Monday, October 6, 2014

Small Screen

I have, for years, talked about the perils of being a 49ers fan in New York, and how on most weeks, their game isn't on TV. This season, by sheer happenstance, their first 4 games have been televised in New York. Sunday's game against the Kansas City Chiefs was the first time this season that the game was not on in New York. In prior years, when this has happened, I've been able to click on the NFL app, which offered free access to the radio broadcast of the game, and listen on my phone. I fully expected to be able to do so on Sunday, but, to my horror, when I opened my app at about 3:55pm, I discovered that the app had instituted a paywall, and in order to listen to the game, I had to plonk down something like $19.95. I'm in no mood to hand over money to that shyster Roger Goodell, so instead, I pulled up's gamecast on my computer and followed things that way. This isn't what I would call effective—it's easy to get distracted by other things, and who the hell can stare at animated graphics on a computer screen for that long—but if nothing else, I at least knew how things were going along in the game.

The 49ers, fresh off their come-from-behind win over Philadelphia last week, again found themselves in a back-and-forth battle with the Kansas City Chiefs and old friend Alex Smith, and although the lead changed hands multiple times, it was the 49ers who came out on top, thanks to 5 Phil Dawson Field Goals, another solid performance by the defense, and a trick play in a key moment, which paved the way to a 22-17 victory that put the 49ers back over .500.

The game didn't start out especially well for the 49ers, as Alex Smith, who rightfully received a warm welcome in his return to San Francisco, led the Chiefs right down the field for a Touchdown on the game's opening possession. Colin Kaepernick responded by leading an equally strong drive, but unfortunately, the drive stalled and the 49ers, in what's been a recurring theme, ended up having to settle for a Phil Dawson Field Goal. Each team's second drive culminated in Field Goals as well, as the Chiefs, behind Smith and Jamaal Charles moved down the field, while the 49ers embarked on a drive that fell flat when Kaepernick, who once again was working without his safety net in Vernon Davis, instead was throwing passes to the stone-handed Vance McDonald, who caught none of them and the end result was another Dawson Field Goal.

The 49ers 3rd drive finally hit paydirt right before halftime. Kaepernick hit Anquan Boldin and Derek Carrier (not McDonald) for large gains, and Frank Gore picked up some key yards in setting up a 9-yard Touchdown pass from Kaepernick to Stevie Johnson with but :35 seconds left in the half. This gave the 49ers their first lead of the day. But the Chiefs grabbed the lead back on their first drive in the second half on a lightning quick drive that saw Jamaal Charles break one long run and De'Anthony Thomas finish it off with a 17-yard run. Dawson's 3rd Field Goal on the ensuing drive cut the Chiefs lead to 17-16 as the game moved into the 4th Quarter.

The 49ers started out a drive deep in their own end, and it appeared destined to stall after Frank Gore couldn't gain much in the way of yardage. But on 4th and 1 at their own 29 yard line, Jim Harbaugh made the gutsy move to call for a fake Punt. Craig Dahl took the snap and basically plowed forward for the necessary yard to convert the 1st Down and give the 49ers new life. The drive continued as Kaepernick hit Brandon Lloyd for an acrobatic 29-yard catch that set up yet another Dawson Field Goal that put the 49ers ahead to stay at 19-17. The 49ers defense force Kansas City to punt on their ensuing drive, and once the offense got the ball back, they set out to eat the clock, which they were successful in doing thanks to Gore, Carlos Hyde and Kaepernick running the ball, ultimately setting up Dawson's final Field Goal. Alex Smith tried to lead the Chiefs back on a desperation drive with no Time Outs and just over 2 minutes to play, but for the second week in a row, Perrish Cox came away with a game-clinching Interception and the 49ers came away with their second win in a row.

The win, though nice, was far from memorable, and that's not just because I was halfheartedly paying attention to the game on my computer while watching the Orioles and Tigers on TV. The 49ers offense did more or less the absolute minimum necessary in order to win the game, doing a lousy job of finishing off drives and relying too heavily on Phil Dawson to kick them to victory. Any one of those 5 Field Goal drives finishes in the End Zone and the 49ers would have coasted to a fairly easy victory. Though Alex Smith did have some flashes, he only threw for 158 yards, and Jamaal Charles only rushed for 80. By comparison, Kaepernick threw for 201 yards and a Touchdown, while Gore banged out his second straight 100-yard effort. Brandon Lloyd paced the team with 76 yards receiving as Kaepernick spread the ball around to 8 different receivers over the course of the game. With this sort of output, you would think they would have been able to generate more than 22 points, but that's all they ran up on this day. The team hasn't really hit its stride yet, which I suppose is something worth remembering. But it will take a better effort than this to keep the winning going once the big boys start coming up on the schedule.

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