Here is a link to my Sunday column previewing the 49ers-Colts game. The full text also appears below.
Today’s game against the Indianapolis Colts is a must-win game for the 49ers.
What I just wrote is a cliché, one of the worst sports clichés — and the world is cluttered with crummy sports clichés — “The 49ers just need to play 49ers football.” If the 49ers lose today, it would be their second loss. Two losses is not a tragedy.
Believe me, the 49ers will lose at least two games this season and they still could win the Super Bowl.
So, this game isn’t a must-win game in the usual sense — that the 49ers are out of contention if they get beaten. But it’s still a must-win game — and I apologize for the cliché.
What are we talking about with this must-win stuff?
Before this season started a few weeks ago, experts and so-called experts and self-appointed experts ceded the Super Bowl to the boys from Santa Clara. It was that simple. They almost won the Super Bowl last season — apparently you get loads of street cred for almost winning — and they are better this season and, come on, they figure to win it all.
Plus, they have Colin Kaepernick, the wonder child, and their coach is Jim Harbaugh who has the golden touch. That means, in addition to a loaded roster, they have been graced with mystique, the Harbaugh mystique — in a shortened form, call it the “Harbique.”
But if they lose — and I’m not saying they will lose — they clearly are not the team everyone assumed they were. A loss would be their second in a row, something that never happened in the Era Harbique, and it would show the whipping they took in Seattle was no noise-induced fluke.
A loss would mean the 49ers aren’t the 49ers they have been reputed to be. It would mean, frankly, they are another pretty good team with weaknesses like most other teams. What a fall from grace.
Against the Colts, the 49ers are fighting to retain their elite status, their 49erness. Nothing less.
And here’s the killer. After the Colts’ game, the 49ers fly to St. Louis on Wednesday for a Thursday night game. Don’t take the Rams lightly, especially on a short week. Last season, the 49ers could not beat the Rams. People who know felt Rams’ coach Jeff Fisher had Harbaugh’s number.
And here’s another killer. Vernon Davis pulled a hamstring against the Seahawks. Who knows if he’s ready to play? The Seahawks showed the league how to shut down Anquan Boldin. Unfortunately for them, the 49ers have not developed other significant threats in their offense. After Davis and Boldin and Frank Gore, who can carry or catch the ball? If an offense lacks dynamic skill players, mere Harbique will not take you very far.
I haven’t even mentioned Aldon Smith. Harbaugh announced Smith will play against the Colts. Let’s assume Smith will play well, get his sacks and be an on-field hero and all that.
But Smith is a major problem for the 49ers. He is a potential superstar who obviously has issues. He crashed his car into a tree Friday morning and blew a 0.15 in a Breathalyzer, almost twice the legal limit. Beyond all that, he is being investigated for shooting unregistered guns and, all in all, he is the 49ers’ problem child, not the only one.
Where were the 49ers when Smith needed them? Don’t get me wrong. He’s acting like a jerk and very well may be a jerk. But most teams have programs in place to counsel foolish young men. Do the 49ers have a program? Is the program any good?
Most teams have an “on-the-street guy” to keep track of the problem children, to keep them on track. Do the 49ers have such a guy? They sure didn’t have one Friday morning when Smith was driving loaded.
If you can get answers from the 49ers to any of the above questions, let me know.
Harbaugh said he wants his players above reproach. It sounded good when he said it. But he’s done nothing to keep them above reproach. In Smith’s case Harbaugh has accepted below reproach.
Harbaugh needs Smith, so he will let Smith play against the Colts. Bad message to the locker room. Horrible message to the fans. Harbaugh is the CEO of the 49ers when it comes to the players. A CEO makes tough decisions for the good of the entire group.
Harbaugh chooses only to win football games, and damn the ethical cost, damn the public-relations cost.
Harbaugh should have told Smith he will not play against the Colts, should have told Smith he is not welcome on the field. Every team designates seven inactive players before games. Harbaugh should designate Smith inactive — Harbaugh still may do that, but don’t hold your breath.
If Harbaugh won’t or can’t make Smith inactive, Jed York should step in and do the right thing. These are the San Francisco 49ers, for heaven’s sake.
So, we come back to the Colts’ game. The 49ers are hurt and coming off a dreadful loss and they are vulnerable. The coach, tough guy that he is reputed to be, cannot control at least one of his players, doesn’t even try.
The 49ers need to prove they are not falling apart. Beating the Colts might help. Then again it might not.