Few expected the San Francisco 49ers to duplicate the success of last season to quite the same degree in 2012. They weren’t injured a whole lot , David Akers had a historically successful year as a kicker and Alex Smith didn’t take any chances and so rarely did anything to hurt the team’s chances of scoring (though he oftentimes didn’t do much to help them score either). In a lot of ways it was the pinnacle of what they could have hoped to achieve last season, and if they had stared into a crystal ball before the 2011 season and seen a best-case scenario, that would have been what they saw.
It is no surprise that the 49ers are scuffling a bit now despite clinging to their lead in the NFC West. They added some new offensive pieces, David Akers has definitely lost his mojo this season and the switch from Smith to Colin Kaepernick in the middle of the season has been one of the year’s more hotly debated stories, so there have definitely been some adjustments to be made on the offensive side of the ball. This team doesn’t have exactly the same make-up as last year’s team, especially because they are on everyone’s radar now. There is pressure on them to succeed because now the league expects it.
They have succeeded against the likes of the New England Patriots and Green Bay Packers on the road, have wilted under the pressure twice against the St. Louis Rams and were blown out by the Seattle Seahawks this past Sunday. The Seahawks game was just one game, but it was a surprising one given how the 49ers have performed the past two seasons. Usually they are the ones dishing out the devastating hits and injuring opponents, not the other way around. The season-ending injury to Mario Manningham will certainly be felt in a thinning receiving corp after the loss of Kyle Williams to a season-ending injury himself last month, but how much trouble are the 49ers really in?
At first glance, losing a very solid receiver in Manningham is a serious blow, especially when that leaves you with Michael Crabtree, an aging (though very effective this season) Randy Moss, Ted Ginn, Jr., and 2012 first-round pick A.J. Jenkins, who is still looking for his first reception of the year. Not a horrible corps by any stretch, but losing Manningham could have opposing defenses licking their chops a bit.
The forgotten man in all of this however, and the main reason why the 49ers will be okay despite the loss of Manningham, is Vernon Davis. He has been the forgotten man since CK took over at QB, and now he should be called upon to elevate the 49ers’ passing attack in Manningham’s absence, just as he did for almost all of last season’s miraculous run to the NFC Championship game. He is a solid receiver and will be a big target for CK now that Manningham is out. Between Moss deep threat, Crabtree’s evolution into an all-around receiver and Davis’s ability to either be a downfield threat, a possession receiver or someone who simply sneaks off the block out into the open field, CK will have plenty of passing options and opposing defenses are still going to have a hard time covering everybody.
And don’t forget that Sunday’s loss to the Seahawks was only one game. They lost in Seattle, where no one has won this year, and were beaten by a team that is clicking on all cylinders–for now. If San Francisco beats the Arizona Cardinals this week, not only do they win the NFC West, but if Adrian Peterson and the Minnesota Vikings can defeat the Pack on Sunday that means San Francisco will get the #2 seed and a first-round bye in the playoffs. An extra week could do wonders for the team’s physical health just in terms of giving them a chance to rest up a bit. This could also prove vital if they end up having to face the Seahawks at home for their first playoff match-up. They defeated the Seahawks 13-6 at home earlier this season, and if the weather is favorable a good chunk of the advantage that Seattle enjoyed Sunday will be negated and we will see which team has the greater drive to come out on top.