Monday, December 3, 2012

Stink Bomb

Suffice it to say, I've had enough of the St. Louis Rams. I can't say I've ever had much of a warm spot for them, considering their rivalry with the 49ers extends back to their days as the Los Angeles Rams, and has included a number of tense, terse battles. For years, the Rams were a doormat, and the 49ers would pound them accordingly. Then, Steve Young retired,  Kurt Warner ascended and the Rams were the frontrunners, despite the fact that I refused to give them or their "Greatest Show on Turf" garbage any sort of respect. The fact that they only managed to win one Super Bowl in that era was bad enough; they are basically the Braves to the 49ers Mets in my eyes. I can't stand them. And after seeing them slog through nearly 10 quarters of football, only to finish 0-1-1 for the season against them, I'm a bit disgusted.

The Tie game 3 weeks ago was bad enough. The Rams knocked Alex Smith out of the game and kicked off this Quarterback Controversy which has ended up with Colin Kaepernick getting a baptism by fire while Alex Smith scowls on the sidelines. But at this point, it's not really worth getting into the Kaepernick vs. Smith debate, because Kaepernick is a) Continuing to start and b) The future of the team going forward. Still, it puts an undue amount of pressure on the remainder of the team to be perfect and coax Kaepernick through games at times.

Sunday's debacle against the Rams was one such instance of the remainder of the 49ers needing to coax Kaepernick. As it stood, if you took a pair of really hideous mistakes by Kaepernick off the board, the 49ers would have won the game, probably 10-0. Not exactly a clean victory, but enough that the 49ers defense would have ground it out. After a Frank Gore Touchdown capped off the 49ers second drive of the day, the offense pretty much ground to a halt. With the game not on TV in New York, I was relegated to streaming audio on my phone (Mets fans will be interested to know that former TV voice Ted Robinson does the radio call for the 49ers on KNBR in San Francisco). It's not perfect, but it's effective, although the 49ers boast an 0-2-1 record in games that I've streamed, so maybe it's not great from a superstitious standpoint. The point being that not being able to see the game, it's sort of tough to say exactly what happened, but it seemed to me that the Rams made some adjustments on defense and started really putting the heat on Kaepernick and the running game. After a solid start, Frank Gore was pretty much shut down completely, and without Kendall Hunter as the change of pace, Brandon Jacobs was also stone quiet. Kaepernick was making passes, but the Rams pass rush got after him enough to keep him from getting too comfortable. They also sacked him multiple times, something neither the Bears or the Saints were able to do.

On the other side, the 49ers defense was superb. After their outstanding effort pretty much won the game against the Saints, they set out stopping the Rams in their tracks pretty much all afternoon. Although they didn't force any turnovers, they also didn't allow the Rams any extended drives. The one time the Rams managed to make it in to the 49ers Red Zone, the defense stopped them on 4th down, keeping them off the board.

But despite all this, the 49ers weren't able to extend beyond a 7-0 lead, which was somewhat troubling, and even moreso when Kaepernick, facing heavy pressure from the Rams on a pass play from his own 17-yard line, bizarrely retreated all the way back to his own end zone before floating a worthless pass toward nobody in particular. The resulting Intentional Grounding call gave the Rams a Safety, putting them on the scoreboard at a rather bizarre 7-2, something that looked more like Giants/Cardinals than 49ers/Rams.

Undaunted, the 49ers defense went out and stopped the Rams again and eventually the offense got themselves tracked enough to kick a Field Goal and extend the lead to 10-2. The defense remained strong, and with a little over 3 minutes left to go, the 49ers had a chance to run out the clock with an unimpressive, but welcome victory. Teams here tend to play safe and just run the ball, although the 49ers hadn't had much success running the ball in the second half. But that really doesn't explain why, on 3rd down, Kaepernick ran a read option play, and instead of just running with the ball and trying to get a few yards, Kaepernick decided instead to lateral to Ted Ginn, Jr. Badly. So badly that rather than just flipping the ball to Ginn, Kaepernick appeared instead to sail the ball over Ginn's head, where it bounced around freely long enough for the Rams to scoop it up and score a Touchdown. This was, basically, a complete disaster. The combination of a poorly chosen play, combined with incredibly stupid execution that conspired to hand the Rams a gift Touchdown and, following a 2-point conversion, a 10-10 tie in a game where the Defense still hadn't allowed any points.

On the 49ers ensuing drive, Kaepernick appeared to have redeemed himself, ripping off a 50-yard run before destructing again, missing a wide open Delanie Walker for a potential go-ahead Touchdown, and then stepping out of bounds after a 3rd down scramble to stop the clock, allowing the Rams to save a time out. David Akers kicked a Field Goal to give the 49ers a lead, but the damage had already been done. Almost predictably, the Rams scrambled enough of a drive together to get into Greg Zuerlein's range, and his 53-yard Field Goal sent the game into Overtime. Overtime with these clowns once again.

The Overtime in this game played out quite similar to the Overtime in the prior game, which is to say that both teams had opportunities and both teams managed to screw them up. The 49ers had a golden opportunity after the Rams handed them a 14-yard punt, giving them the ball at midfield. But they couldn't generate any sort of offense, and then stupidly set up for a long Field Goal attempt from David Akers. Kickers in the NFL are sort of like any MLB Relief Pitcher. Most of them are erratic and mercurial, with only 1 or 2 sure things in the league, and even they have their moments. Every so often, one of them will have a hot season and then coast on that reputation for a while. Akers is one such instance. After a great year in 2011, Akers has been middling this season. Setting him up for a 51-yard Field Goal last year would have been OK. This year, not so much, which is why I wasn't completely surprised that Akers kick missed just wide right, keeping the game tied and giving the Rams one final shot in a game that appeared to be primed to end without a winner once again. Though the Rams did their best to screw it up, they somehow managed to get just far enough to give Zuerlein, whose penchant for long Field Goals has earned him the nickname "Legatron," to boot home a 53-yard Field Goal with 30 seconds left in OT. No false starts, no delay of games, just a clean Field Goal, and finally, a winner in this mess of a game. Unfortunately, on this day, it wasn't the better team that won.

It's fortunate that the 49ers are now done with the Rams, because they just seem to bring out the worst in the Niners. I'm sure anyone on the team will say they've had enough of the Rams. Two games in which they played 30 seconds short of 10 Quarters of football and they couldn't find a way to win either game, sometimes it's just the opponent. The Rams are a young team and they've figured out a method of playing the 49ers particularly tough. They play the entire division tough. So, the 49ers now sit at 8-3-1 for the year, still holding a game and a half lead in the Division over the Seattle Seahawks and a 1 game lead over the Giants for the #2 seed in the NFC. Nothing is a given, particularly considering the 49ers have a pair of really difficult road games remaining on their schedule, at the New England Patriots in 2 weeks, and at the Seattle Seahawks in 3 weeks. The Miami Dolphins lie next, however, and we'll see how the 49ers come out after this wreck of a game.

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