Throwing game sinks 49ers
By Rob Longley, QMI Agency
|49ers quarterback Alex Smith walks off the field after losing to the Giants in overtime last night.
When you hear a coach talking about his quarterback’s need to manage a game, usually it is merely sanitized language to tell the careful listener that the man behind centre isn’t that good.
Pretty clear that was the case with 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh and his use of Alex Smith in Sunday’s dramatic NFC championship game.
We’re talking about a quarterback that was an incredible 0-for-11 on third down in regulation and who went most of the biggest football game of his career not having completed a pass to a receiver. He’s not the only man who spoiled a punishing defensive effort in a 20-17 overtime loss to the New York Giants, but Smith gets his share of the blame.
At one point, 101 of Smith’s 134 passing yards came on just two completions, his impressive touchdown passes to Vernon Davis.
On his first nine passes completed just two for nine yards and those were seemingly harmless dumpoffs to running backs. Credit to the Giants defence, but there surely hasn’t been a team that has come close to winning a conference championship game without a third-down conversion. Imagine how big a blowout this one might have been if the Giants had decided to cover Davis, the only real offensive threat the 49ers had through the air.
But that’s 49ers football under Harbaugh. Play incredibly punishing defence to hang around in games, hope you don’t have a dope on special teams like Kyle Williams and pray it’s enough to keep your team in it until the fourth quarter when the opposition gets worn down physically.
Crazy as it sounds, it almost got the coach and his offensively challenged quarterback to the Super Bowl.
Who would have thought the absence of returner/receiver Ted Ginn Jr. would mean the end of the 49ers playoffs? Say so long to the Bay Area, Williams after essentially ruining a brilliant defensive effort by your teammates ... There were plenty of big plays for Giants QB Eli Manning throughout — and yes, he’s more playoff poised than his older brother Peyton — but he paid a price. Of his 65 dropbacks, Manning was sacked six times and hit 19 more ... It doesn’t matter what excuse he had on his first muff, Williams had no business being within 20 yards of the bouncing, punted ball that bounced off his knee and set up the Giants’ go-ahead touchdown. Nice shot at redemption on the kickoff following the TD with a 40-yard return to get the ball near midfield to set up the field goal that tied it at 17-17. Until the overtime fumbled punt reception, that is ... At one point in the first half, Manning was red-hot on third down, competing five of seven. At one point in the fourth quarter he was 0-for-8. That’s the 49ers way — wear you down early and then get more physical as the game moves on ... The 49ers method of sending a pounding physical message early — they’ve knocked seven playmakers out of games this season — came in the first-quarter when Giants receiver Hakeem Nicks was clobbered by cornerback Chris Culliver after a seven-yard catch. Nicks, who appeared to suffer a shoulder injury, returned to the game but was little more than a decoy. Remember Nicks dinged the Packers for 165 yards the previous week ... When they needed him most, though, Nicks made that big third-down catch in the fourth quarter that kept the drive alive in the red zone and led to the Giants go-ahead touchdown.
No doubt that it’s been the season of the tight end and the 49ers’ Davis is a huge part of it. On that 73-yard touchdown pass to open the scoring on Sunday, Davis showed wide receiver speed in blowing by Giants safety Antrel Rolle ... In all the goofiness of the NFL’s touchdown celebration rule, this may take the cake: The Lambeau Leap is legal, we’re told by Fox, because it was grandfathered in. But Davis stands on a TV camera pedestal and it’s an excessive celebration penalty. Ridiculous, no? ... Two 15-yard penalties for Davis in the first half alone — one a dumb rule and one a dumb act by a player who should no better. Sticking his nose in a skirmish that was long over was inexcusable in a tight game ... The Giants defence is good and all, but other than the running of Frank Gore, which the G-Men caught on to eventually and the two big plays to Davis, there wasn’t much else ... Smith’s struggles in the fourth quarter seemed so profound that it was almost like he looked to be spiking it on first down ... You want to talk about smashmouth football? On some running plays late in the second half, the 49ers brought in two offensive lineman to act as tight ends and beat up on the 49ers D-line.
Though it wasn’t always pretty, both games were with a touchdown into the fourth quarter, a run of 12 consecutive championship games dating back to the 2011 season ... Manning is money on the road in the post-season, now winning five in a row ... Oddity for teams so stout defensively that Williams’ two botched punts were the game’s only turnovers ... The Giants dodged a huge bullet when the officials ruled that Ahman Bradshaw didn’t fumble because of forward progress at his own 20 right at the two-minute warning in the second half. It may have been the correct call, but it was almost game over ... It there was a weak spot in the 49ers defence, the Giants felt they found it in the first half by having receiver Victor Cruz run at cornerback Carlos Rogers. The eight catches for 125 yards looked to be the game changer until the 49ers D clamped down in the second half ... We know the Niners are getting a new stadium, but the lighting at Candlestick certainly doesn’t stand up to broadcast quality, does it?