Bill Walsh's ghost has stopped rolling around. He can sleep easy, because the 49ers overcame the one hurdle that has tripped them up from the very beginning of the 2009 season.
This hurdle has always been the first hurdle. The one right out of the gates. It has tripped the 49ers up and many times cost them the race.
This hurdle was an oddly frustrating hurdle to miss, because it was not higher than the other hurdles, it was not at an awkward angle, was not tilted or on uneven ground; nor did the 49ers lack the ability to jump it, for they had cleared it, free and clean, many times during practice and trial runs.
The reason this particular hurdle was frustrating to miss, was because this was the one hurdle the 49ers never TRIED jumping over. They preferred instead to hit the hurdle “in the mouth,” trip themselves up, and fight like heck to hold on and win at the end.
They preferred to win, in the 11th hour.
But the hour is late, and the time to win, is now.
There are 11 players on an NFL offense, but last Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars, one of those 11 stood out and shined the brightest.
The 49ers jumped right out of the gates, and cleared their first hurdle like an eagle soaring above the mountains. They did what the defense did not expect them to do. They gave Alex Smith the game ball.
He let it fly.
Alex Smith threw more passes in a first half of football then he had ever thrown. He operated mostly from the shotgun formation where he is clearly most comfortable. He made plays with his feet, and not only cleared the first hurdle, but gave the 49ers something they have rarely seen since Smith was drafted; multiple touchdown passes in the first half of a football game, along with a 17-3 halftime lead.
Normally, its the other way around. The other team usually starts off the game fast and aggressive, while the 49ers punt and plod, as they get warmed up for their come-from-behind aggressive posture, later on in the game.
Smith was not only aggressive, but he was on the mark. He threw several balls that were reminiscent of Steve Young's picture-perfect pastimes.
On a 4th-and-1, with a defender blitzing up the middle, right in Smith's face, he only had time to flick the ball with his wrist. The ball ended up perfectly lobbed over a defenders head, into the waiting arms of Vernon Davis.
On another, Smith threw a fearless pass into the end-zone to Michael Crabtree, which was again, perfectly lobbed over the defender and almost surprising Crabtree as it arrived in his hands just as he turned his head to look. Crabtree could not hold on, but nevertheless, throws of this nature had previously only been seen around Candlestick Park when an All-Pro quarterback makes a visit with another team.
The Jaguars were not expecting the 49ers to even ATTEMPT these plays, much less execute them. They felt if they simply shut down Frank Gore, they would win the game. That is supposed to be the winning formula against the 49ers, right?
Not any more.
The 49ers have cleared their first hurdle, now, the new question becomes, can their opponents keep up?
The 49ers went against everything they had been doing all season long, and fooled the Jaguars, but will any other NFL team buy what the 49ers are selling?
Does one game change a reputation? Doubtful.
Most likely, despite a fantastic performance, opposing teams will continue to fear Frank Gore and not Alex Smith. Smith hurt one team who had a fixation on Frank Gore, but this one performance will not scare the rest of the NFL.
You see, there is an old saying, “If you can't do it twice, you can't do it at all.”
After what Frank Gore did to the Seattle Seahawks early in the season, who do you think they plan on shutting down come next Sunday?
Alex Smith still has to build a reputation, and one game, does not a reputation, make. Who knows how long it will take? It could be a couple more games or even require a couple months of high-octane offense leading into next season.
Smith's reputation has been in the gutter, and every girl ain't crazy about a sharp dressed man, when they had previously seen him sleeping on the streets for years.
Its going to take some time. Smith is going to have to hurt many NFL defenses before defensive coordinators look at the 49ers and think, “Hmm, how are we going to contain the Smith kid?”
If the 49ers can keep up this momentum, and keep up their aggressive offensive assault, one day it will happen. One day, defensive coordinators will be afraid of Alex Smith, and when that day comes, as Madden used to say, “Boom!” The 49ers will be able to go back to a balanced attack, because the other teams will not know whom on the 49ers offense they should game plan to stop.
Coach Singletary is right. It doesn't matter if the 49ers throw the ball 100 times, nor does it matter if they run the ball 100 times, all that matters is winning. To win, the opposing defense must be afraid of everything, and if Alex Smith continues to play like he has from the shotgun, and the 49ers continue to aggressively call shotgun plays, opposing defenses will be shaking in their boots thinking about both Smith and Gore.
The hour is late
Time is running out on the 49ers 2009 season. Perhaps it already has.
It would have been nice if the 49ers had this “spread offense” epiphany several weeks ago in Houston. It could have brought their playoff hopes within arms reach. But, you know, “coulda woulda shoulda.”
The hour is late, but a new day is coming into focus. A day where the 49ers can move the ball and score points, a day where the 49ers defense does not have to play two exhausting games worth of plays, a day where the 49ers offense sprints forward to a lead, rather than dig downward into a hole.
This new day will shine bright, with a quarterback, whom other teams coaches, players, and even fans will respect and yes, fear.
Some may say that this is only a dream. That this one game was a fluke and the spread offense will falter and the 49ers players won't be able to continue its success.
But the 49ers, with a poor record, have only their dreams;
They have spread their offense under Smith's feet,
Tread softly, because you tread on their dreams.
This is the time to see if Alex Smith can lead the 49ers to their dreams.
This is the 11th hour.