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  • Jeff Kaplan
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Jeff Kaplan's Latest Articles

  • By Jeff Kaplan
    Dec 31, 2013 at 2:15 PM 17 comments
    Trust me here, I hate to do this. Usually the question's absurd, unfairly detached from the moment's context. But as we begin this playoff season, it just might be the only way—to gain some crucial perspective, on what just might be the most scrutinized 12-win team of all time. We're going to play "If I had told you." Again, I really hate to do this. Even writing those words gives me the creeps. The question focuses on the big picture, which of course can be telling; but it's always a mistake to ignore the details, which usually can tell you more. Befitting the road we've traveled, though, we ought to start with the longer view. So here goes. Recall where you were on May 21, when you learned that Michael Crabtree had torn his Achilles. ...
  • By Jeff Kaplan
    Dec 10, 2013 at 4:50 PM 10 comments
    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...
  • By Jeff Kaplan
    Nov 19, 2013 at 6:36 AM 15 comments
    "All I remember," said Drew Brees, as if he were trying to piece together the details of some long-repressed trauma, "is just getting clothes-lined in the chin and as I'm on the ground, I'm saying, 'That's got to be a flag.' " Well of course it's got to. I mean, what's the alternative? That Brees, one of the NFL's golden geese, on his field, in front of his crowd, was merely hit on the shoulder pads—nowhere near his precious chin—and fumbled away the game? Yeah, that's the alternative. And since that can't be, then Brees must be right. That's got to be a flag. Oh, I know. The Niners were lucky to even be in this game, let alone leading it late in the fourth. Once again, the offense had been abysmal. ...
  • By Jeff Kaplan
    Nov 12, 2013 at 11:17 AM 42 comments
    So.... What did you think of the Niners' first flight? Yes, it was bad. Catastrophic, in fact. Everything had been nearly perfect. We were hot, rested, and healthy at last. The Panthers were on a roll of their own, but there was just no way that we'd stop here. After winning all those games with one hand tied behind our back, now was the time—to become the team we're supposed to be. Instead, of course, we delivered our very worst game of the year. And everything is now in doubt. As we've discussed, to beat good teams, you need to pass. With Mario Manningham coming back, we were finally supposed to be able to do so. Yet, instead, the roof caved in. 46 net passing yards: the fewest since Alex Smith's first start,...
  • By Jeff Kaplan
    Nov 3, 2013 at 8:04 AM 11 comments
    When the Niners reached "the midway point," their official website posted "the 10 best plays of the season so far." Not surprisingly, each was a play from their winning streak, during which they've grounded-and-pounded five of the league's least-threatening teams. Each was perfectly fine to be sure, but none was the play that best encapsulates the streak, that best sums up the season so far. It happened in week six, against the Cardinals. About halfway through the second quarter. That's when Greg Roman finally cracked. The game was tight, due to the Niners' offensive sluggishness. Certainly their D had done its part. One pick had gone back to the Cardinals' 7; another had set us up at the 11. From there we'd gained three total yards,...
  • By Jeff Kaplan
    Sep 28, 2013 at 2:08 PM 9 comments
    As Joe Staley lay on the turf, his screams filling a half-empty arena, he gave us what seemed like the answer. During the week, the league's hottest topic was what to make of the 49ers. Were they simply enduring a sluggish start, thanks to a tough schedule and a spate of injuries? Or were they finally crashing to earth, having used up (and squandered) two years of good fortune? After a week that started bad, got worse, threatened total catastrophe, but then seemed to offer a small ray of hope, Staley gave us what seemed like the answer. The truth about the Niners' season, screamed past the rafters and up to the heavens. It's broken. The week's first cracks appeared six days earlier, when Aldon Smith was busted—again—for...
  • By Jeff Kaplan
    Sep 17, 2013 at 2:25 PM 15 comments
    You again. Yes, me again. Look, don't even start, okay? We were at Seattle. That was a loss from the moment the schedule first came out. We were gonna lose there, just like all eight road-teams lost there last year. We are still the league's best, but at the Clink it just doesn't matter. We go there, we lose. Just accept it and move on. That's pathetic. When you're the league's best—though, clearly, we're really not—you beat anyone, anywhere. Montana's Niners once won 18 road games in a row; plenty of those were in hostile arenas. Did we ever say, "Oh, dear me, it's too tough to win there"? Hell, no. Instead we just went there and tore the place down. So spare me your excuses. It's just a little noise, for...
  • By Jeff Kaplan
    Sep 10, 2013 at 9:17 PM 8 comments
    Opening day. It conjures up so many things. Anxious anticipation. Childish excitement. Dangerous levels of sloth and gluttony. All these things are perfectly normal. But as Phil Dawson lined up the kick that would start the Niners' latest campaign, I was overcome by a strange emotion, one that I actually put into words. Loud, pissed-off words. "Five more [bleep]ing yards!" This might surprise you—given my usually relentless optimism—but throughout this offseason I was incorrigibly gloomy. Don't get me wrong; I wouldn't trade this era of contention for anything close to the preceding derpitude. But my word, it's still been tough. I never thought that a season could end more painfully than 2011 did. Yet 2012 ended 50 times...
  • By Jeff Kaplan
    Aug 21, 2013 at 6:55 AM 21 comments
    It's still there, waiting. Lurking there, just under the surface. You've tried to suppress it, will it away. But then, out of nothing, it strikes. And all of a sudden, there it is, back again, back with a vengeance. You could be doing anything. Mowing your lawn. Washing your car. And all of a sudden, there it is, standing there with its hideous grin. You try to run, but there's no escape. There it is, as awful as ever. You've tried to suppress it, will it away. But you know it's still there. And no, it isn't done with you. The pain, I mean. Five yards. Just five more yards. The pain's still there, and not just for the obvious reasons. Not just because we were that close, to returning at last to the top of the...
  • By Jeff Kaplan
    Apr 30, 2013 at 9:36 PM 15 comments
    When the Savior arrived—two years (or was it a lifetime?) ago—the plan was in place. And the key component, we knew, would be patience. Oh, sure, amid the euphoria that surrounded the hire, we had crazy visions of immediate greatness. But the plan was in place, and the plan would take time. First things first: the Savior would draft a quarterback. This, of course, would be the key, the kid who'd take us to Super Bowls. But once again, it wouldn't be soon. Young QBs take time to grow, so while he grew, we'd need a bridge, a grizzled vet from whom he could learn. Preferably, a proven winner, but one whose tank was running low. And then here's how the plan would work. Year One would be The Year of Installation. The vet would play, the...
  • By Jeff Kaplan
    Feb 9, 2013 at 10:28 AM 34 comments
    In times like these, a little perspective always helps. In 1987, the Niners (and their strike replacements) went 13-and-2. Their offense and their defense were ranked #1. They won their last three games by a combined score of 124 to 7. Going into the playoffs, the oddsmakers didn't see any need to wait for the Super Bowl. They installed the Niners as two-touchdown favorites, no matter the opponent. Accordingly, they were expected to bludgeon their first playoff victim, the lightly regarded Vikings. Yet in every phase, the Vikings dominated. The pressure applied by their defensive line drove the Niners' all-pro QB into shocking ineptitude. Meanwhile, our D had no answer for Anthony Carter, who set a playoff receiving record that stood for more than...
  • By Jeff Kaplan
    Jan 22, 2013 at 12:05 PM 19 comments
    This just couldn't happen. No, not again. Even when the Niners were getting certifiably torched during that nightmarish first-quarter—184 yards to minus-2—we didn't panic. Okay, maybe there was one quick thought, that WWL was bigger than any of us. But two things were obvious: the Niners would play better, while the Falcons couldn't. Once the lead was 17, though, a crossroads appeared. These guys are pros, so of course you knew they wouldn't just quit. But they're also human, and they had to see the sheer enormity of what they were facing. They were on the road, with all that noise, and their chance of a comeback, the stat-heads said, stood at a dismal 6%. Against such odds, pros or no, they had to think maybe this wasn't their...
  • By Jeff Kaplan
    Jan 15, 2013 at 6:57 AM 15 comments
    From the very beginning, this was the story. Sure, last year's team had its issues too. But it had this aura about it, this feeling of destiny. There was just this feeling that nothing could stop it. There was just this sense, it would find a way. Right until the very end, there was just this magic. Going into this season, the story was this. On paper, this year's team would be better. But that wouldn't guarantee a better year. We'd had to replace some players, of course, but that would be the easy part. Much harder would be replacing the magic. But here's the thing about magic. It can't be manufactured. It just has to happen. And predictably, throughout this season, it hadn't. This WWL stuff makes for...
  • By Jeff Kaplan
    Dec 25, 2012 at 12:23 PM 12 comments
    Well played, you diabolical Football Fates. Well played, indeed. You think this is hilarious, don't you? Of course you do. What an ingenious little plan. You spend the preseason setting us up to think that we're due for a "regression to the mean"—that the Super Bowl chance we'd botched last year would be the best chance we'd see for a while. But then you decide, why not raise their hopes a bit? Won't that make crushing them all the more fun? So you start us off with two solid wins, against two of last year's playoff teams. All of a sudden, we're ranked #1. But then you send us to Minnesota, where we come out flat and get steamrolled. Worst loss of the Harbaugh era, all the pundits say as one. And the doubt creeps in: maybe we're really not that...
  • By Jeff Kaplan
    Dec 18, 2012 at 4:36 PM 27 comments
    Not surprisingly, I like to focus on the beginning. After last week's offensive snoozefest, Greg Roman seemed to figure it out. Two things, actually. First, though Roman was clearly a run-first guy, his young QB was one of the league's most dynamic throwers. And, second, to beat the Patriots, he'd have to score, and score a lot. It's not rocket science. You throw. You throw deep. And you watch Colin Kaepernick explode. Our first drive should be kept in a bottle. Short passes, for 11, 12, and 13; and three plays later, a bomb for the score. And there it was, after all these years, the West Coast Offense that we grew up with: dink, dink, dink, BOOM! Oh, sure, we backed up that score with gobs of opportunities...
  • By Jeff Kaplan
    Dec 11, 2012 at 5:51 AM 26 comments
    I had this awful dream last night. Naturally, the setting was the 2012 playoffs. (I'm not any more interesting when I'm asleep, you see.) Due to a series of ironic twists—and despite those dastardly Football Fates—the Niners had earned a second chance. Hosting the NFC championship game. Facing the Giants. And leading, late. It'd been another tough, defensive struggle. Colin Kaepernick had thrown for one score and run for another, and David Akers had tacked on a 30-yard field goal (though he'd missed two more from 45). With 1:47 to go in the game—my dreams are pretty detailed, you see—the Niners were up, 17-16. And they had the ball, third-and-one at their own 29. The Giants had only one timeout left. Surely you can do...
  • By Jeff Kaplan
    Dec 4, 2012 at 5:09 AM 34 comments
    Please, David. Make this kick. This one is important, much more than the one three weeks ago. Oh, sure, another miss would mean another tie, or even a loss, after another soul-crushing day. But more than the last, we need this one. Or more precisely, Colin Kaepernick needs it. This past week, he'd found himself in the eye of a storm. Jim Harbaugh had made it official (or about as official as he ever makes anything): he was going to do the unprecedented. More than halfway through the year, a season with serious Super Bowl dreams, he'd be changing quarterbacks, voluntarily. No doubt, in light of Kaepernick's thrilling debut, Harbaugh received a slew of support, both from fans and from pundits alike. But the move was so bold—or...
  • By Jeff Kaplan
    Nov 27, 2012 at 5:08 PM 48 comments
    Sometimes, despite his roiling intensity, Jim Harbaugh just makes you smile. Take last week, for example. After Colin Kaepernick's breathtaking debut, Harbaugh virtually admitted the obvious: Kaepernick would start again. As the week went on, though, he refused to make it official. In his uniquely tightfisted way, he asserted that tipping his hand would cost him a "competitive advantage" against the Saints. And why on earth would he go and do that? I'm all for competitive advantages, but there were three things wrong with Harbaugh's theory. First, the Saints know that Harbaugh is smart; so they had to know he was way too smart to give up Kaepernick's efficient explosiveness. Second, and accordingly, all that Harbaugh was supposedly concealing was the...
  • By Jeff Kaplan
    Nov 21, 2012 at 8:09 AM 38 comments
    Despite his will, Jim Harbaugh was stuck. By most appearances, Alex Smith had become elite, just as Harbaugh had said he would. He was #1 in completion percentage, #2 in yards per throw, #3 in quarterback rating. And not entirely coincidentally, the Niners had continued to win. And yet, by a single crucial measure, Alex Smith had simply failed. A deep, explosive passing-game. These days, it's the key to success. Sure, we'd almost reached the Super Bowl without one. But "almost" doesn't cut it. To take the next step, we had to improve. To take the next step, we had to have it. Smith was given all the tools. A full preseason as the unquestioned starter. A second year in Harbaugh's scheme. A fleet of new and dangerous toys. And...
  • By Jeff Kaplan
    Nov 13, 2012 at 11:42 AM 17 comments
    Even after all of this, still somehow we were going to win. For the third straight time—the third straight time—we'd won two games but then come out flat. While our offense snoozed, the Rams put another ding in our D's reputation. Their first score might've been a bit fluky, but there was nothing cheap about their second, as they picked up yardage in chunk after chunk. Two drives, 127 yards, and immediately, 14-zip. By now it's clear that something's wrong. Last season, our defensive approach was simple and suffocating. First, stop the run, so completely that the opponent has no choice but to pass. And second, attack the passer relentlessly. Yet for several stretches so far this year, we haven't managed either...
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