It’s amazing how a football game can come down to a matter of inches. A charging running back pushing the pile forward yet coming up two inches short of a decisive game sealing first down; a floating pass deep in the corner of the end zone just out of reach of a tight end’s grasp; the heartbreak of a wideout’s heel glancing the sideline as he gallops down the sideline for an apparent touchdown. For the 49ers in Monday Night’s heartbreaking loss to the Saints, the game tilted on a would be blocked field goal at the end of regulation that sailed through the uprights, despite Ray McDonald’s right hand nicking the ball as it sailed by. An inch more to the left and the game goes into overtime with the 49ers owning a sizable lead in momentum. Instead, the ball had just enough force to carry over the cross bar, handing the Niners another loss and a 0-2 start to the 2010 season.
A closer examination of the game reveals a San Francisco team with a penchant for shooting itself in the foot, with four turnovers at crucial points throughout the game. Winning in the NFL is difficult. Winning a Monday Night Football game against the defending world champions while coughing up a negative four turnover ratio is next to impossible. As Head Coach Mike Singletary put it after the game “When we stop defeating ourselves, when we stop putting the ball on the ground, when stop doing things that hurt ourselves, we’ll be a good football team.”
After two straight weeks of masochistic football, 49er fans are beginning to wonder if the team will ever pull out of its funk. Aside from the four costly turnovers, the team dominated in time of possession and moved the ball at will against the Saints. Frank Gore and the running game broke out for 112 yards on 20 carries, while Smith and the passing game put up 275 yards in the air with a respectable 8.6 yards per attempt. After the game, Gore eluded to the team’s offensive prowess: “We whooped their behind up and down the field. They can’t stand up with us, and we beat ourselves for the second week in a row. We’ve got to change that”.
Stats are great for fantasy players and coaches will try to be optimistic about the improved play of the offensive line and the running game, but when Tuesday rolls around and the team reviews the tape from the previous night, one thing will stick out above all the rest: Despite huge promise in the preseason, the 49ers are 0-2 and must now game plan for the Chiefs and the hostile Arrowhead crowd. On paper, the match up seems to favor the 49ers and their staunch run defense, as the Chiefs have struggled to pass the ball while relying on their three-headed rushing attack. Matt Cassel should have a difficult time passing against the niners who held Drew Brees and the Saints to 237 yards in the air.
The deciding factor will be whether or not the Niners can avoid hurting themselves, allowing the offense to cash in on long drives while not placing the defense in difficult situations. The Chiefs and 80,000 screaming Chief fans will be ready. Will the Niners?