Sunday’s 49ers’ win against the defending NFC West champion Seattle Seahawks produced more relief than exuberance. I even had to spruce up the vanquished opponent’s resume to lend some weight to the accomplishment.
Most fans felt we should win this game, but there was certainly a lot of new coach/lockout anxiety that we might find some way to lose it. And we very nearly did, if not for the timely late game heroics of Ted Ginn.
Two of the defense’s new starters played surprisingly well. Ray McDonald had a dominant game at LDE, and NaVorro Bowman led the team in tackles. Whether these guys were good because the Seahawks were not will be more discernible after this week’s game against the Cowboys.
In fact, there’s just not a lot to draw on from this first game. Other than we won it. The offense showed nothing and the defense looked capable. The missing ingredient for judgment is knowing how good or bad the Seahawks are.
The Cowboys went toe to toe with the Jets on Sunday, and the Jets are perceived to be an excellent team, so the Cowboys who were woeful last year are now perceived to be a good team this year. Their loss to the Jets has more cachet than our win against the Seahawks.
Such is life in the NFC We Get No Respect And Deserve No Respect Division. The 49ers could certainly make a dent in this perception with a win over the Cowboys, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see such a result prominantly poked over as a The Cowboys Aren’t Very Good After All angle.
Even so, it would be fun to whip their asses. Jim Harbaugh’s ulra conservative game plan against Seattle can be viewed as just smart, percentages football, but the Cowboy game demands a lot more if we are to win it. As such, we’ll be able to make a more detailed assessment of Harbaugh and the team come next Sunday afternoon.
One encouraging sign in the Seattle game was the team finding a way to win a close game rather than lose it, which happened several times in 2010. It’s tough to milk this aspect since the tide turning plays occurred on special teams, a quasi-miracle situation akin to Troy Smith’s Hail Mary victory over the Broncos last year. Smith was quickly brought to earth and so will a game plan than relies on special teams dominance.
Perhaps the most notable difference from this year to last was the rapport between coach and QB. Harbaugh is a former QB and clearly has an affection for that position. Singletary did not. In fact, Singletary seemed to have a disdain for that position, fitting for a former linebacker, but not for the fortunes of a team. The repeated runs on third and long had to be a calculated effort to keep the QB from getting maimed behind a shaky O-line. And to keep that QB from limping off the field and being replaced by one of the two rookies backing him up.
I imagine that protective strategy will continue for as long as the O-line takes to finally become effective pass blockers. Which means the team needs to get a whole lot better results from first and second downs than they did last Sunday.