Do not panic. At least not yet.
At the end of the day, all eyes were on the Seattle Seahawks, not the San Francisco 49ers, Sunday at Qwest Field- what they call The Nest. The storylines were cemented in the second half of the game. An aging, though still capable Matt Hasselbeck. The jovial Pete Carroll sporting that college pep. And a delegation of ex-49ers. A team that saw a near overhaul in the off-season fought back and then some after the 49ers controlled the clock, threatened early, but failed to execute efficiently in the red zone.
For the time being, dashed is the hipster notion that the 49ers were favored and perhaps deemed destined to win the division and make some waves in the playoffs. And true, it was just one game...but it was an egg of one. Simply put, the Seahawks' 31-6 convincing opening salvo against the San Francisco 49ers should spark some initial concern. Again, do not panic. Fans are again clamoring for Alex Smith's ouster rather soon and Coach Mike Singletary's dismissal by year's end. Steady. As it is, there is plenty on the plate with the New Orleans Saints on deck Monday night at home in Candlestick Park. Rest quivering until then knowing the Saints dissected Sunday's specimen in short order.
At first, Alex Smith appeared to confirm best hopes going into the new season, completing 9 of his first 10 passes and engineering an 84 yard drive over 15 plays that took nearly 10 minutes off the clock. From the Seattle six yard line, Smith threw an incomplete pass on 4th and 1 to Moran Norris for what should have been a touchdown. The 49ers missed an opportunity to go up 10-0, or settle for a field goal. Kicker Joe Nedney bailed out the offense one more time on their next drive (after a delay of game penalty enforced was at Seattle's one yard line), with the team's final three points of the day.
With Alex Smith's first of two interceptions near the end of the first half, Seattle proceeded to take over the game on the next play with a Matt Hasselbeck to Deon Butler connection for a touchdown. The Seahawks never looked back. The 49ers would spend the rest of the game making more mistakes and trying to pass its way out of a deepening hole. The 49ers let opportunities pass by...or threw them away completely. Granted, a road opener in a very hostile stadium, the energy of a revival moment for Pete Carroll and a revamped Seahawks team, would be a challenge for a number of teams anyway. But on the visiting sideline, the passion, the heart and the drive (in more ways than one) just did not seem to be there in the second half. As a result, the 49ers were picked apart in The Nest.
The second half started for the 49ers as such with Smith's second interception of the game, which was redeemed for six points by Seattle's Marcus Trufant. On the bad end of a 21-6 score, the team lost its composure after the second interception. It was a manageable deficit, but no one managed the situation. The 49ers were 1 of 15 on 3rd down conversions and as a result overall it seemed the 49ers spent more time putting Seattle's offense on the field than its own. A defense that looked strong up front, but weak elsewhere, was far too burdened to bail out Jimmy Raye and seemingly perennial rookie prospect, 5th year veteran, Alex Smith.
Down 21-6, 49er fans were left to wander which Alex Smith would prevail in the second half; the cool, calm and collected version they saw in Houston last year or the draft bust version fans have been struggling with since 2005. No doubt, Smith has shown flashes of consistency in five years of service. Last year's performance beginning in Houston and then on, all things considered, was good enough to earn him the chance to start a new season with a familiar offensive scheme for the first time of his NFL career. The first game in perhaps his final campaign to solidify his future with the 49ers got out of control very quickly.
Frank Gore, an anchor for the offense, saw far too little touches in the second half. The running game was a pedestrian effort in the 1st half, then nearly abandoned in the 2nd half. As for the second half, as a whole, the offense accomplished nothing other than a few sequences of passes far too futile and late in the situation to be of value.
What made Sunday's loss all that more disturbing is that Smith again showcased, ever so briefly, his ability to put together effective and methodical drives. But he had little to show for his production. Offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye's house of cards fell in familiar fashion in the red zone on opportunities that may have yielded a different outcome at Qwest Field. Reports indicate that poor communication of plays was a big issue for the 49ers all day. But with goal to go in the red zone, should that really matter with a number one draft pick at the helm? Overall, the offense lacked an identity after netting just two field goals in three stalled visits to the red zone in the first half. Blame it on lack of execution? Coaching? Both?
Anything short of a respectable turnaround at Candlestick Park Monday night may spell a healthy panic across 49er nation. Next week is short with a road trip to Kansas City to cap what could be an early and pivotal point for a team that needs to define itself and set a tone in short order.
The character of a team is often revealed by how it responds to adversity. Adversity may get the best of the 49ers this season if they can't adjust in a big way next Monday night while hosting the defending Super Bowl champions, the New Orleans Saints. The big key to next Monday's game is to atone for Week 1's embarrassment, then grind the clock, execute AND score. Above all else, that actually means keeping Drew Brees off the field as much as possible. No explanation needed.
But for now, consider this; Alex Smith was just named a team captain last week. This is his shining hour, if he wants the glory.
Do not panic. At least not yet.