It was kind of a nice, pressure-free experience last night to watch the Niners. Even though I had to watch them on tape-delay due to premarital responsibilities (no, that’s not what I’m talking about — more like talking to the person who’s doing the ceremony, a meeting I rescheduled without realizing it was during the Niners game), I wasn’t really upset or worried going into this game. Instead, I was in a “OK Niners, show me who you are” kind of mood. Is there going to be a season worth paying attention to, or will everyone be looking forward to the 2011 NFL draft before the 49ers make their trip to London?
The Niners are 0-2 and on Sunday will be forced to do something they haven’t done very well for several years: go to a hostile environment in another time zone and play at 10 am PST. In most cases that would lead to full-scale panic, and chaos is probably inevitable if they lose in Arrowhead. However, after an inspired performance against a relatively flat group of defending Super Bowl champions, it makes sense to give the 49ers another week to “show us who they are” simply because they play in the worst division in NFL history.
And we’re guaranteed at least six more exciting/interesting games, because they play six more games at Candlestick Park. So it isn’t exactly a lost season … yet. If they get blown out in consecutive road games against the Chiefs and Falcons (very possible, especially in Atlanta), then we know it’s ok to take your lady wine-tasting on a Sunday or two this fall (OK, maybe I’m just talking about my own personal situation, here). Before we settle into our couches in five days to see if the 49ers can wow us (or at least keep the game close), let’s reflect on what we learned last night, along with what we already knew.
We already knew … the 49ers have a homefield advantage.
We learned … that Candlestick is downright LOUD during nationally televised night games. SGL and I went to two games last year, a Monday-nighter against the Cardinals and a Thursday night clash against the Bears. We left both games with our vocal cords ripped to shreds, but it’s hard to tell if that noise is real or if you’re overestimating the decibel level because all you hear is yourself screaming. Last night the fans were going crazy on defense, and celebrated like mad after offensive successes. It’s almost like a college atmosphere at Candlestick during night games, which probably shows how much people like to tailgate for long periods of time more than anything else.
We already knew … Frank Gore is the most talented player on the 49ers’ offense.
We learned … that Gore is only one more great season away from being widely known as the best running back in franchise history, and only injuries can stop him from doing that this year.
We already knew … that the 49ers play very good defense at home.
We learned … Reggie Smith is worthy of being a starting safety. He made some outstanding plays in the preseason, but last night he was everywhere. If only he could come up with an INT every now and then…
We already knew … winning the turnover battle is important.
We learned … that unless things change quickly, the 49ers, currently 2nd-to-last in turnover differential at -5, are probably not going to finish fifth in the league in that category like they did last season (when they finished at +9).
We already knew … Delanie Walker is talented, yet there’s something you can’t quite put your finger on that just doesn’t seem right…
We learned … if you try to count on Walker in an important situation, be prepared for disappointment. He makes more boneheaded plays than anyone on the team. Usually it’s in the form of a terrible penalty, but that fumble last night was a killer. I kind of wish they’d give up on this whole TE/WR thing (which has led the 49ers to carry one less receiver than they would if Walker wasn’t on the team) and go out and sign a deep threat who can catch and won’t get the ball stripped while fighting for extra yards.
We already knew … ESPN doesn’t care about anything that happens west of the Dallas Cowboys.
We learned … that they openly hate us. Really, only 30 seconds of the Jerry Rice number retirement speech, while your halftime show was able to fit three minutes of highlights we’ve already seen with narration from Chris Berman? If that was Emmitt Smith getting his number retired at halftime, they would have shown us everything from Smith getting driven to midfield in a Cowboys golf cart to his tearful exit from the field on the shoulders of Ed Werder and Skip Bayless.
We already knew … Alex Smith was drafted in part due to his mobility (it sure as hell wasn’t his accuracy, at least in comparison to guys like Aaron Rodgers).
We learned … that Smith not only can run, but run intelligently. The way he found the first down marker and then tightroped the sidelines to make certain he got past it on multiple occasions was at once encouraging (“Wow, look at Alex run!”) and infuriating (“Wait, this is the same guy who ran for 4.6 yards per game last year?”).
We already knew … Smith’s normal games include a few moments of brilliance along with a couple mistakes that one could blame others for if so inclined. (Both of his INT’s were tipped last night, but the first one, the overthrown pass to Gore, was his fault for getting jumpy in the face of a blitzing pass rusher even though he had time to throw. The second tip was part bad luck, part Joe Staley’s fault for letting Will Smith get a hand up to deflect Smith’s pass that was intended for Michael Crabtree.)
We learned … that Smith is capable of running an efficient two-minute drill against a pretty good defense (too efficient, actually).
We already knew … Anthony Dixon can run the ball in the preseason.
We learned … Dixon is undoubtedly a better running back than Glen Coffee, and looks to be the team’s best rookie goalline back since William Floyd.
We already knew … Patrick Willis is the best middle linebacker in football.
We learned … that the rest of the country has no excuse for being ignorant of the fact that Willis is the best middle linebacker in football. Especially Reggie Bush.
We already knew … that the 49ers couldn’t return punts last year.
We learned … that unless Ted Ginn comes back full-strength anytime soon, the only hope for the 49ers’ return game is another rookie, Kyle Williams. Philip Adams is fast and almost broke a big return, but his lack of decisiveness on whether or not to catch punts can’t be tolerated.
We already knew … Crabtree has a habit of acting like, for lack of a better description, a female singer with an outsized personality.
We learned … that Crabtree will celebrate most if not all of the first-down catches he makes almost as obnoxiously as Shannon Sharpe used to. Dude, read the room a little. And stop ending up on the ground every time your team needs you.
We already knew … Brian Westbrook is still alive.
We learned … Jimmy Raye has absolutely no idea how to use Westbrook, and his offense in general seems to be trapped in some sort of 2008 time warp.
We already knew … that the 49ers would have to assimilate two rookies on their o-line.
We learned … that Mike Iupati and Anthony Davis are already productive players. It’s the replacement center we need to worry about, at least when it comes to shotgun snaps deep in your own territory (that’s what she said).
We already knew … that David Baas wasn’t a good draft pick and shouldn’t be a starting center, guard or anything in the NFL.
We learned … that Baas looks just like Gary from “Teen Mom.” Wonder if he gets his ass kicked by his girlfriend, too…