results.

Don't get me wrong here. I'm not pining for Alex Smith's ceaseless dinking, which would be stratospherically hypocritical. I'm pining, instead, for the WCO: dink, dink, dink, boom. But what we're getting is boom-or-bust, and until a minute and a half remained, all we got were predictable busts.

Until, that is, fourth-and-10.

You don't have to say you believed that anything magical would happen here. I didn't, certainly. This was going to be the end. And what a tragic end it would be. All that talent, done by week 10. A tragic end, to a tragic era.

But there's a reason why we watch, of course. Why we invest of our hearts and souls. Why, despite the pain of it all, we just can't summon the power to stop.

As these Niners always seem to say, This right here. This is why.

Or, as Kaepernick himself might say: Boom.

After the Hail Mary that wasn't, the fumble that was, and the weirdest game-winning field goal on record, we were left to sift through what it all means. On D, the return of Aldon Smith and the emergence of Chris Borland merely offset the dispiriting news about Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman. (So much for health.) Nevertheless, that this is still the league's #2 unit is nothing short of miraculous; it should be good enough to win.

Which brings us back to the O, and Roman.

Every step up precedes one back. Early success gives way to late madness. Whether anything's sustainable here, I'm too exhausted even to guess.

But the Niners have lost the luxury of thinking ahead. One must-win down, seven to go. And that, in the end, is what it all means.

The Niners live. For one more week, the Niners live.
The views within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


10 Comments

  • Lucky Phil
    Since the beginning of sports, pro athletes have been very gracious and accommodating about giving us the middle finger. However, For the first time in the history of sports, Jose Canseco is actually going to sell it to you. I don't know how much a guy can get from any of you for the privilege of telling you to go fuck yourself. But God Bless Jose Canseco, I don't know many guys that will shoot their fuck you finger off, either. (Yes! On Ebay, Go Look) In un-related news Eminem was asked what he would do if he lost his middle finger, his response "I would rather lose a testicle". (Yes! On TMZ, Go Look) In un-related news Jose Canseco was asked, latter in the week, what he would do if he lost a testicle, his response "Have you seen my testicle?" (Yes! On Ebay, Go Look) In un-related news Kanye West was asked "If you had to choose between losing your middle finger or your testicle what what's it gonna be? " After a sixty second stare down, Kanye extended the middle finger. I'm not sure if that was a trick question or a trick answer but thank you Kanye for your cooperation. Should I be seeking help or getting paid? Enjoy the butterball early my friend.
    Nov 27, 2014 at 10:01 AM
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  • Lucky Phil
    After the big win against the fearsome Redskins of the NFC East, JH was quoted as saying this about his QB,"He's a great player. I don't know how everybody else doesn't see it that way. Great with a capital 'G' ??" at the highest level of great. GRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRReat!", Exclaimed like Tony the Tiger with his business finger high in the air! When Vic Fangio was asked to translate, he said "Had a good game". When asked to expound on this idea, Vic answered, "I wouldn't give him an A fucking " . Thank You Vic for your candor. When Jim Roman was hunted down after the game, he was found in a men's toilet stall with his knees under his chin, crouched in a fetal position sitting on a toilet bowl with the seat up…not down. (Both of them) Was he trying to make like shit and escape like Houdini? Well…. Reporter says, "Jim, We heard you in the couch's box flipping through a lot of Polaroid's, studying the Redskins defense, care to elaborate?" GR says, "I don't know where you heard that….Do you mind closing the door. I'm ordering a butterball from Dickey's BBQ". Have A Happy Thanksgiving, Jeff!
    Nov 27, 2014 at 9:44 AM
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  • Webzone Commenter
    You are so unbeleiveble Kaplan its amazing you still have a colunm. Seriously do you not have to have any skils or brains whatsoever to write for this sight?!? All we get from you is your incessent whiny little girl bitching about how we need to pass more when anyone with half a brain knows that the key to sucess in the NFL is rushing! Whoever has the most rushing attempts wins. And now we finaly go back to our rushing attack and win and your all like "see I told you all along we need to run.!" And you hate Alex Smith but pine for the days of our short passing attack, theres just no constancy from you. And on top of that you have the gaul to open your column talking about people who whyne about the refs. Whyne about the refs, who are you crappin Kaplan, why dont you read this and tell me what you think; http://www.49erswebzone.com/commentary/1237-niners-survive-official-misconduct/ IF we win the super bowl it will be inspite of you and not because of you and please dont insult me by trying to tell me otherwise!
    Nov 12, 2014 at 11:18 AM
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  • Ron
    Kaplan...you seem to put so much of the burden on the offensive play calling. A really good team is like a bully. They do what they want knowing the odds are with them to be successful. Gadget plays and unpredictability are for teams that lack the necessary strengths to straight up beat their opponents. It all goes back to execution. If the offensive line blocks, the backs look like mighty mites and Kap looks like superman. Roman's job is to exploit weaknesses in the other team. If Staley, Davis , Boone..... Do their job... Whatever the Niners want to do will look like good coaching. If they can't control the line of scrimmage... The team will struggle and it's that simple.
    Nov 12, 2014 at 7:23 AM
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  • a49erfan77
    I wouldn't put the TD-less second half on Roman. He had good plays called and our WRs kept dropping passes to stall drives. Left at least 7-10 points on the field from drops alone.
    Nov 12, 2014 at 6:04 AM
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  • Ninerf8fulnanytimeline
    The defense has lost Patrick but we're still alive and kicking but the offenses' woes continue! Again we scored only 3 points in the 2nd half but JH & GR have to go back to when Kaep was inserted as the QB specially the SB year!? That year Kaep was running and passing as 9ers kept scoring but then the 'pocket passer gurus' started their demolition job & both obliged thereby destroying Kaeps' "mojo", why because they had to prove they could make our QB into what they wanted & we haven't made it back to the SB!?! Anybody else see what they've done to the prototype of the 21st century QB, yes they've made him ineffective, good job guys so go ahead keep listening to those IJJITS whose jobs aren't in jeopardy unlike yours!?!
    Nov 11, 2014 at 10:42 PM
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  • Phillyninersforlife
    Yes we have to win all game it's going to be hard but if any team can do it,it's us.
    Nov 11, 2014 at 9:09 PM
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  • Lucky Phil
    Nice article Jeff. What a season, huh? This team is perplexing, I just don't understand it. We started this game aggressive with a desperation like we needed to win or die. And then as the game went on, it seemed like we accepted we were a .500 team and we are ok with it. I don't know whether the team lacks heart, desire, intensity or a killer instinct. I just don't understand how this team plays one half with aggression and confidence and the second half like its just waiting hopefully for the game to end before we lose. It seems like we need a leader to step up on this team to give us confidence. A. Rodgers used just five letters R.E.L.A.X and those five letters showed his team and fans he was confident and they should be too. When I listen to Kap in press conference, its embarrassing. I can't believe the HC has not talked to him and told him to use more than 4 words to answer a sentence. That the sports writers are an extension of the fans. That if he doesn't put a little more effort or thought in answering a question it reflects poorly on the team. This whole season has turned into a PR nightmare because no one accepts a leadership role for the team. And our play reflects it.
    Nov 11, 2014 at 6:33 PM
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  • Ceadderman
    Roman never learns. Like a broken watch, he's right maybe twice a game. From the 3rd score on, the play calling was ill timed(many times with Kappy breaking the huddle under pressure to get the snap off) and unimaginative. Can't say that Kappy's gaffs (underthrown Passes) were Roman's fault but the Run game all but disappeared in the 2nd half. That's the fault of the OC and not the Offense.
    Nov 11, 2014 at 6:28 PM
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  • Monsterniner
    On defense even with Willis on IR and with Bowman still feeling pain in his knee we still can have a very solid unit with a good NT that can be Dorsey like last year because Borland is a funny tiny tackling machine and Wilhoite has been good enough and if Aldon comes back at full strength we will be able to stop the run and to terrorize the QB without sacrifing a guy of the secondary. The question is on the offense as always. This last first half was very good with a mix of runs and passes (I agree with you in the return of the WCO) but in the second half our offense was abysmal again. Maybe Roman isn´t adjusting or the receivers are on strike with all those drops but it seems that no matter what we do we just can´t score in the second half. Crabtree and Vernon are MIA this season and we need them back to make a run to the playoffs and also we need adjustments and more short and intermediate passes and obviously we have to keep running because with Gore and Hyde and this O-line we can run on every defense we face. Good read as always Jeff and go Niners.
    Nov 11, 2014 at 3:54 PM
    0

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