You’d think that after the incredible turnaround by the 49ers this last season, there would be a lot more general happiness and excitement for the upcoming season. Seeing as the team turned around its fortunes as a perennial doormat to a bona fide Super Bowl contender in one short year. All the more spectacular seeing as there was precious little training camp, an abbreviated free agent period, and a quick preseason to implement the new offense and incorprate new systems and players. What was seen as a debacle in not wading into the free agent frenzy instead yielded gold at just about every turn.
So, here we are at the cusp of the new season, and once again, there is a general mistrust of the guy who everyone was completely blown away by in the divisional playoff game. One Alex Smith. After years of improvement, injuries, inept play-calling, yoyoing in and out of the line up, and fan fury, Alex Smith put together a season that was almost perfect. 22 TDs to 5 picks, and the amazing 2 TDs in the last 2:20 of the New Orleans game to rocket the team into the NFC Championship game. One in which he outdueled Eli Manning in a defensive battle that was decided by the 49ers special teams gaffes (yes, KW goes down in history in the same breath as PR. Players whose names shall not pass my lips. PR still hurts more for whatever reason). The front office didn’t do much to assuage these feelings by low-balling Alex, and basically giving him a make-good contract that the Niners can bail on after this season.
Smith, for his part, blows this off as just another step on his way to greatness (or even goodness?) as the once and future QB of the team. Smith and the Niners seem inexorably intertwined as partners who can’t seem to quit each other. Jim Harbaugh gets about 99% of the credit for what went down last year. Good, bad, or indifferent, Harbaugh does deserve credit for being the right coach for Alex Smith. This after 5 Mr. Wrongs in Mike Nolan, Mike Singletary, Jimmy-Hat Raye, Mike Hostler, and Mike Martz. The Teflon Mike/Aluminum Mike strategy of ‘hanging around’ til the 4th quarter, and trying to pull out wins then was grossly inadequate as the team struggled through season after season of Gore left, Gore right, Gore up the middle. All that strategy allowed was a lot of close losses. Harbaugh, for all his offensive wizardry with QBs pretty much ran the same kind of offense, albeit one that actually had balance and flow. Yes, there were struggles with 3rd down conversions, and yes, there were consistency issues, but there were also six 4th quarter comebacks for wins. As the season went on, the team improved, and the offense had longer stretches of god rather than bad.
So, here we sit, on the edge of the unknown. Was last year an abberation? For the team as well as Alex Smith? Is this team a flash in the pan, as Seattle and AZ proved to be with their recent Super Bowl visits followed by loud hard crashes into the dregs of the NFL? In a word, no. I suppose it could happen, but this team has a monster defense that stands to be a little better than last year (their TO ratio will be nigh impossible to match, though). The special teams unit should be fine with the swap-out of Costanzo for Rock Cartwright. New CB Perrish Cox can spell Ted Ginn for KRs. The offense has added some needed WR help in the enigma that is Randy Moss, and the recent Super Bowl hero, Super Mario Manningham. If anything, this should hopefully get Mr. Krabs to actually participate in a preseason to see if he can figure out what a hot-read is. The team is again built for a deep playoff run. The big question being, can this offense gain more consistency? Can they sustain drives better than they have? Is the recent low output of the WRs due to Alex Smith, or despite Alex Smith?
These questions, and more, will be answered, As The Quarterback Turns . . .