Here is a link to my Sunday column about the 49ers’ early-season crisis game. The full text runs below:
The 49ers are in crisis. Well, they have a bunch of crises. I won’t get into the legal-moral, the-guy-got-arrested crisis. But the 49ers face a crisis game today, face a crisis game against the undefeated — yes, undefeated — Arizona Cardinals. Just about every team faces a crisis game at least once a season, but who expected the 49ers to face theirs in Week 3?
Why is this a crisis game?
Because the 49ers already lost a game to the Bears — a game no one thought they would lose. Because the Arizona game is a division game. If the 49ers lose today, they effectively will be 2½ games behind the Cardinals. The two games in the standings and the disadvantage of losing head to head to a team in the NFC West — loss of tiebreaker advantage and all that.
The 49ers don’t want to go there. They need to win this game.
The 49ers lost ugly to the Bears, got off to a big lead and allowed Chicago to run them down, allowed the Bears to outscore them 28-3 when it counted in the great unraveling at the Levi’s Stadium inaugural game. Grim.
Last season, the Bears’ record was 8-8. Mediocre to the max. Last season, the Bears did not make the playoffs. The Bears probably won’t make the playoffs this season. The Bears have a bad defense and a sketchy offensive line and injured receivers. The Niners gave it up to THAT team.
Last season, the 49ers did not lose to a non-playoff team. Didn’t happen. Check it out. Already, the 49ers have broken new ground.
One of the key numbers from the Bears game was 16. You know what 16 refers to. The number of penalties enforced against San Francisco.
Sixteen is a big number. I have nothing against 16. It evokes pleasant memories — Sweet 16 parties, the song “Sixteen Candles” by the Crests (1958). It’s just that 16 is misleading as it refers to the 49ers-Bears game. The Niners weren’t called for 16 penalties. They were called for 18. Only 16 were enforced. So, the real number is 18. Eighteen is more than 16. Eighteen isn’t as cute as 16.
What’s the big deal about 18?
A team that gets called for 18 penalties is an undisciplined team. It’s the Raiders — or how the Raiders used to be. It most certainly is not the 49ers, and it most certainly is not a Jim Harbaugh team. Except it is.
It makes you wonder. Makes you wonder if the team is slipping. Makes you wonder if the players, for whatever reason, are tuning out Harbaugh. When a team is undisciplined, it’s the coach’s fault. You can’t blame lack of discipline on anyone else. Jed York gets a pass on this one.
The game created even more worry areas. Or you might call them discussion topics.
The quarterback is a discussion topic. Colin Kaepernick. He flamed out in the fourth quarter. I won’t go into all his possible defects — not reading the coverage, locking his eyes on one receiver, running when he should throw. But this I’ll say. Flaming out in the fourth quarter is what he does. It’s becoming his trademark.
He needs to redeem himself. He needs to show he is a disciplined quarterback. (Discipline seems to be a theme around here.) Needs to show he can lead his team to victory in the fourth quarter by throwing or running for a touchdown. Stuff he’s rarely done. He needs to improve against the Cardinals or else the 49ers have — repeat after me — a crisis.
You want another discussion topic?
The Niners’ defense. Used to be the team’s strength. Not against the Bears. Chicago’s quarterback, Jay Cutler, usually a pick-throwing nervous wreck, looked like Johnny Unitas against the 49ers’ defense. Why? Because the 49ers couldn’t get pressure on him, allowed him to stand there like a man at the beach admiring the waves. Do the Niners miss Aldon Smith, or what?
Another discussion topic. Rookie nickel back Jimmie Ward, the Niners’ first-round draft pick, couldn’t cover his own shadow. He is a safety converted to cornerback. Why did the 49ers draft a safety to play corner? Why did they draft Ward to cover the slot receiver, the most difficult receiver to defend? You got me. If you have an answer, please drop me a line.
If I’m the 49ers — don’t you just love when commentators use the “if I’m the” construction? — well, if I’m the 49ers (I’m not), I get help for Ward against Arizona. Or else I have you-know-what.
Another discussion topic. Vernon Davis limped around the locker room on Thursday like someone carrying a safe on his leg. Bad ankle. The ankle he hurt against Chicago. The 49ers hope he gets well real fast. They kind of need Davis if they want a passing game.
Final discussion topic. Am I saying the 49ers get beat by Arizona? Heck no. The 49ers are a quality outfit. Expect them to win. And when they win, they put all these discussion topics in the garbage can — where they belong.
It’s just that so much is questionable about them — see above. If they lose today in that blimp-like thing in the desert, the discussion topics multiply. The discussions topics begin to shriek at us. And the little crisis becomes a big crisis.
Nobody likes a big crisis.
For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at cohn.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at firstname.lastname@example.org.