Dickey: Niners show signs of improvement in defeat

Coaches disdain talk of moral victories, but what the 49ers accomplished in the heart-breaking 25-22 loss to the world champion New Orleans Saints on Monday night should right their ship.

Trailing by eight points in the waning minutes, fighting the notorious Candlestick Park wind, quarterback Alex Smith drove the Niners downfield for a touchdown, using his legs to run for first downs when no receiver was open. And after the touchdown, he threw a pinpoint pass to Vernon Davis for the two-point conversion that tied the game.

It was a coming of age for Smith, and it should prove to his many doubters that he is quite capable of leading the 49ers into the postseason for the first time since 2002.

Smith and his team were fighting an uphill battle all the way. On the Niners’ first possession, the snap from center David Baas went over Smith’s head. As it bounced into the end zone, Smith wisely kicked the ball out, so it only cost the 49ers two points instead of the six that the Saints would have had if they recovered in the end zone.

It was the first in a series of errors by the 49ers. Smith had two interceptions in the red zone, the second a ball tipped by a defensive lineman. Delanie Walker had the ball punched out when he was only 5 yards from the end zone, keeping the 49ers from taking the lead at halftime.

But still, they persevered, actually outplaying the Saints after that disastrous start. In doing so, they wiped away most of the stain of their disgraceful loss in the season opener at Seattle.

There was much to be pleased with in their play Monday. They finally straightened out the problems in their play-calling, getting plays into Smith with time for him to look over the defense before he took the snap. That was one of the important reasons for his greatly improved play.

The play-calling was much better, too. The 49ers were able to keep the Saints defense off-balance most of the evening, which isn’t easy against their blitz-happy schemes.

Amazingly, it was the Saints who used up all their timeouts early in the first half, not the Niners, who had that under control for one of the few times since Mike Singletary has been the coach.

In the opener against the Seahawks, the 49ers defense had crumbled after a very strong beginning. Not Monday night. The defense stayed strong against the potent Saints offense, despite the innovative play-calling of coach Sean Payton.

This kind of effort was essential to halt all the name-calling. It had been a very long eight days for Singletary, who had been fending off calls for the firing of offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye, while admitting that the play-calling and method of getting in plays had to be greatly improved.

With those problems corrected — and the defeatist attitude that had seemed to permeate the team in the first game abolished — the 49ers can now get back to the main order of business.

Though they are 0-2, they are also in the weakest division in the NFL. It won’t take  much to win it. After last night, it seems the 49ers will be up to the challenge.

Glenn Dickey has been covering Bay Area sports since 1963 and also writes on www.GlennDickey.com. E-mail him at glenndickey@hotmail.com.

Glenn Dickeysports

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

The Medical Examiner's Office van on Tuesday, April 23, 2019. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
San Francisco’s 2020 overdose deaths soar 59 percent to 699

Fatal drug overdoses surged by nearly 59 percent in San Francisco last… Continue reading

Police Commissioner John Hamasaki questions Chief Bill Scott at City Hall on Wednesday, May 15, 2019. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
SFPD should probe whether officers joined Capitol raid, commissioners say

Chief unaware of any members participating in insurrection

Homeless people's tents can be seen on Golden Gate Avenue in the Tenderloin on Wednesday afternoon, Dec. 16, 2020. (Photo by Ekevara Kitpowsong/S.F. Examiner)
Statewide business tax could bring new funds to combat homelessness

San Francisco could get more than $100 million a year for housing, rental assistance, shelter beds

The Museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco (a mural by artist Jamie Treacy is pictued) has a lineup of free online programming including activities for youngsters scheduled for Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Jan. 18. (Courtesy Demetri Broxton/Museum of the African Diaspora)
Stanford, Museum of the African Diaspora host MLK Day activities

Online offerings include films, music, discussion

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi presides the US House of Representatives vote on the impeachment of US President Donald Trump at the US Capitol, January 13, 2021, in Washington, DC. - The Democrat-controlled US House of Representatives on January 13 opened debate on a historic second impeachment of President Donald Trump over his supporters' attack of the Capitol that left five dead. (SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images/TNS)
House votes 232-197 to impeach Trump a second time

Focus shifts to Senate, where McConnell has signaled he may not stand by president

Most Read