Editor’s Note: I was out of pocket last weekend at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, so I didn’t get to see the Niners game. But I didn’t want to leave my faithful readers (both of you) hanging, so I called in From a Brooklyn Basement’s first ever guest columnist to hand out some awards: Allow me to introduce my attorney, Cornelius Cornhagen.
We all know Patrick Willis and Justin Goldman have much in common. Sometimes it’s easy to forget which one is the savage all-pro linebacker and ESPN Magazine Body Issue Adonis, and which is the nerdy hipster with the ethereal singing voice. This week both were forced to sit out, and two benchwarmers were called upon to attempt to fill the massive roles they play. Michael Wilhoite fared well in Willis’ stead, recording 11 tackles. Your guest author, nervously anticipating primetime, has donned his finest floral print cowboy shirt, and is bumping Led Zeppelin and sipping an expensive whiskey, all in an effort to channel the Goldman mojo.
A few short weeks ago, the sky was falling. The Niners, ravaged by injury and scandal, had been annihilated in consecutive games, the clear low-point thus far in the otherwise glorious Harbaugh era.
Now they’ve trounced teams in consecutive weeks, most recently crushing the Texans in a 34-3 blowout that wasn’t really in doubt after about 30 seconds. Things are better in Ninerlandia, thanks largely to our first award recipient…
The Adam Walker Award (Player Whose Actions Most Led to Defeat): Matt Schaub
In the long and storied history of this hallowed award, no player was more of an odds-on favorite to win than Matt Schaub was coming into this game. Schaub had been on an incredible streak, having thrown an interception that was returned for a touchdown in three straight games, tying an NFL record. His most recent backbreaking pick-six will go down as one of history’s worst—a completely unnecessary, bafflingly stupid, effeminate heave that fluttered into the waiting arms of none other than Niners Awards persona non grata numero uno, Richard Sherman, who strutted into the end zone. Thus were the odious Seahawks, once on the brink of defeat, gifted an entirely undeserved and unjust victory. Texans fans burned Schaub’s jersey.
The Niners-Texans matchup was heralded as a clash of two strong but staggered teams, and looked like it would be a good game. But on the fourth play, just as the announcers were discussing Schaub’s streak of game-destroying throws—and a few yards from where this award’s namesake coughed up a fumble that helped end the Niners’ promising 1995 campaign (and your guest author’s childhood)—Schaub served up another godawful interception. He looked left, then threw an out route, never bothering to look to see whether a defender was nearby. Niners cornerback Tramaine Brock jumped the route and took it to the house. Schaub had now entered a class of his own—the owner of a new NFL record for the worst play a quarterback can make.
The game, and probably Schaub’s career, was basically done at that point. But alas, Schaub was not. He threw another interception to Brock, who probably would have returned it for another touchdown if he had caught the ball cleanly. Then Schaub somehow threw another interception to a third-string lineman. And he tried to serve up several more along the way, including one that Eric Reid dropped and might have scored on, and another one that Brock almost had. Fans are now trying to burn down his house.
The semi-sad thing is the Texans are, but for Schaub, a pretty good team, and if they had a quarterback who could walk and chew gum at the same time, they’d be much more competitive.
Matt Schaub, the NFL’s newest bottom feeder, has become the Daniel Day Lewis of the Adam Walker Award.
The Joe Montana Award (Coolest Guy on the Field): Tramaine Brock
He may have ended two careers last weekend—Schaub’s and Nnamdi Asomugha’s—and he did it with style.
On that note, the defense has been good all year, even in the blowouts, where they didn’t give up many points until the wheels fell off at the end. Backups such as Brock have stepped up and the coaches have called more blitzes, leading to more big plays.
The Jerry Rice/Justin Smith Award (Most Dominant Player on the Field/Big Guy Who Breaks Things): J.J. Watt*
The Niners Awards first dual recipient, Watt gets an asterisk because he’s either juicing or is some sort of mythical beast in a defensive tackle avatar. He completely dominated the Niners’ offensive line, particularly Anthony Davis. He had three tackles for losses, and three hits on Kaepernick, including the hardest hit Kaep has taken in his professional career.
Can you imagine what would happen if Schaub gets picked up by, say, the Jacksonville Jaguars, and Watt gets to face him twice a year? I’m thinking a Mortal Kombat fatality…
The Ronnie Lott Award (Guy Who is Such a Badass He’d Cut His Own Finger Off to Make a Play): Eric Reid, again
One of the questions going into Superbowl XXIII was whether the Niners could stop Bengals star rookie running back Ickey Woods, a bruising runner and the famed progenitor of the Ickey Shuffle. Early in the game, Ickey took a handoff and got blasted by Ronnie Lott. That set the tone for the game, which the Niners won 20-16. The next year, Ickey tore his ACL and never really accomplished much else of note.
Early in the first quarter last Sunday, while the Texans still had a modicum of hope, Eric Reid, the once and future Ronnie Lott Award recipient, gave us a Lott-Woods type moment. Stud Texans running back Arian Foster broke through the line, and Reid, like a missile, shot onto the screen and absolutely pasted Foster.
One of the big question marks before the season was whether the Niners could replace All-Pro Dashon Goldson, who left to sign a huge contract witrh the Bucs. Reid might already be an upgrade. He looks good in coverage and hits as hard as Goldson, but doesn’t get the stupid penalties, and seems like an all-around good, smart guy. Even though he dropped that interception, the dude’s a stud.
The Jeff Garcia Award (The Best Quarterback on the Field, by Default): Colin Kaepernick
Your guest author is a known Kaepernick evangelist. After week 1, when Kaep threw for over 400 yards, this excitement reached theretofore untold heights. After that game Kaep had two shit games and one decent game. Against the Texans, he started strong, completing four passes on the Niners’ first drive, which ended with a Frank Gore touchdown. But then he didn’t complete a pass for two quarters. When he finally did, though, it was a beautiful strike to Vernon Davis for a 64-yard touchdown.
Kaep finished the game with six completions. SIX!!! To put that into perspective, Schaub had half as many completions to the Niners (and probably should have had about six). Then again, Tramaine Brock also looked like our most competent receiver…
Overall Rating For This Game (On a scale of Zero to Twelve Anchors, in honor of San Francisco’s favorite beverage): 4 Anchors
It was beautiful to see the Niners dominate, but the game was utterly devoid of drama, mostly because the other team fucked up. Sounds like 4 Anchors.
At 3-2, the Niners have limped their way through what looked like the hardest part of their schedule, though the Rams and Texans have turned out to be total dumpster fires. Now the Niners have a relatively easy stretch coming up. Several players will return from injury soon. There’s a possibility this team could string together some wins and be healthy by the time it plays the Saints and the hated Seahawks.
But a lot needs to change for this team to be considered a contender again. Foremost is getting Kaepernick on track. He has shown that he still has a lot to learn. Having another receiving target would help, but it’s hard to see anyone on the Niners roster really stepping up. The Niners will continue to be vulnerable to teams that can shut down their run game. (And next week’s opponent, the Cardinals, have a very good defense. Hopefully Carson Palmer does his best Matt Schaub impression.) I expected Kaepernick to have some rough games, but this prolonged slump is the biggest issue facing this team going forward.