Tuesday, September 11, 2012
That Other Team
In talking with a friend about the Week 1 49ers/Packers matchup, a game that featured a team that nearly missed the Super Bowl last year against a team that everyone thinks is going to win the Super Bowl this year, I had figured that the 49ers were probably going to lose the game. This wouldn't have wrecked their season, but it would have made sense; the 49ers were probably not going to sneak up on other teams like they did last season, the Packers were, overall, a better team top to bottom, with a juggernaut offense, etc, and the 49ers probably needed some time for their new offensive pieces to jell. Plus, they were playing on the road, against a team with a particularly nauseating type of mystique about their home field. They also hadn't won at said field since 1990, and they were in the midst of a 1-13 run against said team. In fact, the 49ers hadn't beaten Green Bay at all since the Terrell Owens game in 1998! By my estimation, the 49ers were going to have to play a perfect game in order to beat the Packers, and even then that was a dicey proposition. It was going to be a tough test, but a good one to see just how good the 49ers might be.
Well, damned if they didn't go out and play that perfect game.
It wasn't that it was a blowout, not at 30-22, but for the majority of the game, the 49ers looked like they were not just better than the Packers, but clearly better, and perhaps the Packers were more flawed then anyone wanted to admit. It may have been the 49ers playing an excellent game plan, but the Packers often appeared out of sync on defense and just plain boring on offense. The 49ers defense, among the best in the league last season and easily the best against the run, picked up right where they left off in a vintage performance. The Packers attempted to run the ball 9 times, with little success, and by time the second half came around, they abandoned it altogether. And with Aaron Rodgers continually dropping back to pass, the 49ers could muscle up on their pass defenders, shutting down the deep passing threat and forcing Rodgers to continually throw short passes...where NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis were usually waiting to knock someone's block off.
Offensively was where the questions were lying for the 49ers, and they seemed to answer those as well. The running game was solid, as expected, with Frank Gore carrying the load and Kendall Hunter providing the support. But could these new receivers fall into sync with Alex Smith? Was Smith even game enough to be able to move the ball around and sustain drives? Last year, he ended up stuck with Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree and nobody else in particular, and that ended up short circuiting the season. The answer, resoundingly, was yes on both counts. Smith slung the ball around with ease, hitting Crabtree 7 times, Randy Moss and Mario Manningham 4 times apiece and Vernon Davis 3 times, with Moss and Davis scoring touchdowns.
Even the Special Teams proved once again to be a strength. Andy Lee's punts forced the Packers into several long fields, and David Akers, the ageless wonder, tied an NFL record with a circus-like 63-yard Field Goal at the half.
Everything was working for the 49ers, all game long. Even when the Packers scored a Punt Return Touchdown (that shouldn't have counted because of a missed holding call) to draw within one score, the 49ers defense stepped it up, with NaVorro Bowman intercepting a Rodgers pass on the Packers' next possession, and Frank Gore followed that up with the game-clinching Touchdown.
The result of this victory is, as is wont to happen after teams look particularly good in Week 1, is that after weeks of people riding the Packers bandwagon, everyone seems to have jumped off and jumped on the 49ers. The word being throw around now sounds more like "Watch out for the 49ers..." or "If there's one team you don't want to play, it's the 49ers..." How quickly things can turn after one game.
But that's just it. Things can turn quickly in the NFL. One lousy performance can undo all the good feelings.
But I didn't think the 49ers would have a letdown after last season, and after watching them in Week 1, I think a letdown is even less likely. The Defense, which was the strength last season, appears to be every bit as good, and the Offense appears to have improved enough to generate more points on the scoreboard. And there's definitely something to be said about going into the home of the team that everyone figured was going to romp to the Super Bowl and knock them off. Maybe the 49ers were that team instead. Either way, if Week 1 is any indication, it's going to be a fun season for the 49ers.