Here is a link to my Monday column about the Niners. The full text runs below:
The finest moment for me in Sunday’s exhibition game between the 49ers and Cowboys was that once-in-a-lifetime play when Niners quarterback Colin Kaepernick threw caution to the wind and scorched a 90-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Torrey Smith. Finally, Kaepernick and Smith had made that all-important quarterback-receiver connection a team strives for in the preseason.
The pass itself didn’t travel 90 yards. I’m not saying it did. It went 50 yards, a rocket. Kaepernick dropped back near his 10-yard line, surveyed the field like a surveyor, bravely dodged the pass rush of snarling Dallas defensive linemen and linebackers, slid nimbly to his right, went through his progressions one two three like a metronome, and threw a high spiral, a work of art that arched over the heads of two helpless defensive backs and led Smith perfectly.
Smith caught the ball in his outstretched hands and, like a ballet dancer, pranced 40 yards into the end zone. He and Kaepernick waved gleefully to each other across the long green swath of Levi’s Stadium grass. And you just knew they had become a combo, were as inseparable as pork and beans. You just knew the phrase “Kaepernick to Smith, touchdown!” would reverberate through Niners lore like Montana to Rice.
Then I woke up, smacked myself in the head, grabbed a cup of joe and came to terms with reality to the extent that exhibition games approximate reality, and admitted to myself that 90-yard touchdown pass never happened.
Gazing firmly at reality, I concluded this. The 49ers running game looked good, and Carlos Hyde is very good. The Niners run defense looked good. Welcome back, NaVorro Bowman. But that thing between Kaepernick and Smith, that essential chemistry, is still hibernating in a test tube in coach Jim Tomsula’s office.
In the 49ers first offensive series, Kaepernick led a nice 13-play drive that ended in a field goal as opposed to, say, a touchdown. Hyde greatly aided Kaepernick with his running. In the first 11 plays of the drive, Kaepernick threw no times to Smith. Smith lined up on the right side and ran forward at the snap. Ran toward nothing in particular.
But, OK, on play No. 12 — third-and-goal from the 7 — Smith dashed to the back right corner of the end zone. Kaepernick put Smith in his sites and threw a rope. But Smith didn’t catch it. He had the ball briefly in his hands before it fell to the ground out of bounds. I’m not blaming Kaepernick. I’m not blaming Smith. The Cowboys’ Corey White hit the ball and broke up the pass.
I’m saying the 49ers went for it between Kaepernick and Smith. They didn’t go for it long where they should have been going for it, at least some of the time. But even though they went for it short, they still went for it. Unfortunately, they did not get it. That’s the essential point. They did not get it.
Here is Jim Tomsula on that pass: “The defender did a nice job. I thought the ball was put in a good spot. It was in a good place where it was going to be a catch or it was going to fall incomplete. I thought he put it in the right place. I thought it was a great effort to catch the ball. So, I thought it was a good play.”
Except it wasn’t.
Why is Cohn harping on Kaepernick and Smith when so much looks good for the Niners in games that, admittedly, don’t matter? I’ll tell you why.
Torrey Smith was the 49ers’ big offseason addition. The Niners gave Smith a $40 million contract — $22 million guaranteed. Big dough. The Niners got Smith because they need another elite wide receiver to complement Anquan Boldin, because they need someone much better than Michael Crabtree, now a Raider. Smith is essential to the 49ers’ new and, supposedly, improved offense.
Which means Smith is the one guy the Niners must get going. Now.
In the first two exhibition games, Kaepernick threw only two passes to Smith. Two total. Both incomplete. During 11-on-11 drills on Thursday and Friday, Kaepernick completed just two passes to Smith — short ones. That’s it.
Kaepernick and Smith have work to do. A lot of work. Why are the 49ers not stressing the Kaepernick-Smith pass combination? Everyone concerned needs to stress it before it causes lots of stress.
Here’s Tomsula on the chemistry between Kaepernick and Smith: “It’s a process. We’re trying to speed it up. I do think we’re getting close. I’m excited about that combination.”
It’s always good when a coach feels excited. Tomsula will feel a lot more excited when the Kaepernick-to-Smith combo finally works.
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.