Today, I wanted to write in essay format about something more anecdotal. I've mellowed considerably as a sports fan over the last 18 months, and when my 49ers were eliminated from playoff contention in the most 'Hawks/9ers fashion ever this last Sunday, my usual disappointment was quickly replaced by a whimsical attitude - only one team will win the Super Bowl, and it clearly wasn't going to be San Francisco, so what's the harm in starting the off-season a little early.
I know other fans fret about championship windows missed, new coaches galore, and why our QB is broken (don't worry - my next QB Corner is on the 49ers
The similarities are shocking. Two years ago, both teams met in an epic NFC Championship game that was for all intents and purposes, even, with a Harry Douglas tackled-by-the-turf-monster pass play separating the two. The Falcons dominated the first half, the 49ers the second. It turned out to all be for naught as the Ravens held on to win the Super Bowl because the 49ers mismanaged the clock. That is a bummer of a way to lose the Super Bowl, but also highly indicative of the 49ers under Jim Harbaugh.
Speaking of the coaches - both started in college, though Mike Smith hasn't coached on campus since 1998. Both started their NFL head coaching careers with blazing records - Mike Smith's rookie year resulted in a 11-5 record and a Wild Card berth, bested only by Harbaugh's 13-3 plus Division Title. Over their first 4 years, Harbaugh won 70% of his games to Smith's 67%.
They are alike even in their faults. Both have failed to recapture the spark of their earlier success, and both are rumored to be on their way out after this season. In fact, both have been the subject of replacement rumors for more than one season. Mike Smith's horrific handling of the game clock is only matched by Harbaugh's insane inability to manage the play clock. Harbaugh is stingy on his players and locker room, Smith is stingy on 4th down. Both seem to relish in making their field goals prove their range with long field goal tries on a weekly basis.
The similarities don't end at the coaches: both teams featured beleaguered starting QBs whose play, like that of their coaches, has fallen off a cliff. Two years ago, Matt Ryan threw for over 4,700 yards while completing over 68% of his passes. Two years ago, Colin Kaepernick went for 181 rushing yards in a home win against the Packers before the aforementioned NFC Title game. Two years seems like a long time in the NFL.
These Falcons were built on a strong offense; the 49ers pride their defense. Curiously, both teams have been let down by their offensive lines, which are, as the pun goes, offensive. Both QBs look great when given time and terrible when that time is cut short. Both offenses feature aging running backs when younger, more explosive options exist. Both receiving corps are largely past their primes, with Anquan Boldin joining Roddy White on the Andre Johnson - Larry Fitzgerald Memorial Used-to-be-Good-Receivers list. Both QBs relied heavily on their athletic-freak tight ends until one (Tony Gonzalez) retired and the other (Vernon Davis) forgot how to catch with his hands.
Both teams are outside the playoffs; the 49ers are officially eliminated, while the Falcons still, unbelievably, have a shot, though I don't know how much of a shot that is. 4 of their wins have come against the putrid NFC South compatriots and the other is against a Drew Stanton-led Arizona squad. Both have multiple stomach-punch losses on their 2014 schedules, the 49ers to Chicago and St. Louis and the Falcons to Detroit and Cleveland.
With the 49ers and Falcons being such close similarities, I started thinking if there was a team like this in every NFC division. I concluded that the East would present the NY Giants and the North would bring the Chicago Bears to the table. All four teams have intriguing QBs and coaches. By intriguing, I mean that each may fire their coach this offseason and look to move on from their QBs shortly thereafter. Yet each have major flaws along their offensive lines that make them look worse than they are. Each team started the year with hope and must now look elsewhere for that. But hope is but one tenet of fanhood, and a fleeting one at that. The other, the communal experience, remains strong in the fetid relationship these fans share with their teams. Oh my indeed!
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