If the 49ers are to become legitimate playoff contenders, some things have to happen immediately. For instance:
Alex Smith has to learn to shake off adversity. NFL games seldom go perfectly for even the best quarterbacks, but Smith seems not to have learned that basic lesson yet.
He started out well on Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks. He just missed a touchdown on the 49ers’ first possession when the receiver couldn’t get both feet in bounds, but the pass was well-thrown. On the Niners’ second possession, Smith marched them methodically down field from their 6-yard line to the Seahawks’ 1. Then, when coach Mike Singletary chose to go for the touchdown — a decision I applauded — Smith overthrew a wide-open Moran Norris in the end zone, when he could have just lobbed it there.
After that, Smith seemed to lose his composure. To be sure, he didn’t get much help. Second-year receiver Michael Crabtree needs to spend more time studying the playbook and less on his shoe selection. The offensive line — with two rookies, with Chilo Rachal out for much of the game and missing veteran center Eric Heitman — couldn’t open holes for Frank Gore in the formidable Seahawks defensive front.
But it all starts with the quarterback. He has to be the leader. Smith was not that leader on Sunday. If he doesn’t play much better, it’s going to be a long season for the Niners.
Communication between Singletary and his quarterback has to be improved. It was easy to blame the excessive crowd noise at Seattle for Sunday’s miscommunications, but this has been a consistent theme throughout Singletary’s brief coaching period.
It has to be fixed immediately. I haven’t heard of any other NFL team having such consistent problems with this, so Singletary has to figure a way to get plays in without having to call a timeout. With 10 minutes to go in the first half Sunday, the Niners had no timeouts left. That’s inexcusable, especially since it’s happened before.
The play-calling has to improve. Smith shouldn’t have missed the pass to Norris, but the fact is, Norris is in the lineup as a blocker for Gore. The 49ers have several quality receivers — and Gore — who would have been better targets.
Even worse is all the dinking and dunking the Niners do in their pass offense. It’s one thing to throw a short pass to a receiver who is in position to run for more yardage, but how many times do we have to watch Smith complete a 2-yard pass on the sidelines to a receiver who is immediately tackled 5-6 yards short of a first down?
Offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye should jettison those plays immediately. I’d much rather see Smith try a pass downfield and miss than throw these give-up completions.
The defense has to play consistently. For most of the first half on Sunday, the 49ers defense was dominating, but once the Seahawks broke through for a touchdown, the defense collapsed. That can’t happen for a playoff contender.
I still think the 49ers can make the playoffs, but only if they pay attention to this wake-up call and fix their problems.
Glenn Dickey has been covering Bay Area sports since 1963 and also writes on www.GlennDickey.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.