Article Title: Turning point in nine-year drought.
Nothing could have braced us for the outcome we witnessed against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this past Sunday at Candlestick Park. By all accounts and sports analysts this was to be a smash mouth defensive calamity type contest that would be so close it would be decided on who blinked first. Instead we saw our San Francisco 49ers unite in a way that symbolizes the very turning point of this team in finding continuity on both sides of the ball.
For the very first time we saw our San Francisco 49er offense in nine years click in a rhythm we really began to believe would never happen right before our collective eyes. Every facet of the offense starting with the offensive line failed miserably the last four games to execute with discipline, all of a sudden meshed in a way that made both Alex Smith and Frank Gore shine in the limelight that both had been chasing since the season first started.
Credit is due to them right out of the gate when Alex Smith connected with tight end Delanie Walker on a drive that started at midfield and ended with a 26-yard Smith touchdown pass to Walker in the end zone between three defenders that were all around him. It was jaw-dropping inspiration to see the synchronized marching of our offense right down the field and scoring with such complete confidence.
Alex Smith prospered with the new and improved offensive line playing so well in that he completed 11-of-19 passes for 170 total yards and most importantly three touchdowns with two to our other tight end extraordinaire in Vernon Davis. Smith was not sacked the entire game and that was against a Buccaneer defense that has a distinct reputation for harassing the quarterback. Smith also ended the game with a 127.2 quarterback rating and threw by what I count really only two inaccurate passes that seemed questionable as I believe they were under-thrown.
As much as I have cried and grieved over our quarterback position not being the very center of our attention as an organization and again from a fans perspective I will give Alex some credit in helping guide this team in the right direction by him actually believing in himself with a new set of confidence that is being visualized right on the field. Alex has been through more adversity then any other 49er quarterback I have ever known and that has been because of the endless head coaching carousel we have been accustomed to witnessing as we try and identify who we are.
The whole time in nine long years has been the absence of the true West Coast Offense that only Jim Harbaugh out of Stanford promised to bring back and he cashed that in right from day one of this 2011 NFL season. No one since the departure of Steve Mariucci has stuck to the true founding system that helped form our winning dynasty so long ago as is what Jim is doing for us right now. Absolutely the best coaching staff I have ever witnessed in a long time with great credit going to both coordinators in Greg Roman and Vic Fangio. Unit and position coaches behind these two also deserve the applause they are now hearing from the stands at Candlestick Park instead of the endless boo’s that are as constant as the bay area winds.
However you want to look at it Jim Harbaugh and Greg Roman have had a prolific effect on Alex Smith’s self confidence and have assisted him in turning the corner on a minefield of shortcomings he was harassed for in so many defined situations. I am cautiously hopeful that Alex can be what we envisioned him to be when we drafted him in that he helps lead us to a division title.
Frank Gore also erased the critics that saw him as under-performing from the start of the season in part because the offensive line was still experiencing its own identity problems. His second 100-yard rushing game of the season was capped on 20 carries for 125 total yards with a 6.3-yards average per carry and a second quarter touchdown to boot. The line helped produce 213 rushing yards on the ground and showed great poise and execution in creating lanes of opportunity for our backs to take advantage of.
One of the best San Francisco 49er defenses of all time is now developing right before our eyes and that is not under defensive guru Mike Singletary but under Jim Harbaugh, Vic Fangio his coordinator, Jim Tomsula his defensive line coach, Ed Donatell his secondary coach and Jim Leavitt his linebackers coach. This staff in conjunction with some elite players has created a rock solid defense on the ground and through the air in that we forced three turnovers that pulverized the momentum of the Buccaneers.
Following a costly fumble of our own with Frank Gore losing the ball and Tampa Bay looking to capitalize on that ;Buccaneer quarterback Josh Freeman was intercepted by 49er cornerback Carlos Rodgers who publicly told Jim on the sidelines following the Gore fumble that we would get it back; and he did returning it 31 yards for a touchdown. Rookie defensive back Chris Culliver also snatched an interception following this for the Frank Gore touchdown to happen. And let’s not forget the 49er defensive stand in holding the Buccaneer rushing attack to 86 yards total and sacking both Buccaneer quarterbacks for a total of eight times.
Special teams cannot be forgotten with the Buccaneers averaging starting point at their own 18-yard line and Adam Lee and David Akers having great games with the coverage units as well. “Bottom line it was the first time in nine years I cans say we brought the whole house to bear on our opponent.” With a record of (4-1) we have the ability to define our destiny upon this season. Losing veteran wide receiver Josh Morgan to a broken leg was the most devastating sting we as fans felt following this contest and I pray that Josh a champion-like team player recovers quickly and is there by all of us in watching this prolific revival happening right before our eyes.
Sources of Information: Mercury News.com, SF Gate.com, Inside Bay Area.com, NFL.com and my own personal analysis and opinion.