The 49ers predictably crushed another weak team Monday night and now it’s time to worry about the two playoff contenders in their own division, the Seattle Seahawks and the Arizona Cardinals, with whom they’re currently tied for second place in the NFC West at 7-4, trailing the 10-1 Seahawks.
Both teams play the other two teams in the division, the 49ers facing the St. Louis Rams on Sunday at Candlestick Park. The Cardinals have a slightly tougher schedule because they have to play one other playoff contender, the Philadelphia Eagles, but the Eagles are probably more pretender than contender.
All season, we’ve been looking at the Dec. 8 game at Candlestick against the Seahawks as the big one, but the way the season has gone, it seems likely that the Seahawks will beat the Niners and Cardinals.
So, the biggest game may be the season-ending game with the Cardinals in Arizona. The winner would likely be a wild-card team playing its first playoff game on the road, not a recipe for postseason success.
And frankly, if a playoff berth is at stake in that game, I’d expect the Cardinals to win it. They’ve been playing very well lately with Carson Palmer finally remembering it’s best to throw the ball to his receivers, not opposing defensive backs. And they play their best in home games.
It was not supposed to play out this way. Supposedly, the division would be a two-team battle with the Seahawks and, given their status as a Super Bowl team the previous season, it seemed the 49ers had the edge.
But there’s been a disturbing pattern to the 49ers’ season. They’ve looked very, very good against the patsies but not very good against playoff teams. That is not how a team striving for the Super Bowl should play.
It was no surprise that they beat up on the Washington Redskins, who were 28th in the league in team defense. The only real danger was Robert Griffin III, a multitalented offensive threat, but Griffin had lost the support of his teammates when he seemed to blame them for a loss the previous week, something I’ve never seen a top quarterback do, and the still-tough 49ers defense bottled him up. Aldon Smith recorded his first two sacks since returning to the team after his stint in rehab.
And quarterback Colin Kaepernick had his best game in several weeks. Washington defenders were unable to put any pressure on him and Kaepernick was able to find his favorite targets, Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis, wide open for his three touchdowns, two of them to Boldin.
I suppose this will be reassuring to 49ers fans, but it shouldn’t be. Kaepernick still has not shown this year that he can be effective against a good defense.
Steve Young, who knows a little bit about quarterbacking, expressed concern about Kaepernick’s play and the 49ers, with whom he still strongly identifies.
His concerns were much the same as mine. Kapernick is not comfortable in a conventional pro offense. He’s accustomed to being a player who takes the snap and then decides whether to run or pass. That worked well for him in college but it doesn’t work against good pro teams. But the 49ers are stuck with him now.