Surely you have read about all the adversity the San Francisco 49ers are facing in tonight’s tilt with their division rivals, the St. Louis Rams. Undoubtedly you have read that the 49ers are at a pivotal point in their season, that a loss here could doom the season, and you may have possibly wondered aloud whether Jim Harbaugh can overcome the first hint of adversity, outside of the playoff losses, that he has faced since becoming the 49ers head coach. The fact of the matter is, this is not the first hint of adversity that Harbaugh has had to face. Yes, the 49ers are in a less-than-advantageous position coming off consecutive losses, one at home, where the 49ers were 10.5 point favorites over the Indianapolis Colts, but Harbaugh has dealt with injuries, embarrassing losses (a 26-3 loss against the New York Giants comes to mind), and lofty expectations placed on him and this team by a fan base starved for another Lombardi Trophy to add to their glittering collection.
The 49ers lost wide receiver Michael Crabtree and cornerback Chris Culliver in the off-season. Aldon Smith has left the 49ers in order to become a better person both on and off the field. Patrick Willis injured his groin against the Colts last week, Nnamdi Asomaugh has struggled with efficiency and injuries so far this season, and Colin Kaepernick has struggled in the past two weeks, throwing zero touchdowns and accounting for six turnovers. The best part about the scenario facing the 49ers is this is a divisional game, on a short week, against a team that handed Kaepernick his first loss in the NFL. To say that the 49ers have added motivation would be redundant because it is impossible to think that Harbaugh doesn’t have the Niners amped to the max for each game. I doubt that the 49ers team charter was blasting Regulate by Warren G or that Gangster’s Paradise made a cameo 20 years after Coolio rapped, “Everybody’s runnin’, but half of them ain’t lookin’. What’s going on in the kitchen, but I don’t know what’s cookin’.” Kaepernick & Company don’t need any added motivation outside of knowing that both the Niners and Rams enter the game with a record of 1-2. Ultimately, one of these teams will be walking out of Edward Jones Dome with a .500 record and one will be looking up at a very deep hole they’ve dug themselves at 1-3.
The 49ers schedule opens up quite a bit after Thursday Night Football against the Rams. The Niners will have a 10-day break before facing the Houston Texans at home on October 6. Then the 49ers play at home against the Arizona Cardinals, at the Tennessee Titans, in London against the Jacksonville Jaguars, and then they have their bye week. The 49ers come back from their bye week to face Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers at Candlestick Park.
Since the 2013 schedule was released I have said that if the 49ers can make it out of the first five games at 3-2, they would be okay. The 49ers and Seahawks should split their season series; my thinking was the home team wins each game. Three of the other four teams the 49ers face in the first five games of the season were playoff teams in 2012 and the Rams played the Niners at an equal or better level in both contests last season. The 49ers are still more than capable of coming out of this tough stretch at 3-2 and being well on their way to a third consecutive division title. They have some business to handle in St. Louis tonight, but my belief is that the better quarterback and coaching staff tend to win on these short weeks. I will take Kaepernick, Harbaugh, Roman, and Fangio over just about any combination in the NFL.
For the NFL fans who are questioning the 49ers coaching staff or Kaepernick as a starter, just remember, the Washington Redskins started last year with a 3-6 record and Mike Shannahan was quoted as saying, “You lose a game like that, now you’re playing to see who obviously is going to be on your football team for years to come. I’ll get a chance to evaluate players and see where we’re at.” The Redskins strung together six wins, won a Wild Card spot, and lost by 10 to the Seahawks with RGIII throwing for 84 yards and two touchdowns while playing on one leg.
My point is simply this; Detroit is the only team that is not leading its division in the NFC with more than one win. The 49ers are one game behind the Lions and could easily slide right back into the conversation with a win tonight and the Lions losing to the Chicago Bears. Kaepernick is only two weeks removed from torching the Green Bay Packers for 412 yards and three touchdowns. Yes, the past two weeks have been tragically unbearable. It may have made you question whether the 49ers are able to accomplish what they, and every other NFL team, sets out to accomplish at the beginning of the season; bringing home the Lombardi Trophy.
The 49ers have brought back feelings of angst, despair, and sadness not seen since Mike Singletary stalked the sidelines, but those feelings should be feelings of hope, excitement, and salvation, because if the 49ers do pull out a victory tonight, you can all be assured that the 49ers bandwagon will regain all the ‘fans’ who have jumped off so early in the season.
The 49ers need to get back to playing smash mouth football in St. Louis. Demarco Murray played like a man possessed last week in the Cowboys 31-7 victory over these same Rams, and while Murray is a far different running back from Frank Gore, the Cowboys offensive line is not nearly as great as the 49ers is and Frank Gore has a St. Louis Arch sized chip on his shoulder. If the 49ers pound the football, making the Rams respect the running game, then the wide receivers should see some open looks down field. Once those plays start to develop, Kaepernick should see some wide running lanes open up and he should be able to scamper for some big gains. Colin missed some key reads in the past couple weeks; getting frazzled and not being confident in the pocket like he needs to be in order to lead this team out of its current losing streak. Kaepernick needs to make the right reads, Roman needs to get back to playing a physical style of offense which will open up the finesse game, and the defense needs to shut down the Rams young, inexperienced offense led by Sam Bradford. As Mike Tyson so famously said, “Everyone’s got a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”