by Ken Hurst, January 25, 2012
The New York Giants defeated the San Francisco 49ers 20-17 after ten minutes of overtime in the NFC championship game in the rain at Candlestick Park Sunday afternoon. Earlier that same day the New England Patients defeated the Baltimore Ravens 23-20 in the AFC championship game. So both the NFL Harbaugh brothers (Ravens Coach John and 49ers Coach Jim) will not compete in the 2012 Superbowl.
Still, what sweet redemption for the 49ers and particularly Alex Smith, the beleaguered 49er quarterback. Jim Harbaugh, a 15-year NFL quarterback who played for four NFL teams, then won two championships coaching San Diego State and moved on to Stanford propelling that fine University’s football program to national recognition.
Now, Coach Harbaugh and his staff have made the 49ers into a fine team with playoff expectations in future years, always in the Superbowl hunt.
The 49ers needed a head coach with compassion and emotional intelligence to get rid of the smell of coaches Mike Nolan and Mike Singletary who always deflected blame for their own failures onto the team or QB Smith.
I was really happy that Alex Smith stayed with the 49ers so he could play for coaches who would give him intelligent offensive schemes and treat him fairly. Coach Harbaugh gave Smith a fair shot at winning NFL football games and didn’t massacre him publicly if the team lost. To me, in prior years, it was like Alex Smith was a rookie rather than a six year pro. He will only be 28 years old next season, so he has at least five or six prime years left in his body. But he has to learn when to get out of the pocket and run for yardage rather than allowing himself to drown beneath the up-the-middle pass rush.
Smith threw the football well in the first game against the Giants in the tenth week of the season in a 27-20 win in San Francisco last year. And he threw freely with a pronated wrist and a flick to spiral that pigskin where he wanted it to go.
In the playoff game against the New Orleans Saints the 49er coaches and Smith were at the top of their games. The team was at third down and eight years to go for a must have drive. Offensive coordinator Greg Roman believed that Smith should run the ball on a naked roll-out. Harbaugh was unsure but Smith talked him into the important call. Harbaugh listened to his quarterback and okayed the play call. Smith ran for 28 yards and a touchdown behind beautiful cut blocks by slot receiver Kyle Williams and left tackle Joe Staley.
Soon after that running touchdown by Smith he threw a long and spot-on touchdown pass to Vernon Davis, taking the team to last Sunday’s NFC championship game with the winning New York Giants.
Aldon Smith, the 49ers extraordinary pass rusher, was a great pick out of the 2011 draft. Donte Whitner was also a great acquisition. Justin Smith and Navarro Bowman were great all year, as were Patrick Willis and Frank Gore who have been great players for years.
To have a Superbowl team next year, the 49ers need an excellent wide receiver who is fast and has good hands with acute moves to get clear of defenders for long yardage gains. Their current wide receiver Crabtree is a position receiver who has disappointed in the playoffs.
But like San Francisco’s baseball Giants of two seasons ago, the 49ers made me wish the next season would hurry up and start. This year’s 49ers made me hope that the 2012 regular season would start quickly because the team and their audience know their coaching staff will give them a real opportunity to win.