In last night’s matchup against the Saints, the 49ers showed that they do have the right stuff to compete with anybody in the league. They improved greatly on the most of the problems that made their first game. Even though they did not come out on top, the team did have plenty of positives to build on and negatives to improve on as they continue to on with the season.
Positives: Three things that stood out to me were: the defense, the offensive play-calling, and the 2:00 minute offense.
The defense: That unit played well throughout the whole night and stopped the Saints on multiple drives. It would have been preferable if they stopped the Saints offense on their first drive, but unfortunately that did not happen. It is not as if the Saints offense clicked all night long. Throughout the fourth quarter, the Niners did their job extremely well until it mattered most (last drive of the game). If the defense stopped them, the game would likely have gone to OT and who knows what would happen then. Nonetheless, the defense played well and allowed the Saints’ lethargic offense just two touchdowns on the night.
Play-calling: Maybe it really was the headset. Jimmy Raye actually called the plays really well in this game. The run was well established early on in the game and Frank Gore did it all, blocking well on passing plays and running great when his number was called. Alex Smith did throw two interceptions and I will only fault him for one. Both of the interceptions made by New Orleans were tipped balls. The first interception is the one I will fault Alex Smith on. He threw the ball to Gore, who had to reach out for it and tipped it in the process. Roman Harper was in the right place at the right time and came down with it. Two things bothered me on that play. First, that ball could have been more accurate. Secondly, the interception came right after a first down, a first down they got in fact due to a New Orleans offsides penalty. The offense has to know they must capitalize on the opposition’s mistakes. For the rest of the way, Alex Smith played rather well. The guy can be good, in fact, he can be VERY good. If the 49ers make the playoffs this season, it will be because of Alex Smith. If they miss the playoffs this season, it will also be because of Alex Smith.
2:00 minute offense: When the 49ers received the ball with just over 2:00 left in the 4th quarter and the Saints up 22-14, I thought for sure that the game was definitely over. WRONG. Alex Smith did it all on that drive. He showed poise, confidence, and really had command of the offense. By my count, it took the 49ers just seven plays to get a touchdown. On that drive, Smith rushed twice for first downs. He showed that he could make things happen with his feet. After Gore rushed for the touchdown, Smith connected with Vernon Davis on the 2-point conversion. The catch was originally ruled no good, but replay evidence showed that Davis did break the plane for the conversion. However, the 49ers ran their 2:00 drill too fast because the Saints would score within the last eighty seconds of the game they had the ball.
Negatives: I did not like the penalties and the special teams unit.
Penalties: The penalty that stood out to me was in the 3rd quarter. Facing a 1st and 10 situation with a minute and forty seconds left in the quarter, the 49ers took a delay of game penalty which backed them up for 5 yards. On the ensuing plays the Niners covered more than 10 yards but could not get the required fifteen. Three and out. Who knows what would have happened on following plays if they got a first down, but that penalty was a good example of how much they can hurt a team. Bush returned it 43 yards on the punt and Saints settled for a field goal making their lead 19-14.
Special teams: I know Philip Adams is a rookie but he has got to learn how to field the kicks and/or call for a fair catch. On the other side, the Saints got good field position too often. During the first quarter, Adams could not decide whether he wanted to field the kick or not, the Saints downed the ball but because Abrams was shuffling around the ball, the officials thought he touched it and therefore declared Saints ball. Well, Adams had never touched the ball and the play was overturned due to the challenge by the coaches. But, in the fourth quarter, Adams touched the football on a kick and Courtney Roby recovered the Ball at the Saints own 14. That led to a field goal and made the game 22-14. Had that play never happened, the 49ers could have been 1-1 this morning.