Emily Dickinson was wrong. Hope is not the thing with feathers that perches in the soul; hope is the thing with steel barbs that catch on your insides while it's being ripped out of you.
This, I think, was the most painful defeat in Saints history. It was ten times worse than the Seattle game, because this time we won...until we didn't. And that happened twice!
So, here are my random thoughts regarding Alex Smith with the lead pipe in the Candlestick. Forgive me, please, for not being better organized...I think I drank several of my best brain cells into oblivion (they're happier there, they refuse to come back).
1. The last time a quarterback broke the NFL yardage record, it was the 49ers who put him in his place. As MtnGoddess said to me, that stake through the heart felt mighty familiar. To me, as a long-time Dolphins fan who spent Marino's record-breaking season living in San Francisco, if felt doubly familiar.
2. It wasn't the turnovers that beat us. We overcame those. We actually took the lead twice in the fourth quarter, only to lose it twice. And sure: if it hadn't been for those turnovers, maybe we wouldn't have been desperate to score at the end. Maybe. But the point is, score we did. Take the lead we did. We just couldn't hold it.
3. The offense was unbalanced...but not by design. The 49ers succeeded in one play in making the Saints' offense one-dimensional. They knocked out Pierre Thomas. Had that not happened, I am convinced we would have won by two scores. Thomas is not the same runner as Chris Ivory, who is more of a straight-ahead bruiser, less shifty, less able to break tackles with anything other than brute force. Against the Niners, brute force wasn't working...so we passed. And it worked, because we won the game. Until we didn't.
4. This loss was on the defense. Again. The offense let the defense down badly in the first half, and the defense played pretty well, considering the bad positions they were continually put in. They managed to seriously slow down the San Francisco attack in the second half, and it began to look as though the Niners were scraping the bottom of the playbook. And then...bang! Bang! Two go-ahead touchdowns in two minutes. That was a far, far larger and more complete failure than six players missing a tackle on one play in Seattle.
But I'm still at a loss to ascribe blame. Was it scheme or execution? Or a combination of both? A lot of people are pointing fingers at Malcolm Jenkins and Roman Harper...but perhaps they were doing exactly what they were told to do, and it was the play call that put them out of position. Or perhaps the call was perfect, and Harper and Jenkins both simply failed. Fans are rarely in the position to be completely sure of what happened.
So when is this going to get fixed? And how to fix it?
5. I'm half-convinced Gregg Williams is gone. The defense is steadily deteriorating. Free agents aren't working out. It pains me to say it, but hindsight shows that the Saints haven't drafted well on defense; there are fewer draft choices this year; and anyway the Saints seem to be following the Colts' model: all the big money is going to the offense, and the defense is only expected to keep us in games and let the offense win it. The problem is: they can't do that anymore. What's more, Williams and Payton, by all accounts, are not close; Williams and Fisher are. St. Louis may simply be a more enjoyable place for Williams to work.
Besides: if I were Sean Payton, I'd be massively pissed off right now. He and Loomis may not want Williams back.
6. I wonder if our window is closed. With so many free agents next year, including The Big One, I don't see how there's enough money to restock talent. And since most of the talent is on the offensive side, that means even less money for the defense...unless they want to allow the offense to deteriorate while they try to fix the defensive side. Just about the only thing I can see happening that might allow us to repeat the success of this season is a new defensive coordinator. Perhaps someone like Steve Spagnuolo can get more out of the same guys than Gregg Williams could, in much the same way that Wade Phillips turned around the Texans. It's anything but a sure bet--and I don't hate Gregg Williams by any means--but if there's no money for better players, you takes your chances and hopes for the best.
7. Never mix Belgian-style beer and rum. Bad mistake. Bad.