This was the week that I came to terms with the likelihood that my beloved 49ers will not be winning the Super Bowl this year. What brought me to this conclusion? To answer, let’s hand out some awards.
The Jerry Rice Award (Most Dominant Player on the Field): Carolina’s Defensive Line
Colin Kaepernick threw for 91 yards today. Less than 100 yards, in the whole freaking game. He completed just 11 of 22 passes, was sacked six times, and seemed to be running for his life for most of the game. I’m not sure how much of this was the receivers not getting open downfield (losing Vernon Davis to a concussion certainly didn’t help, and the long awaited return of Mario Manningham didn’t amount to much, at least for this week), but the passing game just never got going, and the Panthers deserve credit for that. The Niners have what’s generally considered to be the best offensive line in football, and the Panthers defensive line (along with linebacker Luke Kuechley, who is a beast) kicked the shit out of them in the trenches today. This game was very reminiscent of the Niners losses to the New York Giants in recent years; teams with tough, physical defensive fronts give the Niners serious problems.
The Mike Singletary Award (Questionable Coaching): Jim Harbaugh
I hate it when coaches settle for field goals when they have fourth and short in the red zone. With the Niners up 6-0 in the second quarter, Harbaugh did just that, sending in the field goal unit on fourth-and-one. Now, as I’d mentioned, Carolina outplayed the Niners in the trenches, so maybe the Niners don’t even convert, and obviously we don’t know how the game goes differently if the score is 13-0 instead of 9-0, but we do know that the Niners lost by one point, and didn’t go for it the one time they had the ball in the red zone. This may seem like 20-20 hindsight, but it’s not: I was yelling “Go for it” at the TV in the bar while this was happening. Harbaugh’s a good coach, but he bears some of the responsibility for this loss. Also, it should be mentioned that the Niners abandoned the run in the second half, even though Gore was getting nice yardage and the passing game wasn’t working at all–the same mistake they made in their Week Three loss to Indianapolis.
The Adam Walker Award (Player Whose Actions Most Led to Defeat): Kendall Hunter
In my Week Eight recap, I mentioned how much I like watching Kendall Hunter and how I’d like to see him get a little more PT. Well, that didn’t go so well today, as Hunter had a crucial fumble that killed a promising third quarter drive. It wasn’t really his fault–he got crushed by a Carolina linebacker–but that play was the last one the Niners ran in Carolina territory.
Also, can I just point out how fucked up the football gods were today? We watched Davis get hurt, then we watched Eric Reid get knocked unconscious on the field, his second concussion in an otherwise spectacular rookie season. And then Carolina fumbled twice–TWICE!–on their last possession, only to recover them both. If the Niners recover either of those–and the first one was in Donte Whitner’s fucking hands–then they probably win. The football gods were trolling us today.
Overall Rating For This Game (On a scale of Zero to Twelve Anchors, in honor of San Francisco’s favorite beverage): 0.5 Anchors
I award this game one-half of an Anchor, because that’s roughly the amount I would drink before I smashed the bottle and slashed my own wrists with razor-sharp broken glass. What a debacle. The Niners are now two games back of Seattle, with very little chance of catching the Seagulls in the NFC West, and if the playoffs started today, they’d actually be the six-seed, as the Panthers, who have an identical 6-3 record, would have the tiebreaker courtesy of this game. And more than that, let’s just be honest: Does anyone believe that this Niners team can win three straight road games, including one in Seattle, to make it to the Super Bowl? I don’t.
Where’s that broken bottle…