Weary San Francisco 49ers Bent Double

Brian O'FlahertyContributor INovember 2, 2009

SANTA CLARA, CA - MAY 01:  Quarterback Alex Smith #11 of the San Francisco 49ers talks with the media during the 49ers Minicamp at their training facilities on May 1, 2009 in Santa Clara, California.  (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

“Bent double,
like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags,
we cursed through sludge, ...”
-- Wilfred Owen 1918

There are some things that are hard to describe with words. Some things require a poet to convey the right idea.

Singletary accomplished the same thing Wilfred Owen was able to accomplish, when Owen wrote those classic, horrific lines as a soldier in the middle of one of the most fatiguing, dreadful experiences humanity has ever foisted upon itself, WWI.

Both Singletary and Owen, captured the same idea, the same feeling; the feeling of fatigue.

I mean real fatigue.

Not the type of fatigue one feels after a long jog or hike. Not the same fatigue as one feels from staying awake all night. Not even the same fatigue a soldier endures in a war.

BLIND fatigue.

Everyone sees it and knows it, but all go along with the mantra's anyway. All follow the banner. The banner which waves strong, proud, and confident; the banner that leads into mud; into muck; into slush and slop; into sludge.

The “sludge” of not knowing what is to come next, yet knowing exactly. The “sludge” of fighting your heart out, all for a lost cause, and knowing it. The “sludge” of broken promises and wayward visions.

Fatigue on the field, fatigue in the mind, fatigue in the fan-base. Raw, pure, bubbling fatigue.

Dim through the misty panes and thick green llght,
As under a green sea, I saw them drowning...

The 49ers defense put up one of the greatest efforts I have seen from a 49ers defense in a long time.

They put their hearts on the line, and battled an impossible foe. This foe had not been sacked hardly all season, yet the 49ers sacked him. This foe has thrown a touchdown pass in every game through the 2009 season, yet the 49ers denied him any. This undefeated foe had seen halftime leads of 21-3, 21-3, 21-9, 21-3 in the four games prior, yet the 49ers led the game at the half, 14-9.

The defense confused and confounded the legend, Peyton Manning. They sacked and harassed him. They forced more three n' outs on him then he has experienced all season. They caused more sacks then he has felt all season.

It was an incredible effort. An effort worthy of champions. A legendary effort, to fit such a legendary opponent.

What thanks did such a valorous effort generate? What gratitude did they find amongst those coaches who led them into this maelstrom?


They were left for dead. They put their mind, body and spirit on the line, and were abandoned.

Alone, fatigued, with no artillery support to be found. They knew what was coming...

If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the offense that we flung him in ...

The first start of Alex Smith's career, many years ago, came against the Colts. He played like a confused lamb sent to the slaughter.

He had his ups and downs thereafter, in fleeting moments looking brilliant.
Those brilliant times were reminiscent of his days at Utah, where his up tempo offense led his team to college bowl championships.

His fleeting brilliant efforts with the 49ers have been reminiscent of his Utah days, not because of their success, but rather, because the offense the 49ers used during those rare times, was Utah-like.

It does not happen very often, but at times, Smith was put in the shotgun and the WR's were stretched across the field. These are the times Smith has been at his best. This is when he is able to get into a rhythm as a quarterback; as a passing quarterback, a “gunslinger.”

Unfortunately for Smith, as said before, these “gunslinger” opportunities have been few and far-between since he was drafted as the first pick of the “Nolan era.”

Recently, when Alex Smith replaced Shaun Hill in the second half of the game against the Texans, it was immediately obvious that this was the right move.
Smith was accurate and on time more often than not, and led his team to three touchdown passes. There were even some shotgun formations, where Smith not only seemed competent, but confident. He was at home and comfortable.

It looked like the evidence was clear. It seemed as if Alex Smith would not only come in and play as the starting quarterback, but he would have an opportunity to run a “pass first” offense. An offense where the other team would have to account for the pass as their primary concern. Just like at Utah.

But, yet again, these “gunslinger” moments were only faint and fleeting. Because this last week, against the Colts, the game-plan went straight back into the out-of-rhythm, confused, fatiguing formations.

Ironically enough, Smith was given one and only one opportunity to throw in an up-tempo offense against the Colts. It came at the end of the first half, when the 49ers went into their two-minute offense.

Alex Smith once more, led the team to a touchdown drive when given this up-tempo opportunity.

But that opportunity was fleeting, and this smothering dream, is real.

The “49er way”

Times have changed.

Since Mike Nolan arrived, the “culture” of the franchise has changed. The attitude that the team plays with has changed.  

The attitude is, obviously, supposed to be a “winning” attitude. Something that “winners” do.

Unfortunately for the 49ers, the reality has been quite the opposite. The reality is that this “culture shock” has not been a winning concept. It has been a losing concept.

It is the concept of avoiding mistakes.

It is the dogma of “smash mouth.”

It is the belief that you can “out will” an opponent, who will simply fold and wilt under the pressure.

It is a false belief, intertwined with false-logic and half-truths.

It has led to the worst, consistent losing record the 49ers have sustained over the last 30 some odd years.

Play it safe, play it sound. Smash, pound and grind. Pound until it hurts.

And boy, it hurts.

Watching an offense go from bad in 2008, to worse in 2009, has been most difficult, due to the incredible defensive performances that go unnoticed, unappreciated and most importantly, unsupported. Air support; or rather, the lack thereof.

Supported by the bogus, almost mad notion, that one can “impose their will” on an NFL team. Not only “impose their will,” but impose it by running the football up the middle when the other team has NO fear at all of your passing game.

There is no sense of rhythm in the 49er offense, no sense of timing, no sense of anything.

The only thing on this offense that happens with rhythm, is the steady, league leading stream of three n' outs that occur over and over and over, week after week.

Vernon Davis, Michael Crabtree, Josh Morgan, Frank Gore. They can all play. But we put most of our weight on Gore, who is forced to run at a wall of defenders, ready and eager to see him.

“But why is there a wall? We pass more than we run.”
It is not the amount of runs vs the amount of passes. It is the anticipation, the expectation, the fear.

The 49ers have not done nearly enough with their passing game. It has nothing to do with how many runs vs how many passes.  

“Why don't the 49ers try and open up the offense more, and find some rhythm there?”

Because that's not “who we are” anymore. We aren't trying to exploit a defense, we aren't trying to exploit our talent. We're trying to “establish” something.

“Establish what?”

Ask Mike Singletary, because only him and God know what the plan for this team is.

What we do know, is the plan is not aggressive, the plan is not looking for the win. Its about avoiding the defeat.

We don't want a “gunslinger,” we want a “game manager.” We don't want first downs and touchdowns, we want field goals and field position.  
This defense, these players, this team works so hard to make this misguided concept work. But it doesn't work. It never has and never will.

“Singletary fatigue” is beginning to set it.

Lots of talk, lots of promises. Lots of speeches, lots of posturing.

Wave the flag. Soldier them on.

Keep em marching, keep em slogging, keep em slushing and sloshing, through the slop, in the land of dreams, in the land of “smash-mouth.”

But even soldiers become disillusioned.

Singletary keeps leading his defense to hopeless causes, so they can stand, bent double, and watch week after week, as the offense plods and punts in a pitiful, haggard display of ineptitude.  

Singletary continues the Nolan legacy. Safe, sound, sorry. “Hit em hard,” “gut it out,” “soldier on.” And there is no sign of it changing, one stubborn bit. Sigh...

Coach Singletary, if you knew how hopeless this uninspired offense is my friend,
you would not tell with such high zest,
to players ardent for some desperate glory,
the old lie:
Dulce et decorum est
Pro smash-mouth mori


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