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COHN: Sound coaching takes a bye in embarrassing tie

49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick completed 11 of 17 passes for 117 yards, and rushed for 66 yards and a touchdown in Sunday's 24-24 tie against the St. Louis Rams.

JOHN BURGESS / The Press Democrat
Published: Sunday, November 11, 2012 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, November 11, 2012 at 10:24 p.m.

SAN FRANCISCO -- Don't let all the smoke and noise confuse you. Don't think just because Alex Smith suffered a concussion and had to leave the game early in the second quarter and Colin Kaepernick came in, don't think that's why the 49ers settled for a 24-24 tie with the rebuilding Rams, the inferior Rams, the not-so-hot Rams.

And please don't think the quarterback shuffle is why the Niners suffered an embarrassment. Be clear about this, they most definitely got embarrassed in their own stadium.

If you want to be dead honest, if you want to be a tiny bit provocative, you could say — with some justification — the 49ers' offense played better post-Smith, played better with the second-year guy who had to hustle to get ready, who got many fewer reps leading up to Sunday's 49ers' dud.

Smith led the 49ers to exactly zero points in the first quarter. We have seen this before, this early lack of scoring, this timidity, this quarterback being over-analytical to a fault. On Smith's first series, he led the Niners to their customary three and out. Forgive me if I focus on one play in particular. It was third-and-13. And that means the 49ers needed 13 yards for a first down. What did Alex Smith do? The usual. He completed a pass to Frank Gore for four yards. I mean why even bother?

I put that on Smith and I also put that on offensive coordinator Greg Roman who has glided under the radar much too long. Please keep your eye on Roman. Please evaluate this guy dispassionately. He may be a very good coordinator some day. He isn't one yet. Under him — Jim Harbaugh is at pains to say this is Roman's offense — well, under him the offense is barely good enough. Against the Rams, Vikings and Giants it certainly was not good enough. On the next series, the Niners had a third-and-2 and Roman called a Frank-Gore run which went minus-1 yard. Roman's instinct is to think run before pass, and that is just plain wrong.

Back to Smith's performance. He heated up in the second quarter and led a nice touchdown drive before leaving the game. Kaepernick came in and seemed stiff and daunted and unprepared. But he got cracking in the second half, kept a drive going when he hit Vernon Davis on third down for 17 yards and finished the drive dashing around right end for the score.

Smith almost never converts a third down by finding Davis, his best receiver. What's up with that? And he never in a million years can run like Kaepernick, who is a better athlete. Smith is often a dinker and dunker. Kaepernick can do that, but he also throws the hell out of the long pass. Don't you miss seeing that in the Niners' offense?

And don't forget Kaepernick forced the game to overtime by leading a lovely, smart, forceful drive at the end of the fourth quarter that resulted in the game-tying field goal.

I am not suggesting a quarterback controversy — not yet. But I am asserting the Niners did not settle for a tie, the most lukewarm result, because Smith left and Kaepernick entered.

So, what happened?

The 49ers' coaches — not just Roman — did not prepare the team to win. That's obvious from the outcome. The National Anthem had just ended and the fly-over flew over the stadium, and just like that the Rams were up 14-zip. It was astonishing. The 49ers' defense is the best part of the team, but it couldn't keep THAT offense from looking like Aaron Rodgers and the Packers.

Here is an interesting fact — you could look it up. This season, the 49ers win two games, then fall flat, win two games, then fall flat, win two and fall flat yet again. This being listless every third game is on the coaches. It is most definitely on Harbaugh.

There was more embarrassment — if you had to write a school essay about this game from the Niners' point of view you would title it “The Embarrassment Game.” Special teams allowed, not one, but two completed passes on fake punts. Please.

David Akers, who isn't as good as last season, missed an easy field goal in overtime that would have won the game.

Afterward, Harbaugh came to the interview room. “Came” is the wrong verb in his case. He never actually comes into the room. He wanders in like a guy who was walking down the street looking for a mom-and-pop grocery story so he could buy low-fat, peach yogurt, but took a wrong turn and just happened to show up at a postgame news conference. He often gives you an astonished where-am-I? look.

He did that after the Rams game. Someone asked how it felt to get a tie. He thought about that. “I don't know exactly how it feels yet,” he reasoned. “I've asked several people, some of our players. And I think they feel like I do. Don't know quite how to feel right now.”

In the interest of being helpful, allow me to advise Harbaugh how to feel. You should feel bad, Jim. You were supposed to win this game, and you did not. You had the NFC West locked up — more or less — but you tied the Rams, and the Seahawks murdered the murderable Jets. And now you don't have the division locked up anymore. That's on you.

A tie is an unfavorable result for the 49ers when they are playing a chump team like the Rams. Harbaugh can spin it any way he wants, but one thing is clear. What the 49ers did on Sunday is no way for a division champ to act.

For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at cohn.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at lowell.cohn@pressdemocrat.com.

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