The season is over, and for the second straight year San Francisco has fallen short of its ultimate goal: a Super Bowl victory. Unlike last year, though, this team actually had serious expectations this time around.
It was a Super Bowl or bust season for the 49ers and unfortunately they were on the bust end of things. Now the question on every 49ers fan’s mind has to be: what went wrong? How did this team not meet expectations and how can they learn from this experience to be back in the game next season, only this time on the winning end of things.
It started with a horrible draft. Only time will tell if the players selected by the 49ers in the 2012 draft were either serious gaffes on the part of San Francisco’s scouting, or if Jim Harbaugh just didn’t give his picks the opportunity to succeed. The only player from the 49ers 2012 draft class to be given any sort of role with this team was LaMichael James. He has serious talent, and is going to be a great change of pace back for years to come. James also did have a costly fumble in the Super Bowl, and probably doesn’t have what it takes to be an every down back. As for the other picks, well, I’ll get back to you when they actually get some playing time.
The off-season spending spree that was supposed to put this team over the top had little to no effect. Brandon Jacobs was given very little time, had a hissy fit as a result of that and was eventually let go. Mario Manningham was moderately effective for the small part of the season that he was healthy, before finally being put on season ending IR. The most disappointing signing of the bunch though has to be Randy Moss. The 49ers were hoping they would get the deep threat that was bordering on unstoppable from his playing days in New England. They instead got the non-factor of a disappearing act version of Randy Moss, from his last season in the NFL.
The lack of production from their free agent receivers, and first round pick A.J. Jenkins led to far too much being asked of Michael Crabtree. By no stretch of the imagination did Crabtree disappoint either. Crabtree had the best season of his career, and was great in every playoff game, including the Super Bowl. The only problem was the drop off at receiver talent following Crabtree was massive.
Probably the biggest reason the Niners couldn’t finish champions though, has to be the injury to Justin Smith. The partially torn triceps that had Smith out of action for the final two games of the season was clearly affecting his play even when he returned. This had a sort of trickledown effect throughout the rest of the 49ers defense. Justin Smith wasn’t able to obstruct two linemen as he once did so masterfully, and Aldon Smith failed to register a sack in the five games following the injury. The suddenly average pass rush led to much more being asked of the secondary, and they weren’t up to the task. Carlos Rogers’ play in particular dropped as he was asked to hang in there in coverage for longer. I still think with a healthy Justin Smith the 49ers win the Super Bowl. He is that good, and the loss of a healthy Smith was just too much to overcome.
They came ever so close, but alas are in the same spot they were last off-season. The priority this time around, though, will be taking care of their own free agents. Sopoaga, Goldson, Moss, Walker, Ginn Jr. and Jean-Francois are all set to hit free agency (among other, less important players) and I have to wonder how many of these players they will be able to keep. With the 49ers right up against the cap, and a lot of their team heading towards the ends of their contracts one has to worry if the window is already closing. The division is getting much better and younger all around them, and they are going to have some very difficult decisions to make in the coming seasons with personnel. For now though, 49ers fans can be proud of their NFC championship and hope for some savvy genius from Trent Baalke and Jim Harbaugh.
You can follow J.D. Burke: @JDBurkeOV