It is clear that Colin Kaepernick, as leader of the team, is not yet ready for prime time, yet he shows flashes of what the team hopes he will become.
It is also clear that the 49ers as a whole are struggling to find an effective identity this late in the season.
Six points in a first half against a 5-7 team is not indicative of a strong offense. Period.
The time management in this game was high school bad, at best. In the first half, two of the three timeouts were used up with 8:30 left before the break. They had also only one left by the start of the fourth quarter, and that one was gone with an unsuccessful challenge with 14 minutes left in the game. That left 22.5 minutes of game time without the advantage of a single timeout.
That kind of sloppy management will not fly with the premier teams they play in the last three games.
The offensive line allowed four sacks on a mobile quarterback, not a good sign at all. Anthony Davis of the offensive line appears to be the weakest link, allowing sacks and hurries much too often.
The offense made zero points in the first quarter. It took a full 20 minutes of play to get the first three points. The 49ers, once noted for being a "fast start" team, are now starting games looking disorganized and a bit incompetent.
It took until about 40.5 minutes of elapsed game time for the 49ers to convert their first third down. This will not scare any opponent. Those who wailed at Alex Smith’s third down percentage can now tear up over the new guys record.
The defense, loudly touted all season, allowed the 5-7 Dolphins their longest drive of their season straddling the first and second quarters, leading to the first three points of the game.
Special teams did fairly well, gathering in a muffed punt return and setting up the 49ers first touchdown. But they also allowed a 50-yard return of the ensuing kickoff.
There were four beautiful scenes in the broadcast version of this game; a shot of Candlestick in the December sunshine from an overhead blimp, a clear shot of the Golden Gate Bridge, an all-too-brief shot of Alcatraz Island and a 50-yard run by Kaepernick to put the game away in the final moments.
Michael Crabtree is emerging as the star receiver we all hoped he would be, catching nine passes for 93 yards. His YAC record is excellent.
Frank Gore had a great run in the third quarter and still produces, having reached the 1,000 yard-mark for his sixth time, as well as matching the 50-touchdown team record.
LaMichael James is emerging as a viable replacement for Hunter with 30 yards for eight carries, not counting a 12-yarder called back on a holding penalty. He also caught a pass for 15 yards.
Kaepernick’s current strength is his long running legs and his strong arm. His weakness is game management and the short quick passes that made the West Coast offense so famous and deadly. He is slow to make calls and to break huddle and set the team. He needs to speed up his pre-snap act.
Interestingly, Kaepernick's strengths are Alex Smith's weaknesses, and his weaknesses are Alex Smith's strengths. A conundrum.
Aldon Smith is a verified star and will chalk up an NFL record in sacks per season this year.
The 49er defense leads the league in points allowed in the first drive after the half with ten points for the season to date.
The NFL needs to make a small rule change. When a kickoff happens, the ball is placed automatically on the 20-yard line if the ball is downed in the end zone. So far, so good.
But runners are credited with return yards when they run the ball out of the end zone, even if they do not reach the 20-yard line. I’d like it if they only credited those yards past the 20 if the ball is run out of the end zone, since the first 20 are a given anyway. Of course, some runbacks are stopped short of that mark, so they would accumulate minus yardage on their records. This would discourage over-eager runners from making bad decisions that hurt their own team.
Are the 49ers Ready For Prime Time?
I had high hopes until a few weeks ago. The No. 2 seed team seemed poised to win out the season and make history in the playoffs.
In my opinion the 49ers offense, at this point in their season, is not ready for the hard games to finish out the season. Even with a few flashes of brilliance they are playing more middle-of-the-pack than as a No. 2 seed.
I cannot see them winning out the season. They just are not that together, that coordinated, that quick and efficient.
With their current play, I doubt they will make it through the first game of the playoffs. I do not see this team making it to the Super Bowl.