Always Never A Doubt In My Mind

At one point in this game, Russell Wilson had scrambled his way into an opening-play fumble (recovered by the 49ers), LaMichael James had muffed a punt (recovered by the 49ers), and Colin Kaepernick had the ball stripped on a sack (recovered by a 49ers lineman, ran for 6 yards).  That final piece of lunacy saved a touchdown drive and gave the 49ers a 17-10 lead, and it left Seahawks fans wondering if the football gods were EVER going to smile down upon us.

Ask anyone who knows anything, and they’ll tell you that going 0 for 3 on fumble recoveries is pretty fucking rare.  A fumble is generally a 50/50 proposition, and if the Seahawks went down because of this stat, you’d call it one of the unluckiest breaks in football.  Of course, one game is pretty much as small of a sample size as you could get; nevertheless, I couldn’t help but believe that this streak couldn’t continue FOREVER.  There would HAVE to be fumbles forthcoming that would bounce our way.

Sure enough, from that point in the third quarter where the 49ers went back up by a touchdown, the Seahawks caught all the breaks.  Colin Kaepernick was strip-sacked by Avril (recovered by Michael Bennett).  A fumble by Jermaine Kearse at the goalline that was recovered by Marshawn Lynch at the 1.  And, on the very next play, a Russell Wilson/Marshawn Lynch fumbled exchange on 4th & Goal from the 1 yard line (recovered by Michael Robinson, which doesn’t sound so great, because we failed to score the touchdown or even keep the 49ers pinned back inside the one yard line, but if you look at it again, you’ll see a ton of 49ers players around that football, with a clear opportunity to return that thing for a 99-yard touchdown).  Kaepernick was intercepted by Kam (which wasn’t a lucky break, per se, but it was a turnover).  Another Russell Wilson fumble on a busted play (recovered by Wilson, resulting in an offensive pass interference penalty).  And finally, the game-ending interception on the tip from Sherman to Malcolm Smith.

To be honest with you, I don’t know how to feel about a game that hinged so deeply upon luck.  There’s the obvious turnover issues I described above, there were referee issues (some iffy penalties, some iffier non-calls, and that fumble recovery that couldn’t be reviewed, which ended up not really mattering anyway), there were injury issues (I don’t know if we’ll ever know the impact of the 49ers losing their best offensive guard and their best linebacker in Iupati and Bowman respectively), and there was the play of the game.

To set it up, the Seahawks pulled to within 17-13 on a Hauschka field goal.  We forced a 3 & out thanks to the refs missing what probably should have been roughing the punter.  We got the ball at our own 38 yard line, and we drove to the San Francisco 34 yard line, with 2nd down and 6 coming up.  Russell Wilson was called for a clear Intentional Grounding, which put us back to the 50 yard line, for a 3rd down and 22 to go.  This is the nightmare scenario, but to our credit, we called something reasonable.  A nice little pass to Zach Miller out on the flat, who rumbled for 15 yards to the San Francisco 35 yard line.  At this point, it was 4th and 7.  Maybe within the range of Hauschka, but not really something you feel comfortable about in this situation.  It was the beginning of the fourth quarter, and the Seahawks very nearly decided to kick it, but ultimately burned a timeout.  Had we lost this game because we were short on timeouts, I’m sure everyone would have pointed to this situation.  As it stood, that timeout was probably the smartest decision we made all game.

We put the offense back out on the field to pick up the seven yards.  Russell Wilson nailed the hard count, which got the 49ers to go offsides.  To their credit, the refs didn’t whistle the play dead (for the record, in a similiar situation this season, the refs blew the play dead and cost us an opportunity to make a huge play).  All the receivers broke off of their intended routes and ran for the endzone.  Wilson made the perfect throw, and Jermaine Kearse came down with an amazing catch.

How does luck come into it?  Well, if that throw is offline, or if the 49ers defender makes a better play on the ball, and it falls incomplete, then we’re looking at 4th and 2 from the 30 yard line.  At that point, I don’t think there’s any question that the Seahawks go for the field goal, to pull within 17-16.  And who KNOWS how the game turns from there!  What if Hauschka misses the 47 yarder?  Of course, he would go on later to make a 47 yarder, but Hauschka was on record – after the game – as saying that he really didn’t want to kick that field goal when it was going to be a 52 yarder.  What if, in his shaken state, Hauschka pulls that one?  Then, the 49ers would get great field position, and most importantly, we’d get no points.  Even if we assume he would make it, that still would have left us down a point with a quarter left to go.  That touchdown was the difference between the 49ers ultimately needing a touchdown to win the game vs. needing a field goal to win the game.  If that’s the case, I don’t think there’s any doubt we’re sitting here today lamenting the fact that the 49ers are playing for the championship.

Just a wild, crazy game.  Here are some other observations:

Russell Wilson was REALLY driving me crazy in that first half.  I understand that you’ve got to take the good with the bad with a guy like Wilson, and it really COULD be worse.  I’m not sitting here wishing that we had some gunslinger like Tony Romo who would ultimately cost us more in big games than he’d help us.  But, it really looked like Wilson was playing tentative yesterday.  Holding the ball too long, looking to scramble out of the pocket (which couldn’t have been worse, because more often than not – with our linemen pushing their ends outside and around the pocket in a circle – he was just running himself INTO pressure) when he should have just stepped up and made a throw (especially when he’s got Golden Tate streaking downfield with single-coverage).

Of course, Wilson ended up having enough in him to lead us to victory, so it’s not like I can complain too hard.  And, if he leads us to a Super Bowl victory, it’s going to be hard for me to EVER badmouth the man again.

Good God, do we need someone better to spy Colin Kaepernick on the run!  It struck me that Bruce Irvin probably would have been perfect, but it didn’t look like we used him all that much in this game.  He seriously whiffed on one play, where he bit on the play fake and let Kaep run around him for a huge gain; but, if Irvin’s sole job was to simply follow the quarterback wherever he went, I think Irvin’s speed could have neutralized him.

Marshawn Lynch had another huge game, going for 109 yards on the ground and a touchdown.  This was the first time anyone had run for over 100 yards on the 49ers this year, and for a minute it looked like one of the rare times that the Seahawks would lose a game where Lynch went over 100 yards.  That fumble at the goalline wasn’t even his fault, so I’m glad they didn’t put that on him in the scorebook.

Doug Baldwin, as always, was a revelation.  One of these days, he’s going to get the respect he deserves, but for now, let the doubters keep doubting him.  He’ll just keep making them look stupid.  With 6 catches for 106 yards, it looked like he was going to be the MVP of the game.  He still might be, especially when you consider his 69 yard kickoff return ultimately led to a field goal (and probably should have been a touchdown drive, if our offense wasn’t still sputtering so frustratingly.

Finally, what can you say about a defense that’s the best in the game.  From the first play, where we were placed at a disadvantage thanks to the Wilson fumble, this defense showed up and put in their usual outstanding work.  Bobby Wagner led all tacklers with 15, and Kam Chancellor wasn’t far behind with 11.  Kam also came down with that interception (on just an AWFUL pass by Kaepernick) and had another two passes defended.  Our D-Line wasn’t able to get as much pressure as you’d like, but I thought they played a lot smarter in the second half, not letting Kaepernick just immediately have the edge to run.  Even though we were playing so safe, Bennett and Avril were still able to wreak some havoc.  And the run defense?  Aside from Kaepernick (who got most of his rushing yards on scrambles when a pass play broke down), this part of their game was completely shut down.  Frank Gore finally started looking his age, running for 14 yards on 11 attempts.

I don’t really know what the next-day narrative is going to be today (aside from Everything Richard Sherman, which I will write about tomorrow), but I have the feeling that Colin Kaepernick is going to get a lot of love from the national media.  This is a mistake.

Yes, it’s quite the breathtaking thing to see Colin Kaepernick with the football, running in the open field.  Dodging tacklers, graceful as a gazelle, he’s a weapon unlike any other in the game of football.  If he didn’t have all that, you know what he’d be?  Without the ability to run for dozens upon dozens of yards, Colin Kaepernick would be Jeff George:  a rocket arm attached to a mental midget.

When he’s on, he’s something to behold.  That touchdown pass to Boldin in the back of the endzone from 26 yards out was as good as it gets.  Nevertheless, it was a STUPID decision and the ball was very nearly tipped or picked off entirely.  Then, there’s that aforementioned interception to Kam.  He was standing RIGHT THERE the whole time!  There was no deception out of Kam to bait him; Kaepernick saw him the whole time and still threw the damn pass right to him!  He said he thought he could get it over Kam … but Kam’s 6’3!  There were his two fumbles, which resulted from him trying to do too much with a play (which I can’t really fault him for, unless I feel like jumping down Wilson’s throat every time he does something annoying like that).  And, of course, the game-clinching interception when he challenged Richard Sherman with less than 30 seconds to go in the game.

He said he’d take Michael Crabtree in a 1-on-1 matchup with anyone in the league.  He said he wouldn’t change a thing about his decision-making process.  Did he say this because he’s stupid?  Because he’s arrogant?  Because of his blind hatred of the Seahawks and especially Richard Sherman?  Any way you slice it, it’s foolish thinking from a foolish individual.  Maybe if Crabtree magically transformed into Randy Moss in his prime, I could see it.  But, Crabtree isn’t anything special.  I’d take Doug Baldwin over him any day.  Crabtree is only considered an “elite” receiver by the national media because he was drafted in the first round, plain and simple.  There’s nothing about his game that’s elite.  He’s okay.  Off the top of my head, I can think of 25 wide receivers who are better than him (Baldwin, Tate, Fitzgerald, Dez, Marshall, Jeffery, Megatron, Jordy Nelson, Cobb, Demaryius Thomas, Decker, Welker, Hilton, Garcon, Green, Brown, Cruz, Desean Jackson, Andre Johnson, Keenan Allen, Josh Gordon, Cordarrelle Patterson, Julio Jones, Vincent Jackson, and Jimmy Graham – who is actually a wide receiver, in spite of what they try to label him as in New Orleans).

The point is, he’s not better than Richard Sherman.  And if Kaepernick is too stupid or too stubborn to realize that, then maybe Kaepernick isn’t the guy who’s going to lead you to a championship.  His talent may be good enough to get him past most teams in the league, but his hubris is ultimately going to be his undoing against the best teams in the league.  He thinks that just because he has a strong arm, he can make every throw, and that’s just not the case.  And, if that throw’s not there, no worries, he can just run for any first down he wants.  Except, here’s the thing:  when his team is down and he’s got to mount a comeback, the same shit he gets praised for is what’s going to ultimately cost his team ballgames.

In the end, this was a game about two quarterbacks.  One a little too cautious, one a little too reckless.  Somewhere in the middle, you have the perfect NFL player.  But, ultimately, it’s easier for a cautious quarterback to take a few more chances than it is for a reckless player to settle for the sensible decision.  That’s why the Seahawks won this football game.  That’s why the Seahawks are in the Super Bowl and the 49ers are licking their wounds.

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