As one game ends, another begins.
And I'm not talking about Super Bowl XLVI.
San Francisco 49ers fans, heartbroken after Sunday's overtime loss, are finding comfort in their new favorite pastime.
The blame game.
It's addictive, simple and easy to play; All that's needed are blaming fingers and, for the past couple days, those have been pointed right at Kyle Williams.
The backup return man was responsible for two muffed punts which resulted in 10 points for the visiting New York Giants—including the game-winning field goal. He's definitely deserving of a blaming finger, though some have been extra selective with which finger they use.
Why stop there, though?
We were given five fingers on each hand, so let's get the other four fingers involved on the hand that's doing the pointing. After all, there were others at fault.
Finger No. 1: Kyle Williams
This is the obvious place to start the blame game. His miscues directly resulted in points on the scoreboard for the other team, but my discomfort in watching him field punts began much earlier in the game.
There was the diving catch on an earlier return that, though impressive, was far too risky and nothing more than a foreshadowing of future events.
He later signaled for a fair catch with a 20-yard buffer zone.
Where was that conservatism in the overtime?
His performance cost the 49ers a trip to Super Bowl XLVI and may have cost himself a spot on next season's roster.
Finger No. 2: The Referees
This game will be forever known for Kyle William’s fumbles, but what about the fumble that never was?
With just over two minutes remaining in regulation and the scored tied at 17, Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw caught a short pass from Eli Manning and had the ball jarred loose before he went to the ground. The 49ers defense recovered the ball, in prime position to score.
All the offense then had to do was milk the clock and kick a field goal well within David Akers’ range.
Game over, no need for overtime.
The play was whistled dead as the runner’s "forward progress had stopped." The league has since cited this portion of the rule book for support of the decision:
Rule 7, Section 2 (b) of the NFL Rule Book (pg. 35) covers “dead balls.” The rule states: “An official shall declare the ball dead and down ended: (b) when a runner is held or otherwise restrained so that his forward progress ends."
Except, if you watch the replay—as I have several times—the ball comes loose before the whistle is blown to stop the play.
Head coach Jim Harbaugh also expressed his disagreement with the call, “It looked like a fumble. Every play that happened in the game except that one was played out to the conclusion of the play.”
Sounds like the ref chose a bad time to suffer from premature whistling.
Finger No. 3: Wide Receivers
By far, the weakest link on the team is the receiving unit.
Look no further than Sunday's performance for compelling evidence. Targeted nine times, the receivers were credited with just one reception—for three yards, on a third-and-five play.
That's about as useful as using a fork to drink water.
How does that even happen?
It's simple, the 49ers do not have a game-breaking receiver. Michael Crabtree is clearly not that guy. On the biggest stage of his career, he disappeared. I thought divas liked the spotlight. The team will definitely be looking for upgrades at the position, whether it be through free agency or via the NFL draft.
Until then, Crabtree can be found on the back of most milk cartons.
Finger No. 4: Alex Smith
It's shocking to see how quickly fans forget Smith's heroic performance against the New Orleans Saints.
You know, the one where he engineered two fourth quarter touchdown drives, the last being the game-winner with 9 seconds left—he one that elicited talks of re-signing him for the long haul. He was the quarterback of the future.
Well, that was a pretty quick future in the minds of some.
The doubt has returned.
It's not, "What have you done for me lately?" But rather, "What have you done for me today?"
Smith, who completed 12 of 26 passes for 196 yards and a 97.6 rating, didn't have that bad a game. He threw two touchdown passes, both to Vernon Davis, and accounted for 42 yards rushing.
But the offense struggled to convert third-downs, going 1-13 on the night, and failed to move the chains consistently. Smith did misfire on a couple throws, but he was often forced to throw the ball away due to tight coverage on the receivers.
In the end, Smith had a great first year with Harbaugh, and the future looks bright for the two.
Sunday, however, was not their best moment.
Finger No. 5: The Play Calling
I'm using my thumb for this one; pointing it in blame and then giving a fat thumb-down to the play calling, especially late in the game.
They abandoned the run!
Throughout the game, the offense was able to effectively move the ball on the ground, gaining 150 total rushing yards with a 5.4 yard average per carry.
Frank Gore, Kendall Hunter and Alex Smith were all making plays with their legs. When the team fell behind, it was big runs by Smith and Hunter that put them in field goal position. It was quintessential 49ers football.
Then, they stopped.
The 49ers offense became predictable, and that's when it stalled. In the team's final four possessions—all three and outs—only two run plays were called.
The play calling may have cost the team a trip to Indianapolis, so the scope on this last finger is aimed at Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman.
Now all five are used and directed at different targets.
As catchy and easy it is to play, the blame game solves nothing.
Neither do death threats posted on Facebook and Twitter. Those are actually idiotic and embarrassing to all fans of the team and sport in general.
The reality is that the San Francisco 49ers came within a play of advancing to Super Bowl XLVI, literally, in a year they weren't supposed to even sniff the playoffs.
Let's use these hands for better purposes and applaud their successful season.
Well done, 49ers.
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