Sunday night’s storm kept waking me up. Against my bedroom window, precipitation clattered as if shot from a power washer.
At one point in my half-wakefulness, I flashed on the James Taylor song, “Fire and Rain,” with its mournful lyric, “Sweet dreams and flying machines in pieces on the ground.”
It was Williams, after all, who had committed two grievous errors that cost the 49ers a trip to the Super Bowl.
Or so it would seem.
But let me pause here and tell a quick and relevant story about a man named Sam Goldman.
Sam was the father of one of my best friends from college. For years, he sold Izod shirts—the ones with the little alligators—to retailers. Every time he got a new account, he delivered this stern admonition to the merchant: “If it doesn’t sell, don’t blame the shirt.”
Well, why not? It’s a hot style, isn’t it? People are wearing it, aren’t they? Shouldn’t it just sell itself?
In a word, Sam said, no. Ask yourself: Did you display it prominently? Did you advertise it? Did you suggest it to your customers? Did you do any of a dozen things that would transport the shirt from the shelf to the cash register?
Yes, Kyle Williams had a role in the Niners’ loss on Sunday. But it was the team as a whole that failed to sell the shirt.
Start with an offense that converted exactly one third down, on a desperate heave from Alex Smith to Delanie Walker as time expired in regulation. Other than that, the count was 0-for-12, including in the mid-fourth quarter, when the 49ers moved the ball inside the 10-yard line but had to settle for a David Akers field goal to tie the game at 17.
Continue with a secondary that generally played well, especially in the second half, but lost track of a tight end—Bear Pascoe—who, before Sunday, had never scored a touchdown in his three-year career.
Even when Williams let the punt graze his knee—and watching the replays on television, I couldn’t be sure even though announcers Joe Buck and Troy Aikman were as confident as I was ambivalent—the Giants got the ball only on the 49ers’ 29-yard line. Had San Francisco held them to a field goal, the outcome might have been different.
Instead, Giants wide receiver Mario Manningham got single-coverage from reserve cornerback Tramaine Brock and slipped in front of him for the touchdown.
Brock wouldn’t even have been in there if not for an injury to Tarell Brown, who collided with safety Dashon Goldson as both tried for an interception. It was the first of two such plays that would have taken the ball from the Giants and delivered strong field position to the Niners.
On the subject of injuries, it wouldn’t even have been Williams fielding punts if regular return man Ted Ginn, Jr., one of the best in the league, hadn’t been out with a bad knee.
And let’s give some credit to the Giants. Kyle Williams’ fumble in overtime wasn’t just a case of slippery fingers. In an excellent play, Jacquian Williams of the Giants reached around from behind and ripped the ball loose. It was good, tough football—the kind the Giants played all day.
The Giants defense indeed looked like a unit that had given up only 22 points in its previous two playoff games.
Except for Davis’ two big plays, New York’s secondary essentially hung out a “closed” sign over the 49ers' passing game. And other than a couple of scrambles by quarterback Alex Smith and a mere handful of good rumbles by Kendall Hunter and Frank Gore, the running game was shut down as well.
On offense, despite enduring six sacks and being dropped many more times, Giants quarterback Eli Manning kept pulling himself back up and hitting receivers. He finished the day 32-for-58, and led the Giants on a critical scoring drive that culminated in a Lawrence Tynes field goal to give New York a 10-7 lead at halftime.
So if you want to pass blame, there’s plenty to go around. I can guarantee you that, individually and collectively, the 49ers are musing on their own missed blocks, missed tackles, wrong reads and various other errors, as well as the Giants’ own outstanding play.
They know, and if we’re honest, we all know, that it wasn’t just Kyle Williams who didn’t sell the shirt.