Article Title: Standing Collectively.
Who would’ve thought that we would be considered a playoff contender with a (4-5) record in the National Football League’s Western Division? With our victory on the road against the Detroit Lions 19-13 last Sunday the weather forecast for us is suddenly much brighter than it ever has been.
However we all need to realize as 49er faithful that we must temper our excitement and enthusiasm just a little bit as willingly knowing that this is progress marching towards a resounding drumbeat that Mike Nolan and his coaching staff have been manufacturing since the start of this season.
Individual players must buy into the concept that working together, executing plays and believing that improvements come from those that put in the extra effort on a daily basis result in success and winning breeds confidence.
We can only accomplish great things by being successful collectively as a team. Mike Nolan has made numerous references to this focal point and it is one that I believe is the determining factor in our two-game winning streak.
Players in the locker room are behind Mike Nolan and are buying into his ideologies and philosophies that he preaches both off and on the field of play. I have to say I am very impressed in the way he has managed this team from the bottom to the top and he has won my undying loyalty.
He made even more references to acquiring the right players that have the right intangibles to play the game of football. He gave credit to Vice President of Personnel Scot McCloughan and his talented ability to identify prime talented athletes that have that uncanny package of football intangibles that separate them from the rest of the mediocre crowd so to speak.
Mike Nolan was grilled on what it was that transpired from the ugly blowout losses we suffered at the hands of Kansas City and Chicago to the consecutive victories we obtained from Minnesota and Detroit. His answer was always the same focal point in reference to being able to play as a collective unit and execute plays.
This was the best defensive effort orchestrated by the San Francisco 49ers yet during his tenure so far as the head coach, according to Nolan himself. We played with the heart of a lion in that the defensive unit stayed aggressive and hungry in its relentless attack on the Detroit Lions offensive game plan.
Newly crowned 49er-starting linebacker Brandon Moore again followed up from his outstanding performance against the Minnesota Vikings with an effort that included nine tackles and two sacks, both team highs.
Newly promoted free safety Keith Lewis a native of Sacramento made the most of this Sunday by stripping the ball from Lions running back Kevin Jones in the first quarter and then grabbed the game-clutching interception on the Detroit Lions last offensive drive.
The San Francisco 49er-rushing defense held Kevin Jones to 44 yards rushing and only 71 total yards as a team. The San Francisco 49er pass defense held Detroit Lions veteran quarterback Joe Kitna to complete 19-of-30 passes for 202 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
Joe Kitna was sacked three times throughout the game, with one that aired on ESPN’s ‘you got jacked up,’ series with a vicious smack down hit from 49er cornerback Shawntae Spencer and the other two from Brandon Moore.
Our defense played from a fresh perspective because of the offensive performance that chewed time of possession with 38:49 worth of game clock to 21:11 for the Lions. They played aggressively and with pinpoint accuracy as they held the Lions on third downs to a 33% completion ratio.
“Everybody was going out on the field talking about how we were 20-point underdogs,” said 49ers safety Keith Lewis, whose team actually entered the game as six-point underdogs to start. “The defense really took that to heart. (The Lions) couldn’t even get 20 points on the scoreboard. That shows you what this defense can do.”
The two substitutions that have turned out to be the starters in this defense in both linebacker Brandon Moore and safety Keith Lewis speak volumes about players that are determined to bring a winning philosophy to the team. The inner sanctuary of the players was changed with the heart and desire from these two to help turn the tide around.
Right from the beginning of this game we approached it with a winning attitude to the scampered footsteps of running back Frank Gore who was off to the races with a 61-yard touchdown run on our first possession of the game. Notre Dame’s finest in wide receiver Arnaz Battle helped spring Frank Gore with an accurate block that knocked out two Lion defensive backs to make it happen.
Frank Gore won high honors in this game with his finest performance yet in rushing for 159 yards for 7.2 yards a carry and a 61-yard touchdown play. He left the game in the second half with a mild concussion after a vicious hit, but appeared to be fine on the sideline and is cleared to play this coming Sunday.
“It was big to get those kind of yards,” said Alex Smith of Gore’s ground game. “What did he play two and a half quarters or something like that? He’s a back that can do just about everything. He catches well, he runs well, he blocks and he does a lot. He doesn’t really have a weak part to his game. He’s been big for us especially on first down.”
If there ever was a doubt about why we traded Kevan Barlow to the New York Jets, this just about justified the reasons as to why we did it. Frank Gore is an inspiration to this football team as even Mike Nolan has stated. He comes from a family struggling to make a living and that has fallen on hard times.
He is an athlete that has a tremendous amount of courage and inner drive to accomplish anything he sets his mind out to do. He is a role model both off the field and on it, often making references about his success to the blocking regimens of his offensive line. Every single player on that line welcomes his intensity and work extra hard to sustain blocks for holes to be made for him to run through.
Alex Smith continues to shine as a quarterback that manages the game with precise execution. He does whatever is necessary to sustain offensive drives and to achieve the first down during critical third down conversion opportunities. In fact he completed 14-of-20 passes for 136 yards with zero interceptions.
Very average numbers at best, but enough to hold on to the ball and secure a victory by converting 10-of-19 third down opportunities for a 53% completion ratio. He is now very confident while standing in the pocket and is able to make calculated decisions in managing the offense by sprinting for first down markers and dodging potential sacks by defensive backs.
He proved to be an illusive player as he orchestrated offensive drives that chewed up game clock and made a critical third down pass to Arnaz Battle in the fourth quarter while Frank Gore was out with 2:20 left in the game.
Mike Nolan came away impressed with Alex Smith’s ability to spot the blitz, and make the better reads when checking down with his receivers, looking well beyond just the primary target as an improved focal point.
“He made some plays, whether it just be shoveling the ball out there or coming out of the pocket and running for a first down,” Nolan said.
Being the intelligent player he is and one of the primary reasons we selected him when we drafted him, Alex is an eager pupil to head coach Mike Nolan and offensive coordinator Norv Turner. He understands what it means to manage the offense and keep drives alive.
“Let those big plays come to you instead of trying to force them,’ Smith said. “And continue to do the little things. Those are what win games for you.”
Nolan was asked as to how confident he was with drafting Alex Smith in the first draft of his tenure and where he thinks Alex is headed right now. Nolan went on to predict that Alex would be a great quarterback in Year 12 or 13. At the same time he clearly endorsed Alex as having a similar career path as a Peyton Manning and a Tom Brady.
I believe Alex has arrived already as most of us can attest to. He has already completed 60.2% of his passes this season, with nine touchdowns and seven interceptions. He now has a quarterback rating of 80.4. In 2005, he completed 50.9% of his passes, with one touchdown, 11 interceptions and a rating of 40.8.
Special teams continue to excel for us as well with Brandon Williams returning kickoffs and punts well, kickoffs averaging 22.5 yards on reception. Kicker Joe Nedney kicked four successful field goals to solidify the victory over the Detroit Lions and build upon the momentum he sustained as well from the game against Minnesota over a week ago.
Obviously we can look at the fact that the offense only generated field goals on opportunities that could’ve been touchdowns to put away the game earlier than we did.
After safety Keith Lewis forced a fumble that was recovered by Mark Roman, setting up the 49ers at the Lions 32-yard line. This trip and two other red zone trips ended at the 11, 5 and three-yard lines respectively, and yielded only six 49er points on Joe Nedney’s foot.
You have to wonder if we are having some red zone troubles and are lacking touchdown production when we are within striking distance from 30 or even 20 yards out from the goal line. But the most important aspect for me is to build upon what successes we have already had.
Successes that have led us to victory rather it be contributions from our defense or a culmination of both. We will solve those red zone blues eventually and Alex will make those connections happen with extensive playing time and experience.
More importantly he is managing the offense in a way that we win time of possession and keep the defense fresh with each new series that they come into the game. All the rest is really second nature and a bonus when we are able to score more points on well designed drives.
He is also becoming a better clutch type of quarterback with the game in his hands in the fourth quarter and taking over at the 26-yard line after Keith Lewis’s return, Alex Smith's seven-yard completion to Arnaz Battle on a third and seven play allowed the 49ers to take a knee at the end and wind out the game clock.
“I wanted the ball in my hands,” said Smith who by the way avoided a rush to deliver a pass. “It’s nice to have the confidence from our coaches for them to call that play. With the game on the line, to be able to call that and them being able to execute it and get it done, it’s a nice feeling.”
Mike Nolan handed out game balls in abundance after this game. He went on to praise the performances of defensive end/linebacker Manny Lawson and his ability to create opportunities for the defense to capitalize on in this game with a fumble recovery and a pass defended.
What we all heard though from Mike Nolan is not to keep champagne bottles around just yet. But to look at each week and each game as just that, stepping-stones to getting into an opportune situation. We have an opportunity this week to take on a great franchise in the division leading Seattle Seahawks at home.
The return of Julian Peterson who is playing better than ever is imminent to us as former fans of his, and his intent is to make Alex Smith pay and pay dearly so as to escalate his standing within this division and prove he’s worthy of his expensive contract.
I say let’s all understand that this game really is a turning point on our season and it will define where we are headed within this single season. To defeat the Seattle Seahawks at home will send a strong signal to the NFL that we have risen finally from the depths of mediocrity.