Monday, November 12, 2012

Fine Mess

So, uh, That Happened.

The Tie Game in the NFL is rare enough that many don't seem cognizant of the fact that it can happen, and sometimes, it actually does. It's rare, I believe there have only been 4 such games in the NFL in the last 20 years, and the 49ers hadn't had one themselves since 1986. But in a game that proved so batshit crazy and out of whack, I suppose it's appropriate that this game ended in the rarely-seen and often-ridiculed tie game.

This didn't appear to be the 49ers game from the get-go. Being a West Coast game, it wasn't on TV in New York, and so I was relegated to streaming audio on my phone for the majority of the afternoon. The 49ers and their division rival Rams (who are sort of the Braves to the 49ers Mets in my eyes), a young, spunky team that's about a year away from being a major headache, jumped from the gates and punched the 49ers in the face early, both literally and figuratively. First, they strung together a pair of drives conceived mostly by pounding Steven Jackson down the 49ers throats and Sam Bradford then throwing it over their heads when they weren't expecting it, ending up in the end zone both times, leaving the 49ers both stunned and down 14-0 to an opponent that most figured they would pound easily. The defense looked out of sorts and the offense wasn't doing much.

The 49ers finally started to wake up late in the 1st quarter, and began to slowly inch their way down the field and back into the game. Alex Smith, who was off to a sharp start once again, hit Michael Crabtree on a long 3rd down play that brought the 49ers within inches of a 1st down. As is the case in close situations, the officials measured the distance the 49ers needed for a key 1st down. But for some reason that will probably remain a mystery, the clock was never stopped. The radio announcers didn't even notice it. 72 seconds ticked off the clock without anyone paying attention before the officials determined that the 49ers were a yard short, and were faced with a 4th down that they certainly had to go for, which they did and converted. By this point, Smith had already taken a shot to the head from a Rams defender on a scramble. So, not only were the officials dazed from their mistake, Smith was dazed from the hit. Nonetheless, Smith remained in the game long enough to complete the drive, which ended in a Michael Crabtree Touchdown to make the score 14-7. But not only was Smith concussed on the drive, apparently he couldn't even see straight, and he had to be removed from the game.

With Smith now sidelined, Colin Kaepernick was forced into action. Kaepernick, who to this point had seen action solely as a Wildcat option, wasn't exactly well-prepared for extended action. He had to get his act together and quickly. The 49ers offense seems well-tailored for Smith's strengths, but not so much for Kaepernick, who specialized in a pistol-type offense in College that allowed for him to run around alot rather than throw. With the 49ers behind, this appeared a recipe for disaster. Kaepernick scuffled for the remainder of the 1st half. Fortunately, the 49ers defense set out to stop the Rams where they were, and so the score remained 14-7 until late in the 3rd Quarter, when the Rams eventually cobbled together a drive that ended in a Field Goal to make the score 17-7.

By this point, I'd begun to get disgusted. The 49ers had been mostly sleepwalking through the game, hung over, perhaps, from playing 1 game in the last 21 days. I'd made mention about the 49ers inconsistencies this season, and to that point it was rearing its head at the worst moment. The ferocity they'd shown often in 2011 hadn't been quite so prevalent in 2012, and now it appeared it was beginning to cost the 49ers games and, more troubling, position in the standings. It's the kind of bluster that one might have come to expect out of a team like the Jets, that thinks it's better than it actually is. But the 49ers are that good, or at least they should be. A lot of sloppiness this season has, at times, cost them, but often they've been good enough to overcome it. At 6-2 halfway through the season, they have to have been doing something right. Sunday, if nothing else, they were helped by the Rams costing themselves with a number of penalties. Still, they trailed by 10 going into the 4th quarter, and embarked on a drive that nearly ended twice on fumbles by Kaepernick that the 49ers were fortunate to recover, but managed to keep alive long enough for Kaepernick to do what he does best and scramble for a Touchdown to bring the 49ers within 3 points. An Isaiah Pead fumble on the ensuing kickoff gave the 49ers the ball back immediately with great field position, and Frank Gore blasted through for another Touchdown that finally put the 49ers ahead 21-17 with 8 minutes to go. Finally, after all that, it appeared the 49ers got their act together and would pull out a win that would be rather impressive considering all that had gone on.

Not so fast. The crazy was just starting.

The Rams embarked on one of these creeper drives, where they just sort of inched down the field and used up a lot of clock, rather than go for the Grand Slam. When they stalled, they responded with a trick play, a fake punt that caught the 49ers off guard and allowed the Rams to continue to inch down the field and eventually score the go-ahead Touchdown with 1:13 to play. So, after all that crap, the 49ers had to try to come back again. Whether Kaepernick had it in him to lead another rally remained to be seen.

The answer was, yes he did. The game started to slow down for him just enough for him to make a few scrambles, complete a few passes, and even preserve enough clock for Frank Gore to rip off a couple of runs as the 49ers somehow managed to pull off the counter-miracle and kick a game-tying Field Goal as the clock expired.

By this point, the game had extended long enough that Fox had now switched from the concluded Cowboys/Eagles snoozefest to this game. The 49ers hadn't played a regular season Overtime game in a few years, so this was their first under the new Overtime Rules. This was almost moot when Bradford hit Danny Amendola for an 80-yard pass on the first play in Overtime, a Touchdown only prevented by a hustling tackle by Donte Whitner. But, true to the form of this game, the play was called back thanks to an Illegal Formation penalty on the Rams. Given the break, the 49ers stopped the Rams, and Kaepernick went back to work, moving the 49ers smartly down the field and into David Akers' range for a winning Field Goal. Unfortunately, Akers missed the Field Goal, a 41-yarder that he probably should have made. But, given the way this game was unfolding, why should he have made it (Another troubling problem—Akers, who had been so sure-footed all year last year, missed his 6th Field Goal of the season, many of them of the eminently makeable variety)? Given a reprieve, Bradford set out to make the 49ers pay. Their kicker, Rookie Greg Zuerlein, had already made a name for himself thanks to his ability to bomb long Field Goals. The Rams drive stalled and Zuerlein was sent out for a 53-yard Field Goal. The 49ers, out of Time Outs, couldn't ice him. The only thing left to chance was getting the snap off in time, which, again, true to the form of this game, the Rams were unable to do, in spite of the fact that they had a Time Out. Zuerlein made the kick, but the Delay of Game penalty forced him to kick again, this time from 58 yards, and Zuerlein missed wide right.

By this point, much of the Overtime clock had ticked away. There were barely 2 minutes left by time the 49ers got the ball back, and now it was going to take some kind of broken play or a turnover to give either team a chance to win. The 49ers took a bizarrely conservative approach to their next possession, which surprisingly went nowhere and ended with a punt. The Rams could muster little more, advancing only thanks to a holding penalty on Patrick Willis before stalling, wasting time after a completed pass, and having more time wasted by the officials on a botched spot. They also got flagged for another delay of game. I could do nothing but throw up my hands. Neither team could get out of their own way, and neither team was going to win the game. Bradford threw one final completion, fittingly about 60 yards shy of the end zone, and this shit show had come to its ridiculous conclusion.

The Tie Game in the NFL is rare, indeed. It's incongruous and doesn't make much sense. When it happens, it's usually met with head-shaking and sometimes ridicule. Usually, when a tie happens, it's because of exactly what we saw happen yesterday: Both teams slug it out for 4 quarters, and by the time Overtime rolls around, the teams have exhausted whatever useful Football they have in themselves. There's also usually a key injury somewhere, and we have yet to see what Smith's status is going forward. I suppose the tie helps out the 49ers much more than a loss, but how the hell do you sum up a tie? I could only come away thinking "What the hell kind of game did I just subject myself to?" I'd have to imagine most 49ers fans feel the same way. It's better than losing, I guess, but then again, the 49ers are supposedly clearly better than the Rams, and the best they could muster was a Tie, and a difficult Tie at that. It doesn't make me feel confident going forward, particularly with a Monday Night matchup against the Bears and their similarly injured Quarterback Jay Cutler next week.

No comments: