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Wide receiver Jermaine Kearse beat Carlos Rogers for the go-ahead touchdown on fourth-down.
Formulating an argument against a top-five defense would normally qualify as an exercise in futility.
But there are exceptions.
The 49ers consider themselves the best—mostly for good reason.
The viewing public, in turn, expects the best—game in and game out.
Surrendering the third-most conversions on fourth down thus defies the former, and no doubt angers the latter.
Vic Fangio’s unit couldn’t thwart the enemies’ attempts on 10 such occasions in 2013. Only the non-playoff Minnesota Vikings, Chicago Bears and Washington Redskins faltered more often.
The most egregious of these instances arrived at the worst conceivable moment, to boot.
Once again, the site was the ill-fated conference championship.
San Francisco relegated the Seahawks to a 4th-and-7 early in the final quarter after initially forcing them into a brutal 3rd-and-22.
Following a Seattle timeout, outside linebacker Aldon Smith jumped offside, which effectively gave the Seahawks a free shot toward the end zone.
Niners pass-rushers then relaxed as if the play had been blown dead, while Russell Wilson proceeded to connect with Jermaine Kearse for the 35-yard go-ahead touchdown.
Seattle went up 20-17, and the 49ers never recovered.
Let’s now use this decisive postseason sequence as a microcosm for the entire season.
San Francisco finished in the bottom half of the league (No. 17) with an average of 6.2 penalties committed per game. Worse yet, Fangio’s bunch ranked 19th with 38 sacks, and 21st with a sack percentage of 6.1.
A team flush with pass-rushing dynamos Aldon and Justin Smith, Ahmad Brooks and NaVorro Bowman, among others, is simply better than what those meager sack totals would indicate.
That same veteran, high-football-IQ contingent should also incur fewer violations on the gridiron.
Fresh talent in the form of Tank Carradine and Quinton Dial must combine forces with Corey Lemonier and those previously mentioned. They must not only press teams into attempting fourth-down conversions via quarterback pressures, they must take the next step and dismiss them from the field entirely.
Only then can the 49ers improve upon their 13th-ranked time-of-possession offense and transform it into a more championship-level corps.