I suspended the article that I was doing castigating George Lucas in favor of castigating Kyle Williams instead.
This is one of these time-significant articles that need to be knocked out while still fresh in my mind. In a year I won’t remember any details of the fabulous year that the 49ers had exhibited for the 2011 season.
They were this close (picture 2 fingers held a millimeter apart) from performing in their 6th Super Bowl, but backup punt returner Kyle Williams fumbled the ball away not once, but twice, and nearly a 3rd time.
So, the next time someone accuses you of “not being a team player,” consider what would happen if you were replaced by someone inferior – what that would do to “The Team.”
Ted Ginn Jr usually handled the kickoff & punt returns for the ‘Niners this year, but he hurt his knee during the playoff game against the New Orleans Saints the week before and was deactivated for the Championship game against the NY Giants. The 49ers were already fairly banged up in the receiving department, even finding it necessary to promote Joe Hastings from the practice squad (Who? http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2011/12/30/SPE71MJ608.DTL). Also, with Ginn out that meant someone else was going to be the punt/kick returns guy, and that fell to Kyle Williams (something that I suspect will not be repeated next year). Williams had only taken 2 punts all year, vs Ginn’s 38, and Reggie Smith’s 4, but Williams had the potential for larger gains – as a receiver his yards after catch were twice that of Ginn. On paper he may have looked like a good choice, but I guess he just wore the wrong gloves.
Three (count ’em, 3) times Kyle Williams fumbled the ball. The 1st time was in the 1st quarter, just about 2 minutes remaining, on a questionable (i.e., stupid) trick play where Alex Smith tossed the ball back to Kendall Hunter sweeping from the right side to the left, and Hunter tossed it to Williams, who came from the opposite direction. Now, the 49ers have always used razzle-dazzle; probably every game dating back 20 years has at least one gadget play in it. Not all of them work, and this one was one of them. The fact that Williams was able to recover his own fumble didn’t change the fact that that play not only lost them 10 yards, but the down as well. At least on a holding call you get to play the down over with the 10 yard loss. The 2nd time was in the 4th quarter with the ‘Niners ahead 14 – 10: Williams was attempting to field a ball that had been punted by the Giants, and he apparently couldn’t decide to go after it or get away from it (usually, it’s the latter – given the shape of a football it doesn’t bounce in a predictable fashion). The ball grazed his knee, and was therefore considered “live.” The Giants pounced on it, and recovered it at the 29 yard line. With the short field it was just a matter of time for the Giants to capitalize and pull out ahead 17 – 14.
The 3rd time is not always a charm. In overtime, with the score 17 – 17, Kyle Williams fields the punted ball – this time cleanly, catches and secures it, and has it stripped out of his hands as he tries to run downfield. Again the Giants pounce on it, and again they have a short (23 yard) field to work with. In overtime, however, any points are winning ones – you only need to be close enough to kick a field goal, which means that anytime you’re within the 30 yard line (which would be a 47 yard FG attempt) you’re within range. Obviously , the closer you get the better your chances. A couple of plays later the Giants would kick the field goal that would advance them to the Super Bowl, while the 49ers kiss the rest of the season good-bye.
I’m not going to say that the 49ers would have won without the Kyle Williams’ mistakes – Alex Smith completed less than 50% of his passes, couldn’t complete a 3rd down pass if his life depended on it, and the soul of the offense, Frank Gore, only had a handful of carries. Regardless, the Giants were held to only 17 points through 4 quarters, the same as the anemic offense displayed by the 49ers. They shoulda won that game.
On the lighter side, since the NFL Pro Bowl game is played in Hawaii just a week before the Super Bowl, and participants in the Super Bowl don’t play in the Pro Bowl (something that will certainly be addressed very soon), San Francisco can now send the 8 selectees (most in the NFL) to Honolulu. Of course, that game is meaningless – it’s an exhibition – something that a player can add to his resume, besides spending a week in paradise.
Having said all that, the San Francisco 49ers had a miraculous season. Last year they struggled to get a 6 win/10 loss season. In fact, the best record that they’ve been able to manage since their last playoff appearance in 2002, was 8/8. This year they had 13 wins against 3 losses. They had a killer defense, especially against the run. Normally, the quarterback position is the most recognized “leadership” position on the field, and Alex Smith was criticized at the beginning of the year to be inadequate as QB. But, during their struggles year after year the 49ers management fired coaches and/or offensive coordinators, blaming them for the poor performance on the field, and some of them probably were a bad fit – until Jim Harbaugh. I think he’ll do nicely. He’s certainly seen something in Alex Smith that the critics missed. It would have been something for this coach in his 1st year as an NFL head coach to have taken this team to the Super Bowl, and he got damn close.