(Photo Courtesy of Au Kirk)
Kap has been forced to throw the ball a little too much.

by Jay Flaherty

We fudged up, guys.

The sad reality is that we flat out got beat by a better team. The Colts held onto the ball, didn’t shoot themselves in the foot with penalties, and executed in the red zone. We had trouble protecting Kap, our receivers didn’t get open, and we failed to capitalize on a run game that, for the first time all year, looked decent.

Oh yeah, and Aldon Smith is taking an indefinite leave of absence to focus on his off-the-field stuff.

…And don’t forget about Patrick Willis’ hamstring injury.

Oh, and we’re now two games back of the Seahawks for the NFC West crown.

But more than all of those things, what really has me the most worried is that I didn’t enjoy watching the game, even when it was close.  When you watched a Niners game the past couple of years, you knew you were going to see a smash-mouth, hard-nosed run game and a defense built to stop the run. You were going to see a 16-7 scoreline and be A-Okay with that, because that was our style of football and we beat teams with better talent because of that method. After waiting years and years for the Niners to do any type of winning, I feasted my eyes watching Andy Lee consistently pin opposing teams within the 5-yard line, knowing there was no-way-in-Hell that the their offense was going to travel 90 yards for a touchdown. We played field position games, we controlled the clock, and we won football games. But more than that, we had an ­ identity , and it was fun to watch. As a Niners fan, it was something I even took pride in.

What do we have now? Well, we have an offense that doesn’t seem to know whether to establish the run game to open up the pass, or abandon the run altogether like so many other teams in the NFL. We had a defense that allowed one 100-yard rusher all of last season, only to see Ahmad Bradshaw carve us up for 95 yards yesterday. Taking nothing away from Bradshaw, but this guy was brought into the league to get two yards when a team needed it, not gash a team for 10, 15, 20-yard runs. Even Andy Lee, the man who I made a in 2007 about, was mediocre yesterday, failing to pin the Colts inside their own 10 even once. (And if anyone knows how to make that group public, please comment below)

Now before we start calling for Harbaugh’s head, pining over how we wish Alex Smith was still a Niner, and the rest, let’s stop for a second and collect our breath. First off, this loss falls on a lot of different people, both players and coaches, and there is no doubt that Kap is a better quarterback than Alex Smith. Kap is dealing with terrible receivers, didn’t have Vernon Davis in, and the line did a less-than-stellar job protecting him. And Harbaugh is still Harbaugh. He’ll figure it out and we’ll be back in the playoff picture in three weeks. But the first thing he needs to do is re-establish our identity, and that starts with the run. Frank Gore had 11 carries for 80 yards on Sunday. 60 yards came in the first quarter and not coincidentally that is when we scored our only points. With the personnel we have right now, we are a run-first team. I know Kaepernick has the skill set to spread the field, but our receivers are not capable of getting open on a consistent enough basis. We need to continue playing to our strengths (the O-line and Frank Gore), and ask Kaepernick to do less for the time being. If we control the ball and time of possession, our defense will follow. We rarely substitute on the defensive side of the ball, and our D-line in particular is stretched thin with the injury to Ian Williams and Aldon Smith now out indefinitely. We can get away with that so long as the opposing team doesn’t have possession for 36 minutes like the Colts on Sunday and the Seahawks the week before.

It is not yet time to start panicking. We have been through much worse spells than this, and we will find a way to become dominant again. But first, we must find our identity, our mojo.

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