Well, the season is over, and in a pretty pathetic way.
Losing to a last second drive by Eli Manning is one thing. Losing because of two muffed punts by a 2nd year player because our regular punt returner decided he couldn’t go with a minor knee injury? That’s a little tougher to take. Losing because Alex Smith decided that the NFC Championship game was the right time to return to old Alex Smith (1-13 on 3rd down, just 12/26 through the air, multiple sacks taken along with multiple plays aborted early while he threw it away) is tough as well. Usually I would be happy that my mantra this year (Alex Smith is not good enough to take this team to the Super Bowl) was proven right, but having come so close stings.
In the 4th quarter and overtime, you really saw the difference in quarterbacks. Eli would drag plays out as long as possible, and while that resulted in 6 sacks for an incredible Niners D (honestly, they played out of their minds in the second half), it also led to big plays and points on the board. Alex is still too focused in on avoiding turnovers and thus throwing the ball away. Part of that is obviously the way he’s been coached and the game plan given to him, but that very game plan is based around his abilities, and everyone knows he’s not quite good enough to keep a play going and make something big happen. The Giants could overcome the Niners shutting down the run game by trusting in Eli to throw it 58 times; when one thing doesn’t work, they know they can go to another. The Niners don’t have that luxury. All season (with some few exceptions) they’ve had to play very conservatively on offense, because they knew that they couldn’t overcome mistakes.
And yet there is hope for the future. That defense really is something to watch, and seeing the defensive line step it up in the second half and just brutalize the Giants’ O-line and Eli Manning was incredible. The offensive line settled down for the most part and really dominated the running game (though pass protection still needs some work). Vernon Davis is just an astonishing athlete. Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter are going to be really, really good in a platoon running attack. The wide receivers absolutely disappeared this game (almost literally: the receiving corp as a whole, minus the tight ends, had exactly 1 catch all game), but hopefully the team can find someone in the draft. And who knows, perhaps the team will get lucky or get crazy and find a way to get one of the top few quarterbacks in this upcoming draft. And we have a great, great, amazing coach for the next decade to lead them. Harbaugh was worth the money a hundred times over. He’s changed the entire team, and he’s already up there with Walsh for me.
In short, I feel both overwhelming anger and deep, deep sympathy for Kyle Williams. He may have nearly singlehandedly prevented the Niners from getting to the Super Bowl, but few should have to feel as bad as I’m sure he’s feeling now. That kind of pain should be reserved for the Alex Smith’s of the world (I tried, I really tried. I thought the New Orleans win might have changed my mind about him. But old habits die hard). Still a good season. Shame it couldn’t have continued a little longer.