As it relates to the San Francisco 49ers, evaluating their win-loss pattern in the 2012 season is both totally encouraging and maddeningly frustrating.
(And this applies to the perspective of fans, writers and general outside observers alike.)
Then they laid the proverbial egg against an underrated but thoroughly beatable Vikings squad.
But low and behold, the New York Giants came to town and washed the floor with the 49ers 26-3—a game where SF should have held all the necessary motivation after last year’s NFC Championship game loss.
And to make a long story short, San Francisco took care of business against the Seahawks and Cardinals, tied the Rams (basically a loss), crushed New Orleans and Chicago, lost to St. Louis, beat the Dolphins and Patriots, and then lied down like dogs in Seattle.
(Where would a scathing article be without a little Tony Kornheiser reference?)
Assuming this infuriating dichotomy of a pattern holds, the 49ers will lay waste to the Cardinals and its first-round postseason opponent, but will complete the trifecta with a crushing loss in the NFCCG (if the current playoff standings remain the same).
Let’s chalk it up to five things: either no Frank Gore, no run defense, an unfavorable turnover differential, poor coaching or no Justin Smith.
Well, throw in a little Carlos Rogers as well. And a special teams liability. And no Vernon Davis.
In the Week 3 loss to the Vikings, the 49ers underutilized Gore after initial positive gains, lost the turnover battle, threw 15 more times than handing the ball off, were gashed in the run game and ultimately overlooked Minnesota as a viable threat.
In the Week 6 defeat at the hands of the Giants, the 49ers again lost the turnover battle, Gore rushed all of eight times, Davis caught just three passes, the coaches got cute with the play-calling, New York rushed for 149 yards and slot wideout Victor Cruz burned Rogers for a touchdown.
In the Week 10 tie in St. Louis (SF had a bye in Week 9), Steven Jackson rushed for 101 and a score, WR Danny Amendola went for 102, Davis had just 30 and David Akers missed a game-winning field goal.
Still with us?
In the Week 13 loss to the Rams, questionable offensive schematics, a mere 15 total yards for Davis, a negative-one turnover differential and another missed game-winning shot by Akers led to the defeat.
And, finally, San Francisco threw twice as many times as it ran, committed more turnovers and allowed a touchdown off a blocked field goal in the latest 42-13 annihilation. Rogers also was a complete disaster, Davis caught just one pass and Marshawn Lynch rushed for 111 and a TD.
Oh, and perhaps worst of all, the 49ers have allowed 80 points in one-and-a-half games with Justin Smith out of action.
They surrendered a total of 180 in the 13.5 other contests.
Is that bad? Well, it’s not good.
A brutal two-game stretch on the road against the Patriots and Seahawks was an undeniable factor in the 49ers’ most recent defeat. Even elite teams cannot win every matchup with big-time opponents.
Yet, it’s the way they lost that encapsulates this two-one pattern in such a disturbing way.
The 49ers once again went away from their fundamental corps on offense by abandoning the Gore-led rushing attack. They instead targeted Jeremy Lane—Seattle’s replacement for Brandon Browner at starting right cornerback—over 10 times in the game.
It was a sensible idea on the surface. But feeding the rock to Gore just four times out of the first 17 offensive snaps—not to mention opting for the pass in seven of the first 10 plays—was emblematic of the misguided game plan.
Seattle overwhelmingly winning time of possession 35:09 to 24:51 and maintaining complete offensive rhythm was the unfortunate result of that ill-advised approach.
(Something Colin Kaepernick was never able to enjoy—his missed throws and poor decision-making notwithstanding.)
Furthermore, it was the play by key members of the 49ers’ defense that undermined the team’s chances of winning.
Aldon Smith missed two tackles, didn’t record one sack of Russell Wilson and was generally ineffective in all aspects of the game.
Rogers, for his part, gave up a touchdown, allowed a 158.3 QB rating, and failed to execute in the majority of his defensive assignments (see: Lynch’s wide open TD in the red zone).
The defense as a whole registered seven missed tackles, just one sack out of 12 QB hurries and gave up 11 third-down conversions out of 13 attempts.
This overall deficiency fostered four plays of 20-plus yards and 35 offensive points allowed. Seattle punted just once.
The glaring weakness left by Justin Smith being out of action couldn’t be any more apparent.
(See: Lynch running straight at replacement Ricky Jean-Francios for a 24-yard TD.)
Plus, failing to score in the red zone and surrendering a special teams TD off a total chip-shot field goal added insult to J. Smith’s already devastating injury.
With Justin out for now and Kyle Williams, Kendall Hunter and Mario Manningham done for the season, the 49ers must become transcendent on defense, with Gore, Kaepernick, Michael Crabtree and especially Vernon Davis doing the same on offense.
If not, a team with legitimate Super Bowl aspirations will soon be rendered illegitimate.
With the toxic two-one pattern dooming the 2012 49ers.
Follow me on Twitter @jlevitt16