Most of us thought we’d be talking this week about a 4-5 team whose playoff chances were dangling by their last flimsy thread, needing to win out to get into the postseason. I might have led off this piece by conjuring up memories of the 1988 team, which did exactly that — going from 4-5 to 10-5 and clinching the division with a game to spare. Prompting a lay down loss against the Rams that had the side effect of eliminating the Giants, which so incensed Phil Simms, he famously quoted: “They laid down like dogs.”
That might by the only concise thought Simms ever had.
At any rate, the 49ers are instead at 5-4 and very much alive. We can assume they will whip the Giants this weekend and Washington the following week, setting them up at 7-4 and a showdown game against the Seahawks on Thanksgiving. I say “assume” because a loss to either of these hamburgers, this late in the season, would be proof that this 2014 team just doesn’t have it.
The Eagles are at Green Bay this Sunday, and Detroit’s at Arizona. So two of these teams will be coming down within reach of the Niners. If they can hold their own this month and climb up to 8-4, December promises to be a very interesting month.
Giants’ QB Eli Manning’s glory days as an elite passer are but a distant memory now, but he can still be dangerous on any given Sunday. Especially with the emergence of rookie WR Odell Beckham. If Trent Baalke can draft great linebackers in his sleep, Giants GM Jerry Reese has an equal skill at drafting wide receivers. Perhaps these two could swap draft picks in 2015, with Baalke selecting an LB for Reese and he can fetch a WR for Baalke.
Cooperation between these two franchises, however mutually beneficial, is not ever likely to happen, though. The Giants and 49ers have disliked each other quite strongly since at least the ’80s, and certainly from 2011 and 2012, when the New Yorkers beat our butts twice, one a squeaker in the 2011 NFC Title game, followed by a walloping in the 2012 regular season. Since then, the Giants have taken a death spiral into second rate chumpsville. There should be enough 49er players left from those earlier whippings to have no trouble getting up to return the favor come Sunday.
The Niners will at long last get pass rusher extraordinaire Aldon Smith back this week. It’s not an overstatement to say the front four pressure has pretty much totally sucked so far this year without him. Ahmad Brooks has done almost nothing, the New Orleans sack not withstanding, but rookie Aaron Lynch has been a pleasant surprise. It’s possible we’ll see him paired with Aldon on passing downs, rather than Brooks.
Even without a pass rush, the Niner defense has been solid this year, even the secondary, which gets exposed the most when there’s no QB pressure. If Aldon can provide some consistent heat, we might see a few more interceptions in the second half and those sweet little short field possessions that have been so helpful to us the past three years.