Saturday, November 20, 2010
2 Game Win Streak? Damn, Now I Have To Be Positive
The 49ers have come a long way from checking down to the fullback on a flea flicker (and overthrowing him) a couple months ago. Well, okay, not really THAT far, but they are 3-6 and riding a two game win streak. And even though there is still quite a lot of dug hole to climb back out of, climbing out does seem more doable than it did when this team trotted out David Carr to lead the team to an inspired defeat against the Carolina Panthers.
Team President Jed York is still talking playoffs, but of course, he has to; once you come out and promise/guarantee a playoff appearance as a coach or team executive you are honor bound to stick with it until it is an absolute mathematical impossibility, because coming off it is an admission you suck, and team leadership can never admit the team sucks, even when it does. Especially when it does. (Incidentally, this is also why the word "struggling" was invented; so that football players, coaches, and executives can have a way to say "we suck" or "they suck" in polite euphemism. Everyone knows what "struggling" really means and agrees to pretend they don't when someone uses it).
But nevertheless, the 49ers have a win streak, and the tone of local sports talk has shifted accordingly ("PLAYOFFS~! HERE WE COME! GONNA RUN THE TABLE!") It is, of course, every bit the overreaction that "THEY LOST AGAIN? FIRE EVERYONE! I SHALL CALL FATWAH ON THE YORKS IF THEY DO NOT SELL THE TEAM RIGHT NOW!" was after starting with a big ol' 0-fer. But we can forgive ourselves a little excitement, because the team truly has changed for the better. And a huge portion of it is due to THIS GUY:
Troy Smith wasn't even on the team in preseason; the 49ers found Smith by rummaging around in Baltimore's dumpster less than a week before the season began, and it's a good thing they did. Not only 2-0 since becoming the starter, Troy threw for over 300 yards in a win over the Rams; the first 300 yard passing game in a very long time. How long? Jeff Garcia, that's how long. Most impressive of all, the 49ers had 3 or 4 touchdowns called back by penalties in that game. Real gutpunches of calls, like Illegal Formation, and a dubious holding call that wiped out a would-be-go-ahead big bomb TD to Michael Crabtree. Unphased, Troy Smith kept throwing the ball to the wide receivers, converting 3rd downs, and eventually got a go-ahead TD pass to Crabtree anyway. And there is the rub. That is the difference between the Smiths, and difference between the 49ers with each Smith.
The 49ers started out 0-5 and lost 6 of their first 7 because that sort of thing does not happen with Alex Smith in the game. They did not rebound from the big penalty call. They did not put points back on the board after they were taken off. They'd start moving backwards with more penalties, or fumble the ball, or Alex would throw an interception, or throw a pass that bounced off a player into a defender's hands for an interception.
So far so good, Troy Smith. Troy's the starter again this week against Tampa Bay, and hopefully (my fingers are crossed as I type this. Well not literally AS I'm typing, of course, but you know what I mean) it's because of how well he's played and not just because Alex Smith is still out with a shoulder injury. Troy has done more than enough to deserve to be the starting QB from here on out. Is he the QB of the future? Its easy to get carried away, and tempting to jump to that conclusion, merrily dancing away from "can we suck bad enough to draft Andrew Luck or Jake Locker next year?" territory. Who knows, but he's certainly the QB of the present, and thus Alex Smith finally is NOT. In fact, it's very possible that Alex Smith might be listed as "injured" for the rest of the season, and he perhaps may not throw another pass in a 49er uniform. He really shouldn't, unless Troy gets hurt himself.
Suddenly a whole new world's worth of options now seem possible for the 49ers. New QBs and winning streaks tend to do that. By the way, if they beat the Buccaneers, they'll only be 1 game back of First Place in the West (assuming Seattle loses in New Orleans, which they likely will). And then, maybe Jed York isn't huffing ether while he tweets "Playoffs!" to the press corps, after all.