The 49ers at 8-1 after nine games, the 49ers lighting up Levi’s Stadium like never before and the 49ers on the tip of everyone’s tongue is all cause for great buzz, joy and unity in Bay Area sports.
The 49ers being 8-1 after losing to Pete Carroll, Russell Wilson and the wolf-gray Seattle Seahawks on Monday Night Football is a whole ‘nother deal.
Say it in your best “Newman!” voice: “Seattle!”
For the 49ers, some 8-1 starts are better than others.
And that’s why Kyle Shanahan and Jimmy Garoppolo now take their turn in the Circle of Critical Heat this week.
If we’re going to trot out Jimmy G’s shiny record of 16-2 (entering Monday Night) as proof that “all Jimmy does is win”, then we’re going to have to come to grips with the fact that without George Kittle and Emmanuel Sanders, and even with a couple of critical drops from Kendrick Bourne, Garoppolo made more mistakes than his counterpart Russ Wilson when it mattered most.
And if we’re going to spend valuable Jock Blog space extolling the virtues of Kyle (Flat Brim) Shanahan’s ice-cool flat-brim sideline presence, we’re also going to have to call into question two critical coaching sequences that backfired on Shanahan when it mattered most.
You know the deal. Winning is the ultimate deodorant. For at least a couple of days here, we’re going to have to acknowledge that Jimmy G and Kyle have a little B.O.
For Garoppolo, there was no one key signature mistake. There was, instead, a game that saw him look unsure under steady heat from Jadeveon Clowney. Now, most human beings would look unsure under steady heat from Jadeveon Clowney. But Jimmy G gets paid to somehow muddle through. And when he missed Dante Pettis on the second down throw of the final drive in overtime, and when he under-threw Deebo Samuel one play later, he did not muddle through.
Moreover, when he did not take up the chance to use running lanes to avoid heat, and when he did not take up the chance to check down to open receivers in the flat instead of throwing into traffic (hello, KJ Wright’s dropped INT), he did not muddle through.
I understand. History is sometimes written by kickers. If Chase McLaughlin pulls out a miracle 47-yarder, this Jock Blog is an homage to the guts and jaw line of Jimmy G. Kickers can make or break your heart, as I was just saying to my good friends Tom Brady and Jim Kelly.
But the worst thing to come out of Jimmy G’s near-miss on Monday night is the return of “BGD” or Big Game Doubt for No. 10. That is, the next time the 49ers have a huge game under bright lights, Garoppolo will have to deal with the question of whether or not he can be the reason the 49ers win it.
As for Shanahan, there were unpleasant post-game references to Super Bowl LI, when his play-calling was often cited as a reason the Falcons blew a 28-3 lead. This time, the doubts center on his decision to bring McLaughlin, whom no one of the 71,404 fans had heard of five days earlier, to try the long-ish field goal in overtime instead of trying to go for it on 4th-and-1 from the Seattle 29.
Given the pressure on McLaughlin, who may or may not have been playing video games a week ago, hindsight shows it might have been prudent to have Jimmy G sneak for a yard and get closer with a first down. That much was true when McLaughlin’s kick bounded into a nearby tunnel.
But given another chance to make savvy decisions, Shanahan confounded many when he opted for three pass plays from San Francisco’s own 20-yard line and 1:50 left in overtime. The Seahawks had no time outs. Surely a run, or two, would fritter away clock. Perhaps a big-gainer break, who knows? At the worst, the 49ers would run clock down and deny Russ Wilson a chance to win.
If that means it was smart for Shanahan to do the unthinkable and play for a tie? Well, we live in the age of analytics. Surely, the Farhan Zaidi School of Analytics would say that might be the smart play at that point.
How would any of you feel about an 8-0-1 49ers team today, still two games up and surrendering no tie-breaker to the 7-2-1 Seattle Seahawks?
You’d probably feel pretty darn good. And you wouldn’t be in your “Newman!” voice. And I wouldn’t have to write these Jock Blogs, tinged with the bummed-out feeling of losing to the wolf-gray Seattle Seahawks. Again.