Somebody had to win, and it was the 49ers who beat the Raiders on Sunday in one of the 10 worst games I’ve watched in the 44 seasons I’ve been covering pro football.
Truthfully, there wasn’t much for the 49ers to be proud of, except for finally getting that first elusive victory.
There was even less to give the Raiders hope. They caught the 49ers defense by surprise early with an unbalanced line and a trick play, the old flea-flicker that got a long gain on a pass interference call. Later in the first half, they got a big gainer on a reverse by receiver Louis Murphy.
But overall, they got only 179 yards and three field goals. Pretty bad.
The 49ers’ chief problem remains the same: Coach Mike Singletary just doesn’t get it.
After the game, he was talking about his “formula for success,” which starts with no mistakes. Huh? This comment came after a game in which the 49ers committed 11 penalties for 143 yards. Those are usually Raiders stats. Joe Staley was caught for two holds and allowed one sack and two quarterback hits.
The one player who seemed to take Singletary’s message to heart was quarterback Alex Smith, who had a no-interception, no-fumble game — the first time that’s happened this season.
But that came at a price. Smith was tight as a drum in the first half, overthrowing an open Josh Morgan on what would have been a long touchdown pass, misfiring on other throws in an 8-for-20 first half, after which the 49ers trailed 6-3.
Has it escaped everybody’s attention that Smith plays his best in what seems to be desperate circumstances, when he tunes out Singletary’s drivel and plays as he can?
This time, Smith finally relaxed late in the third quarter when he took the 49ers 91 yards down the field for their first touchdown. The drive seemed to be stalled when Smith was called for a questionable grounding but he came back on the next play to hit Michael Crabtree in the end zone for a 32-yard touchdown.
The second and last touchdown of the game was set up when Frank Gore broke loose on a beautiful 64-yard run. Finding a rare opening when he burst through the line, Gore made some moves to break loose for a run which put him over the 100-yard mark in the game.
Smith soon followed with his second touchdown pass, looking right then coming back to a wide open Vernon Davis on the left side, lofting a soft pass to Davis for the score.
That Gore run highlighted the Raiders’ biggest defensive flaw, their vulnerability to the run. Of course, as Philip Rivers showed the week before, they can also be vulnerable to the pass. The San Diego Chargers had gifted them with that game, but the harsh reality is that they yielded more than 500 yards to the Chargers.
The immediate future is bright for the 49ers because they get the 0-5 Carolina Panthers next. The Raiders play division rival Denver on the road.
Both teams are playing in divisions which are the weakest in their respective conferences, but as Sunday’s game showed, neither is a threat to make the playoffs.