Last year, the 49ers split their first two games and then embarked on an improbable eight game winning streak. This year, the team has been unable to win so much as three games in a row. Beginning Sunday, they’ll have one last crack at this humble trifecta.
If Green Bay somehow loses to Minnesota this weekend, and the 49ers don’t lay an egg against lowly Arizona, three wins in a row would bring home the franchise’s 6th Lombardi trophy. But the more likely scenario is needing to win four in a row to emerge as 2012 champions — five in a row when you factor in the Arizona game.
The team has done little to convince us they are capable of such a feat, but last year’s Giants hadn’t looked all world either — until they were. That team was getting healthy as the playoffs rolled around. But the 49ers health has been going in the other direction.
The offense is the offense. It works about the same no matter who’s playing and it works pretty well if the game is close or, especially, if the 49ers have the lead. If they fall behind by a couple of scores, the offense shrivels and defeat soon follows. Colin Kaepernick could suddenly catch fire and change the offensive dynamics, but so far he has not.
But the odd behavior of the defense has been the biggest head scratcher this year. The New England game highlighted its Jekyll and Hyde nature. In the first half, it was impenetrable. In the second half, it got torched.
The win or go home intensity of the playoffs will hopefully get the defense to play at its best — every game, every quarter. The only way the Niners can win it all is if the defense gives them a chance to conduct their run-based, wear you out offense.
But first, there’s the matter of slamming the fly swatter down on the sinking Arizona Cardinals. And probably the head coaching career of Ken Whisenhunt, the longest tenured HC in the NFC West. Ken has kept his job for six years, despite botching the QB position the entire time. In the beginning, he kept wanting to start Matt Leinart over Kurt Warner, but Leinart saved his job by getting injured. After Warner left, he treated Cardinal fans to the Derek Anderson and Kevin Kolb eras. This year, its been the Clown of the Week committee.
Meanwhile, a great defense and a HOF WR get one year older and one year more wasted. With the rise of Seattle and St. Louis, the Cardinals are looking like basement dwellers in the foreseeable future.
The 49ers should stomp hell out of these guys, but any kind of victory will suffice. A loss to the Cardinals would give Seattle the division crown and doom the Niners to an almost certain early exit from the playoffs. This is the last game of the 2012 regular season, but in reality this is the first game of the 2012 playoffs. From here on out, it’s win or pack your bags for the offseason.