The 49ers will look back on their Thanksgiving and be thankful.
That’s because their Thanksgiving night loss gave them a preview of the NFL’s postseason, and provided a crystal clear look at what they’ll need to improve over the final five weeks of the regular season if they hope to win a Super Bowl.
Against the Baltimore Ravens, the atmosphere was bigger. The intensity ramped up.
The Niners saw holes not so big, receivers not so open, Alex Smith’s time to throw was not so generous. It could prove to be the perfect learning experience.
“We made some plays, but we didn’t make enough,” coach Jim Harbaugh said after the game. “Had some drives, didn’t string enough of them together.”
The NFL’s postseason is not about running up points and looking good against the Cleveland Browns, Tampa Bay Buccanneers or the Arizona Cardinals. It’s about creating seams and crevices and precious seconds against the likes of the Ravens, Green Bay Packers, New England Patriots or Pittsburgh Steelers.
Thanksgiving night showed the 49ers how the big boys must play in big games if they hope to win a championship.
And in a game in which almost nothing broke their way, the 49ers did not crumble. The Ravens game dealt the 49ers the kind of adversity — referee calls, bounces of the football — a team must overcome if it has postseason aspirations.
“I feel like [the loss] only breaks us down to build us up stronger for what we have planned down the road,” 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis said.
Against the Ravens, the Niners may have had the look of being mere mortals, but they did precisely what a good football team does when faced with a quality, fired-up opponent. They survived as long as they could, trying to give themselves a chance.
Although they never managed to build the kind of momentum it takes to win, the Niners were still on even terms with the Ravens when the fourth quarter began, and still had a chance to tie it in the final four minutes.
Smith may have been sacked a record nine times, but he did not react like he did in the past. He never lost his head, never tried to force something stupid trying to win the game. Just about every time Smith went down, taking a sack was the least disastrous way to end that particular play.
“No one was OK with this,” Smith said after the game. “That’s a big difference from previous years. We invest in each other so much, and that’s why we’re winning.”
Moving forward, the Niners must approach the rest of the regular season like it is a five-week preseason to the postseason, and invest whatever it takes to succeed at a championship level.
Tim Liotta is a freelance journalist and regular contributor to The Examiner. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
49ers vs. Rams
WHEN: Dec. 4, 1:15 p.m.
WHERE: Candlestick Park
TV: Fox (KTVU, Ch. 2)
RADIO: KNBR (680 AM), KSAN (107.7 FM)