Eight and Eight, and Proof of Nothing

Jan 5, 2010 at 6:11 AM12

Okay, first things first. The Buccaneers' record streak of losing years is safe, at least from us. After six straight seasons in hell, we've finally escaped, at least to purgatory. Eight and eight! Huzzah!

(Funny. We used to reserve our celebrations for Super Bowl titles. My, how times have changed....)

But seriously, though; back in August, eight and eight was looking pretty good. Don't forget those bastards at Football Outsiders, who had us pegged for 5.7 wins (and, I guess, 10.3 losses). See? We proved 'em wrong after all!

So when you cite our record as proof that we're on the right track, I should agree with you. In theory, anyway.

You'll make a compelling case. You'll start by saying we weren't a weak eight and eight; we were a strong eight and eight, with the losses (only two by more than 7 points) so much closer than the wins (only two by fewer than 13). Can't argue with you there.

You'll then move on to our defense, which certainly wasn't the problem. Yeah, our yardage ranking dropped from 13th in '08 to 15th this year, thanks of course to our pass D, which ranked in the league's lower half for an astonishing 12th straight season. But a D that's third in sacks, fourth in points allowed, fifth in takeaways, and sixth in rushing yards? That's a good D. A playoff-caliber D, for sure.

And then you'll turn to our offense. You won't try to excuse our atrocious yardage ranking of 27th. You'll admit we gained only 67 yards more than we did in the nightmare season of 2004. But you'll note that Vernon Davis had a great year, Frank Gore and Michael Crabtree had very good years, and Alex Smith had a career year (such as it is).

Like I said, you'll make a compelling case.

And all I'll say is, Nope. Sorry, still not feelin' it.

After the Philly game, I wrote that there went our last chance to prove that our arrow was still pointing up. My thought was that you can establish you're a contender only by playing well against other contenders. Sure, we'd bludgeon the hapless Lions and Rams, but what on earth would that prove?

Well, turns out I was wrong. You can prove you're a contender not just by playing well against other contenders; you can prove it too by crushing those hapless dregs. I'd taken for granted we'd do so, and I was all prepared to dismiss it.

But against those hapless dregs, we looked as bad as we'd looked all year, and there's nothing we can dismiss about that.

The Rams and Lions are the two worst teams in the league. That's not subjective opinion; they'll pick one and two in April's draft. And if you add together the first halves of our games, the total score is this: Niners six, Rams and Lions six.

Please spare me that we blew 'em out in the second halves. The Niners are chronically underprepared, and I don't see a reason to think that'll change.

Let's have some fun. Match the dismal first-half performance with the opponent we were facing.

1) 50 yards, three first-downs
2) 57 yards, one first-down
3) 52 yards, four first-downs

a) Houston (week 7)
b) Green Bay (week 11)
c) St. Louis (week 17)

Everyone says that Mike Singletary's greatest coaching attribute is his ability to motivate. I've written it several times myself. Hey, if you go to Google and type "mike singletary mo," Suggest will spit out "mike singletary motivational speaker." (Though it's worth noting, if you type "mike singletary pu," you'll get "mike singletary pulls his pants down.") But after his first full season as motivator-in-chief, I wonder whether it makes any difference.

Okay, I'll assume he gets credit for Davis's rise. And maybe some of those defensive stats too. But seeing how our offense stumbled out of the gate, week after week all the way to the end, there are only two options. One, Singletary didn't motivate 'em, or two, he did motivate 'em, and it just didn't matter. I lean toward option two. After all, as Bill Walsh said, "Everybody in the NFL is intense. The difference is who's prepared and who isn't."

So maybe the Niners were motivated. But sure as hell they weren't prepared. Tell you what: give me preparation, and go motivate yourself. (By the way, it's 1-a, 2-b, 3-c.)

Of course, it's hard to be prepared when your offensive identity is different every week. I really thought we were done with this nonsense. In the middle of the season, we threw away game after game by going run-first until it was too late. After then going pass-first (and sometimes pass-only) with varying degrees of success, we achieved perfect balance in week 14.

And finally, looking to end it by blowing out a hopeless opponent, aiming to serve notice that next year is ours, we're back where we started. Just listen to Smith's explanation of the game:

"I think in the first half we were a little more run-first: run on first and second downs and throw on third. In the second half, I think that changed quite a bit. There was a little more balance. We threw the ball a little more on first and second downs. That's what I noticed."

I noticed it too, Alex. After all we've been through, I just couldn't believe it. Fortunately, this time, we won the game anyway, and thus we arrived at this mystical place.

Eight and eight. It's a non-losing season, and really, it's welcome. But proof that we're on the right track? Proof that next year is ours to be had?

Nope. Sorry, still not feelin' it.
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.


  • dbdublin
    Hey Jeff, did you hear about the recent study that says happy people have a much less chance of having a heart attack?
    Feb 20, 2010 at 9:16 PM
  • DL Hart
    hey, find another team and quit talking down the 9ers, who hired you anyway!!!!
    Jan 21, 2010 at 3:44 AM
  • Hitman42
    8-8 is not bad. Let's not forget that we were 2 wins away from going 10-6 & winning the division (the Cards finished 10-6 & we had the tiebreaker advantage). 1) We got "Favred" & lost to the Vikings in the last second on an incredible play. 2) We lost to Seattle thanks to our dreadful playcalling & time management at the end of the game. Also, our defense didn't rise up to the occasion. We should have won that game. What I'll remember about this season is that we sent 3 players to the pro bowl (maybe 4 soon), our defense is starting to mature & become dominant, we were able to switch from a ground/pound approach to shotgun in mid-season, we had a QB change in mid-season, we whooped the Cards on national tv...all of that in an 8-8 season. With a good draft, more seasoning from Smith & Raye, & a good kick returner, we should be playoff-bound next year!
    Jan 8, 2010 at 9:58 AM
  • ddmur
    I was at the St. Louis game. The St. Louis fans could not in my area understand why every play but one in the first half was a handoff to Gore into the middle. In my business I will sometimes have clients who think they know more about how to handle their case than I do. They rarely if ever do. I am sure the same phenomenon exists with NFL fans. But there is a difference between being firm and being stubborn, and a coach has to know the difference. This team would have been in the playoffs this year if the coaches had made the necessary adjustments earlier in the season and earlier in games. But they would have lost their first game in the playoffs and would have lost badly in my opinion. Why? Alex Smith appears to be able to play in one system and only at an average level. He has problems with the blitz. Do we agree that as soon as Smith is flushed out of the pocket and runs to his right that that is a guaranteed incomplete pass? The offensive line is weak, and I don't know if it's the personnel or the coaching. Our punt return game is atrocious. It is the coach's job to know if he has the personnel to play smash mouth football. It is obvious that this year he didn't.
    Jan 7, 2010 at 7:34 AM
  • Dan
    It takes a couple years for most players to start reaching their potential, so look out next year for the guys we've been drafting to play more. Crabtree was able to start pretty much as soon as the ink dried on his contract. He should get much better next year. 49ers are sacking and protecting from sacks, that's new. The play calling is less predictable. That's going to help us a lot next year. I like the idea of letting Smith go but either way there will be a lot more consistency next year because everyone will be familiar with what the coaches and other players are doing on the field. Because of the toughness of the team and the talent of our key players I can confidently say we are going deep into the playoffs next year Jeff. I know you have no faith in Coach Sing, but there are a lot of guys here besides him that want to get this done. Patrick Willis hasn't even started to reach his full potential either, don't forget. Him and Aubrayo are going to take this defence to new levels for a long time. With that said, the coaches are going to be able to concentrate on our offense this off season without having to worry so much about where our defence is going, so it should improve a lot.
    Jan 5, 2010 at 8:01 PM
    Response: I'm gonna hold you to your playoff guarantee, Dan; if it comes through, I'll be glad to say I was wrong. Thanks for all the time you put into reading and responding this season.
  • overthemiddle
    lol loved your response. I am still chuckling. Is why I read your stuff. very very good. lol
    Jan 5, 2010 at 4:53 PM
    Response: Thanks for reading, OTM.
  • overthemiddle
    Kaplan I have read many of your articles, some I agree with, some I don't. I would pretty much describe your season of writing like the just-read article. In other words you are basically an 8-8 writer. Mediocre at best. You are articulate and you seem to motivate your loyal readers but many times you are thrown for a loss and you rush for no gain. Under your current regime unless changes are made I see you falling from paragraph to paragraph. You may want to check your drafts and correlate your brain to your feet. You tend to be defensive with your offensive observations but you fail to make your point. No the niners are not a super-caliber team nor are they the worst. They have gotten much better than they were and you just can't seem to see that.
    Jan 5, 2010 at 3:20 PM
    Response: Interesting. Maybe what my writing needs is a little continuity. If I just keep doing the same thing, I might just get better by sheer repetition. I'll give it a try.
  • RamItOn
    5) We know as much about Alex Smith as we did in 2005: athletic, interception prone, with lots of potential. 2009: athletic, interception prone, with lots of potential. How long before this ends? 6) We have just about the same roster holes as we did last year, with the exception of safety (and I'm not entirely convinced of that). In all, the end of 2009's football season (or NFL National Football League Football season, as some announcers and writers would term it) with the same questions as 2008. We're mediocre or slightly sub-mediocre, and there are no answers in sight. 49ers forever, if anyone even cares anymore.
    Jan 5, 2010 at 2:29 PM
    Response: Don't lose all hope, though, Ram. The good news is that even the most pro-continuity crowd seems to agree that it's playoffs or bust next year. No playoffs, THEN we'll clean house (including Smith). (Of course, Shanahan and Holmgren won't be available then; Gruden maybe?)
  • RamItOn
    I'm in complete agreement with you (again). 1) Why continuity for its own sake when this crew a) cuts Allen Rossum to make room for Crabtree when guys like Brit Miller and Matt Wilhelm were still on the roster? I don't pretend to be a great football manager, but that move really made me scratch my head. The subsequent return gaffes made me want to cry; b) in Nolan-esque style, burns timeouts with more than a quarter left in the first half; and c) hangs its hat on being able to adapt its offense to the strengths of its players, ignoring the fact that the results were identical (3-3 vs 5-5). OUR OFFENSIVE RANKING DROPPED, AND WE ONLY WON ONE MORE GAME THAN LAST YEAR! 2) The loss to Seattle cemented my pessimism. Who to blame? Who knows, but any excitement over close losses to Minnesota and Indianapolis was erased by that turd of a game. Seattle sucks. They just aren't any good, and we had no business simultaneously losing to them and maintaining hope for the playoffs. 3) Is the D appreciably better? Playoff defenses don't botch games like those vs Indy and Minn. 4) Did I mention the loss to Seattle? 5) Our offense struggled vs suck teams (DET, STL).
    Jan 5, 2010 at 2:18 PM
    Response: Thanks, Ram. Good points all, except that I might push you a little on your critique of the D; it had its rough moments, but it was largely heroic, especially when our O kept sending it back on the field. That said, the cut of Rossum (and Spurlock) was idiotic, the game-management was appalling, and though our pass-first O was a whole lot better than our run-first O, it still didn't amount to much in the end. And though I didn't mention that Seattle loss here, that's another good example of the limited value of Singletary's motivational tactics. I do fear that our desperation for continuity is blinding us to the very real deficits in what we're continuing.
  • 49er Faithful
    I'll hold all comments until training camp and week one of 2010/11. It's pointless speculating now, and slow starts aside, the signs are encouraging. All I hope for is continuity so our quarterback can develop and build chemistry with our receivers. I expect 9-11 wins in 2010/11. And I also expect our quarterback to throw 30 tds, which he was on track to throw considering he threw 18 in 10.5 all without many first team reps after week 3 of training camp. I also hope we draft an OT, a CB (Brown looks shaky and Nate is getting old) and get a PR/KR in the free agent market. I agree with you re: the need for a speed WR ... does Jason Hill qualify as that? Or do you speak of a burner, Jeff? That being the case, another one can't hurt eh. Alex Smith is The Future. 49ers Forever.
    Jan 5, 2010 at 12:05 PM
    Response: Whatever DeSean Jackson is, that's what I want; the kind who can just avoid the bump, run right by the CB, and be wide open 30 yards down the field (and return kicks to boot). Hill's a nice player but not THAT kind. Of course, we need a WR like that only if we have an HC/OC/OL/QB/all of the above who can consistently exploit it. You know I'm not too keen on continuity when we're dealing with THIS crew, but here's hoping they get it together as you foresee.
  • midwest9er
    I hear what you're saying. We used to celebrate NFC championships, Superbowl victories, and took for granted divison titles. I've been a fan for a long time myself. And looking back to the 2-14 season not too long ago, even you have to say this was an improvement. 8-8 is not great, and you might not be feeling it, but i do feel it's a step towards the right way. We can compare stats all day long but we used to be what the rams and lions are right now. I'm not feeling that. Sure we lost road games. However, M.S. has brought balls to this team when we hit the road. We used to be wussies and give up after a team was up on us by 10 in the first quarter and then tuck our tails between our legs. You didn't see that. I see a team that is probably 4-5 players away from a wild card berth next season barring injuries. Here's to next season, GO NINERS.
    Jan 5, 2010 at 9:46 AM
  • mbniner
    At the beginning of the season, the consensus was that we needed an OT, a second RB, a QB, a pass rusher, a NT, and a S. It seems that we have a NT and a pretty good S (Goldson) and Brooks has shown promise. But the other positions are still problems. And now we should add OC to the list (not to mention a PR/KR). And we still need a stud S. Unfortunately, QB and OC completely dictate how our offense performs. Singletary better have a backup plan if those two positions continue to sputter.
    Jan 5, 2010 at 9:27 AM

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