(By Daisy Barringer)
Free Life Lesson: If your favorite football team is playing at 10 a.m. on New Year's Day, consider going to bed at 3:30 a.m. instead of refilling your champagne flute, climbing onto the coffee table, and singing Aerosmith's "What It Takes" at the top of your lungs. Again.
That being said, nothing gets between me and my Niners. I did manage to crawl out of bed in time for the must-win game against the St. Louis Rams. And win we did. At first enthusiastically with Alex Smith's fourth rushing touchdown of his career followed by a 28-yard touchdown to Crabtree. Not to mention the exceptional trick play by the special teams unit (more on that later). But then, the fourth quarter came along. And suddenly the Rams put 17 points on the board and were within one score of tying the game. Nothing like some last-minute tension/adrenaline to knock a hangover right out of a girl's body!
But ultimately, the 49ers prevailed with a 34-27 victory and earned themselves the No. 2 seed in the playoffs and a much-needed first round bye. (The No. 2 seed has nearly five times the chance of a wild card team of making it to the Super Bowl. That's a pretty important differentiation.)
So no, it wasn't our prettiest win ever but when we needed to win, we did. And even thougH no one believes the 49ers will make it to the Super Bowl, Harbaugh has proven that this team can win with conservative play-calling, awesome defense, fantastic special teams, and a strong work ethic. Sure, I'm blinded by fandom, but I believe this season we can go anywhere we want. Even to Indianapolis in February.
Why was a game against one of the worst teams in the leagues so close? Hard to say. We were playing on the road at 10 a.m., but the Niners have actually done well in those conditions, winning all five of our early morning games this season. (First time they've won five 10 a.m. games since 1990.) Honestly: our defense, usually so strong and reliable, faltered pretty big time. The Rams had the NFL's lowest scoring offense and yet our D allowed them to put 27 points on the board (the most they allowed this season). They also allowed the second rushing TD of they year on an 18-yard run by Saint's QB Kellen Clemens.
Luckily, our offense looked great, even without many guys who could go out and catch the ball. Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree both had solid performances. In fact, it was Crabtree's first game ever with two touchdown passes.
Of course, one of those didn't come from Alex Smith. Rather, it came from a 14-yard left-handed pass from kicker David Akers during a fake field-goal attempt. If you somehow haven't seen the play, a thing of glory that the stupid FOX TV crew basically missed because their camera work was some of the worst I've ever seen in all of my years of watching football, then you must watch it now.
I read a few reports of people who questioned if Harbaugh should have wasted that play in the game against St. Louis. Now that people have seen it, they will be looking for it, effectively making it a one-time thing. Sure, perhaps I would have liked to see that play a few weeks from now, but ultimately, the 49ers won by one touchdown. So whether you like it or not, that play made the difference. Good play calling. Good coaching. Great execution.
So now the Niners have a bye and will face off against either the Saints, the Giants, or the Falcons on January 14th. Personally, I'm hoping the Lions pull off an impossible feat and beat the Saints at the Superdome because I'm more comfortable with the Giants or the Falcons traveling to Candlestick.
They have a few weeks to get healthy, work on the places where they're still struggling, and then hopefully win. (Please, for the love of God, let them win.) Yesterday's victory was subdued. The players were quiet as they ran to the locker room and I just kept saying "Thank God" over and over again. It wasn't how we wanted to win, but all that matters is that we did win.
And we're going to the playoffs! If that doesn't make you refill your champagne glass and dance on the coffee table, then I don't know what will.
Speaking of Does anyone have a cure for a two-day hangover?
Most of all, I want to say:
Congratulations to the San Francisco 49ers. I have spent every Sunday from September-December for the past who-can-even-count-how-many years watching you play. The last decade has been the hardest. There have been some tough losses and every season since 2002 has been a huge disappointment. But I never missed a game. Even when I had to sit in a smoke-filled bar in Wilmington, North Carolina by myself, in front of the smallest TV they had with no sound, all the time praying that the weathered old southern men would leave me alone, I watched until the final snap. I did that for three years. Because I always believed. And I was too poor in graduate school to pay for the NFL ticket.
I can't tell you how happy I am that I am back in San Francisco to watch this team. You guys have something I don't see in many other NFL teams. Something special. Something important. Something inspiring. I'm proud to be a part of it. We all are.
And for the love of everything, Jim Harbaugh better win Coach of the Year.