Giants vs. 49ers: 5 San Francisco Players Who Deserve Blame for Loss
The 2011-2012 season will forever be on the minds of San Francisco 49ers fans, whether it's the hiring of Jim Harbaugh, the resurrection of Alex Smith, the emergence of players such as NaVarro Bowman and Aldon Smith or hosting the NFC Championship game at the Stick.
Unfortunately, what was a great season will always be overshadowed by Kyle Williams' two loud and smelly brain farts.
It is easy to say that Kyle Williams is solely responsible for costing the 49ers a trip to Indy. However, as Harbaugh and the rest of the team echoed following the game, you win and lose as a team.
This article will exclude Williams as a player who ruined the game for San Francisco, and instead focus on other teammates and coaches who could have been better.
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San Francisco has loathed Alex Smith for six straight years following his less-than-promising rookie season, when he threw 11 interceptions and only one touchdown.
Yet after leading the team to the NFC Championship, he has finally earned the respect that nobody was willing to give him.
With that being said, on a stage that required an excellent performance, Smith was (as usual) average.
He did have two touchdowns (both amazing throws to Vernon Davis) and no interceptions, but he only completed 46 percent of his passes.
In the postgame interview, Smith admitted that the reason the team lost was because they were only 1-of-13 on third down.
Ultimately, Smith's inability to make plays on third down to keep drives going hurt the 49ers just as much as Williams' two costly turnovers.
Next season, Smith will have to work even harder to shed the label of "Game Manager" for something more appealing, such as "NFC Champion."
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While all the 49ers receivers deserve criticism for their miserable performance, Michael Crabtree was the biggest offensive disappointment.
Vernon Davis set up Crabtree for a big game after he put the team on his back against the New Orleans Saints.
The New York Giants were keying on Davis all day, which should have given Crabtree favorable matchups. Still, he finished the game with only one forgettable three-yard reception.
With Josh Morgan, Ted Ginn Jr. and Braylon Edwards all inactive for different reasons, Crabtree was supposed to be the playmaker on the outside. The fact that he only caught one pass shows that he was having a hard time getting open.
San Francisco had a number of opportunities to win the game in the fourth quarter and in overtime. On each drive, 49ers fans were hoping to see Crabtree catch a ball and make a few defenders miss before heading into the end zone like he did against Texas in college.
Instead, he was invisible. Crabtree needs to refocus himself after a postseason which was characterized by drops against the Saints and unmotivated play against the Giants with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line.
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Similar to Alex Smith, Carlos Rodgers' career has largely been a disappointment because of his inability to live up to the expectations of being picked in the first round.
But after finding a new home in San Francisco, Rodgers is finally playing at an elite level.
Unfortunately, he had his worst game as a 49er when the team needed him the most.
Rodgers had a near-perfect game against the Saints, breaking up passes in key situations. However, Victor Cruz proved to be too quick for Rodgers in the slot.
Cruz finished the game with 10 catches for 142 yards. Rodgers seemed to be trailing him every time he made a big play. To make it worse, Cruz made most of his plays on third down.
Rodgers finished the game with 11 tackles. This shows that instead of defending passes, he was tackling receivers who had just made receptions.
If Rodgers had been able to break up a few passes on third down, the outcome of the game would have favored San Francisco.
With 13:50 left in the fourth quarter, the 49ers had the ball on the New York Giants' 46-yard line.
The play was designed for Dixon to run to his right behind lead blockers Isaac Sopoaga and Justin Smith.
The play fails as soon as the ball is snapped, and Mathias Kiwanuka throws Justin Smith to the ground.
A few questions here...
Why take out Frank Gore, who averaged close to five yards per carry against the Giants? Gore has made a living by bursting through small holes and then gaining an extra two yards after initial contact.
On the other hand, Dixon, who is the team's "power back" based on his size, has never been an effective runner. He seems to always shuffle his feet when he should be running over defenders.
The second puzzling question is why would the 49ers put in Justin Smith when they have an army of reserve offensive lineman who have been preparing all their lives to block defenders.
Greg Roman made the right call on 3rd-and-short, but he put the wrong players on the field.
It is important to remember that this play happened previous to Kyle Williams' first gaffe.
If the 49ers could have converted this 3rd-and-short, they would have been in excellent position to run the clock and extend their lead.
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The 49ers defense was not able to force a turnover against the New York Giants.
However, that is not to say that there were not opportunities.
Twice in the game, ball-hawking safety Dashon Goldson was responsible for knocking a sure interception out of his own player's hands.
With a minute left in the third quarter, Eli Manning threw a pass intended for Hakeem Nicks. Tarell Brown, who has significantly stepped up his game this season, had all but intercepted the ball when Goldson came flying into the scene.
The result was an incompletion and a violent 49er-on-49er collision that knocked Brown out of the game.
In overtime, Eli Manning underthrew a ball to Cruz due to pressure created by a blitzing Patrick Willis. Carlos Rodgers was in perfect position to intercept the pass when again Goldson got to the play just a little bit to early and bumped Rodgers just as the ball reached his hands.
You cannot blame Goldson for his overzealous play, but the missed opportunities created on his behalf certainly helped led to the 49ers sad demise.