Ted Ginn settled under the punt, at the Arizona 44. He made the catch, dodged and weaved, and then he broke into the clear. He crossed the Cardinals' 30, the 20, the 10, and all the while a strange sensation crept into our heads. As he moved ever closer to pay dirt, our excitement was subsumed by a stronger anxiety. Having watched this team struggle, week after week, to score the TD that would put an inferior opponent away, we were screaming one collective prayer:

Score, Ted. Please, please score.

Alas, Ginn was dragged down at the four, along with our spirits. For nearly every team in the league, and certainly for every contending team, this is still an easy TD. But for the Niners, who had scored only 3 touchdowns in their last 16 red-zone trips, nothing is easy. And so the series played out, pretty much as you would expect. An incomplete pass, at Braylon Edwards' corpse. A run for a loss. And another incompletion, into traffic.

And here came David Akers, again. Last week, Akers had set a franchise record for field goals in a season, with a full quarter of the season to go. An impressive achievement, I suppose; certainly Akers has been a machine. But only an offense as gut-wrenching as this could ever allow that record to stand.

Congratulations, David. But I'm simply sick of watching you kick.

As if this one wasn't awful enough, we went on to repeat it, not once but twice. Now trailing 7-6, Alex Smith dropped back from the Cards' 45 and threw a short pass to Vernon Davis, who broke a tackle and started racing for home. (You might've forgotten that he was still playing, but sure enough, here he was.) Same prayer (please score), same result (this time at the 13), same dread. Two passes gained seven yards, a Smith run lost three (?!), and Akers, again.

Three plays later, Dashon Goldson intercepted a pass at the Cards' 33, and off he went. Same prayer (please score, dammit!), same result (at the 16), same dread. After a first down at the four, two throws at Ginn--who simply cannot catch a pass--and Akers, again.

At the half against the Giants, we led 9-6. Against Arizona at the Stick, 9-zip. Against the Ravens, we trailed 6-3. Against the Rams, 9-zip, again. And now we led the Cards 12-7. That's more than a month without a first-half TD. In a tidal wave of Akers kicks, this offense is drowning.

Of course, save for the Ravens game, which we'd largely dismissed, we'd never failed to blow the game open. And here it looked like we'd do so again, when Frank Gore finally answered the prayer with a 37-yard run on our first play of the second half. But then the roof caved in at last, with three-and-outs on our next six drives (except of course for a four-and-out). Meanwhile, John Skelton, whom we'd completely befuddled just three weeks before, simply ravaged our exhausted D. The Cards scored three touchdowns, the same three scores that we'd left on the field. And by two stupid, measly points, they won.

They say that winning is the best deodorant. But now, at last, we stunk.

Now that we're done celebrating our playoff berth, it's time to face some difficult issues. Needless to say, the offensive line is struggling; Gore's breakthrough aside, it isn't opening inside holes, and the blitz pickup still seems amiss. Then again, when a D routinely sends the house, no line can really block everyone; the rest of the O must make 'em pay. Smith was once among the best against the blitz, but now he's being overwhelmed. Sure, his receivers don't get open enough, but he's gotta either tuck it and run or throw it away--anything but simply stand there. Of course, when a receiver does get open, and Smith is able to get him the ball, making the catch would help us a lot. (Assuming, of course, he can locate the ball; Ted, I'm looking in your general direction.)

Not that the coaches are helping much. Jim Harbaugh must've known that his future opponents would copy the Ravens, yet he shockingly looked no better prepared. Where are the quick hitters? The one-steppers, the slants and the screens? Making no adjustments in Baltimore was puzzling; but still having made none two weeks later...seriously, am I missing the excuse for this?

These issues are only magnified in the red zone. Needing a touchdown up close in Detroit, we spread 'em out and hit on a slant. Now, it seems, every formation is bunched up tight, and we're throwing fades that require virtually unattainable combinations--for us, anyway--of accuracy, separation, and hands. Our odds might improve if we were throwing to Davis, Michael Crabtree, or Kyle Williams. Instead, we're repeatedly counting on Ginn and Edwards' corpse, with predictable results.

Look, we know our players have limitations; Harbaugh's already gotten more out of 'em than we ever had a right to expect. You could argue, then, that maybe this is simply it. Overloading the box, selling out to stop the run and rush the pass, is usually risky. You leave your secondary exposed, and an accurate passer, in rhythm with his receivers, will use quick-strike passes to pick you apart. But maybe Ds have figured us out: against us, there's no such risk; against us, they'll shut us down. So maybe this is all we are. A long TD, and a slew of threes. Good enough to win some games, but a Super Bowl? No, not yet.

Obviously, we could use some more talent. But that's not my biggest concern right now. My biggest concern, at least right now, is actually much more disturbing.

I still believe in Harbaugh, but I just don't understand what he's doing. As opposing Ds have tightened the screws, Harbaugh has seemed unable to adjust. Fake field-goals aside, his schemes seem to be getting less creative, rather than more. And weirdest yet, he seems unaware of even who his best players are, much less how to get 'em the ball.

A coach's job, it's often said, is to put his players in the best position to win. After some early-season bumps, Harbaugh was doing this brilliantly. Lately, though, not so much.

Our red-zone drought is Exhibit A. Frankly I've never seen anything like it. This team, which once was imbued with unshakable confidence, now looks like it just knows it can't score. With each failed trip, the pressure mounts, increasing the odds that the slump will continue. The trouble had been brewing for weeks, but the wins were enough to keep it at bay. That was the time to work it out, before it started to mess with our heads. Now we're losers of two of three. The locker room is starting to grumble, and a strong opponent is up next week.

We're 10-and-3. But right now our players don't trust themselves. Harbaugh must fix that, immediately. Or the worst thing of all might happen next.

They might lose their trust in him.