Alex Smith and the 49ers struggled through the air, settling for 24-24 tie against St. Louis.
Often times you will hear coaches and athletes talk about their games as a battle of “who wants it more.” Well, Sunday afternoon and into the evening at Candlestick Park in San Francisco appeared closer to a battle of who wants it less.
Most experts forecast the NFC West division leading (6-2-1*) 49ers to coast to a victory over the their lowly NFC West rival St. Louis Rams (3-5-1*) but this one was anything but a blowout.
Instead it ended up as a rare NFL tie. The overtime went scoreless, (remember we’re talking football, not hockey) and yes, you heard that right, a scoreless overtime ending in a 24-24 tie. According to SB Nation, the Rams-49ers tie was the first of the sort in the NFL since 2008 and the first involving the 49ers since 1986 when they tied the Falcons 10-10 on October 19.
In a game filled with numerous penalties on both sides, a costly special teams fumble, a missed field goal by each kicker in overtime, it certainly feels kind of fitting that neither team feels great afterward nor that lousy.
49ers Head Coach Jim Harbaugh could teach a class on sports cliches ( that is if anyone in the world needs a refresher) as the second year coach didn’t seem to have any emotion after the game.
Tight-end Vernon Davis on the other hand was visibly frustrated and seemed to be holding his tongue when asked about his role in the offense. Davis was targeted just five times, catching four balls for 30 yards. One of the plays that may have been frustrating was a second quarter sack of quarterback Alex Smith when Davis had one-on-one coverage down the middle of the field.
When asked about his involvement Davis paused for a good four or five seconds until answering “I do as I’m told” and later adding that he wants to make sure he’s a team guy.
There certainly were big plays available in the passing game for both Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick (who filled in after Smith suffered a concussion on a quarterback sneak in second quarter) and the plays just weren’t being made.
“You want to be able to make big plays” commented 49ers center and Super Bowl winner Jonathan Goodwin. “You know we weren’t able to do that today. I think we all know what we’re capable of, being more consistent on offense.”
Consistency is the name of the game in the NFL and putting forth 60 minutes of strong football can make the difference between a win and a loss, or a tie. While Harbaugh referred to the contest as “a good football game” many of you and myself will beg to differ.
This was not the good, the bad, and the ugly, this was just plain bad and ugly. Not only did the 49ers look soft on defense as they let up touchdown drives on the first two St. Louis drives but the offense looked far from dynamic.
And being able to finish big dynamic plays is a crucial part to staying consistent. You’re not going to run for four yards 100% of the time.
Whether it be Smith with the accuracy but an average arm, or the inexperienced but cannon throwing Kaepernick, the 49ers still don’t have a down-field passing attack.
There is a reason why that guy in Denver, that guy named Peyton, that MVP, was courted by Harbaugh and the 49ers this past offseason. San Francisco fans bore witness to the exact reasons for the Manning pursuit when watching Sunday’s 24-24 tie with the Rams.
Smith’s down-field awareness and timing on deep balls has always been below average. And on Sunday, neither 49ers quarterback flashed the savvy confidence you look for from the quarterback position. Down-field passes where available for both quarterbacks as Davis, Kyle Williams and Randy Moss all had deep routes with single or in the case of Williams, zero coverage. However, the 49ers completed just one pass of 20 yards. For comparison, Frank Gore’s 4th quarter touchdown run went for 20 yards.
While Alex Smith has shown flashes of more than above average quarterback play (think back to the thrilling playoff victory over the Saints last season), this is now a second poor performance this season against an opponent that the 49ers were favored to beat.
Can we remember a true deep ball (at or near max effort on the throw) where Smith hit his receiver in stride for touchdown?
It’s not surprising that nothing comes to mind. Smith has plenty of tools in the garage, but when you think of current NFL quarterbacks with Super Bowl rings: both Manning brothers, Ben Roethlisberger, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, well, Smith doesn’t really compare.
Harbaugh may refer to “his guy” as elite to the press, but if you have an elite quarterback you don’t court another one during the offseason.
San Francisco remains in strong position atop the division but failing to beat the Rams has to make one wonder if the 49ers starting quarterback for 2013 is currently playing in another city.
Andrew Bensch writes for TheFanManifesto. Follow him on twitter at @AndyBensch