Alex Smith and San Francisco 49ers Must Figure out How to Finish Games

Sean GalushaCorrespondent IISeptember 16, 2012

GREEN BAY, WI - SEPTEMBER 09:  Alex Smith #11 of the San Francisco 49ers throws a pass during the NFL season opener against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field on September 9, 2012 in Green Bay, Wisconsin.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Impressive. Most Impressive.

Spoken like a true Darth Lord of the Sith, the 49ers were undoubtedly the kings of NFL Week 1, dominating a team that many experts anointed to be the NFC representative in New Orleans come February.

But as fun as it was to see Alex Smith hit his targets all across the field with the precision of a Navy Seals sniper, I had one big problem with the game. Sadly, it wasn’t Joe Buck and Troy Aikman. Fox commentators are like the sound of a noisy refrigerator; you learn to tune it out after years and years of exposure.

There were a lot of highlights that have made for some great YouTube viewing over the last six days: David Akers launching footballs into the sky like they were made of rubber, Frank Gore back-pedaling into the end zone before getting smacked by a clearly agitated Tramon Williams, Jim Harbaugh giving the dope referees a face shower every time they blew a call, Vernon Davis trying to be Blake Griffin and getting rejected by the crossbar (OK, so not every replay was worthy of a “like” button).  

But much worse than the failed touchdown celebrations was the 49ers’ inability to put away their opponents.

With the way that everything had gone up to the final seven minutes, the Packers never should have been in a position to drive in for the game-tying score. Leading by a two-touchdown margin for most of the second half, one more long drive or field goal (let’s face it, anything less than 50 yards is a chip shot for David Akers these days) would have been enough to score the TKO.  

But Smith and the offense couldn’t find the rhythm they had for the first three quarters, and the Packers were just a completed pass away from marching down the field and forcing overtime.

Granted, it was a bad call by an abysmal officiating crew that gave the Cheeseheads new life. But the normally reliable kicking coverage unit made an absolute mess of the play and allowed Randall Cobb to sprint into the end zone untouched. Missed call or not, that’s not something we’re used to seeing from the 49ers special teams, even when Mike Singletary was skulking around on the sidelines.

Still, the 49ers have to remain aggressive when they have the ball late in the game. As great as the defense is, Alex Smith and his benevolent gang of wideouts have to keep it off the field whenever they have a chance. Every first down is a kick delivered to the gut of the opposing quarterback watching from the bench. Every completed pass is another 30 seconds off the clock.

Last year, Harbaugh relied too much on his defense at the end of games and it resulted in a couple of losses.

In the second week of the season against the Cowboys, Jim declined a 15-yard penalty that would have given the 49ers a first down after Ackers drilled a long field goal. Electing to take the points instead of driving down the field for a game-clinching touchdown, the Cowboys eventually rallied back to even the score and win the game in overtime.

Then, in a late-season matchup with the Cardinals, the 49ers failed to score once in the fourth quarter as someone they had never heard of (we’re told his name is John Skelton) led his team to a comeback victory.

There were about five other games where the defense successfully defended the Alamo. Considering the law of averages,the Niners spent one of their stands last week. I don't think Harbaugh intends to use up another.

San Francisco won’t lose a game at home this season. But they’re going to be tested on the road against some very good teams, and yes, teams that probably won’t have a snowball's chance in hell of beating them at the ‘Stick.

Smith should relish the opportunity. Last year, there was only one person for him to throw the ball to and the 49ers made it all the way to the NFC Championship. Now that there’s someone to throw the ball to everywhere on the field (even the sideline), the potential is there for this offense to rival the ’94 and ’89 squads that brought home Super Bowl glory and cemented themselves as some of the best teams in NFL history.

While it’s cool watching David Akers make 40-plus yard field goals look like PATs, it’d be a pretty awesome thing to see Smith shred opposing defenses on a weekly basis. The running game is still rock solid with Gore, Hunter and the fleet-footed LaMichael James. A final tweak in the passing game may be all that’s needed to manufacture sheer invulnerability. 

What is it you ask?

A little fourth-quarter killer instinct.