Niners: Right direction or directionless?

Niners: Right direction or directionless?
January 4, 2010, 5:02 pm
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Maybe it's the fact that the Lions were awful, the Rams even worse. Maybe it's the fact that 8-8 doesn't feel all that different from 7-9.Or maybe those ugly losses to the Falcons and Titans are just a tad too difficult to forget.More likely, it's that "non-losing season" smacks of earrings on a pig.The 49ers' just-concluded season leaves even those of us who look at our less-than-full sporting glasses as being one satisfying pour from overflowing feeling out of sorts.Alex Smith? The best you can say about him is that he's improved. But given how low he'd set the bar, does that really pump you up with conviction that he's The Man going forward? Probably not.Mike Singletary? You're absolutely dying to climb completely into his corner, and developments such as Vernon Davis' transformation from hotheaded me-guy to borderline elite game-changer -- "borderline" until the drops stop -- give you hope. But admit it: something stops you, be it the Waffle House offense or the oft-empty rhetoric.Jed York? Talks a mean game, doesn't he? Really seems to care, and that's more than you were saying not long ago about the family members who handed him the keys to the franchise.
But that tough talk at the end of last season about making the playoffs now reeks of hollow bravado -- a reminder than Lil' Jed is all of 28 years old. And most of us who've seen both sides of 30 know that at 28 we were unclear on our own future, much less that of a storied professional sports franchise.Simply put, it's an odd time to be a 49ers fan.
You want to be hopeful, but there are just enough red flags -- whatever happened to Paraag Marathe, anyway? -- to stop you from going all-in.You want to point to the team's three wins in its final four games and join the Right Direction Brigade.Then you watch the wins over the Lions and Rams a few more times on your Comcast DVR and realize that only the Lions and Rams would have lost those games. You want to point to Smith's modest improvement and think that with a little continuity -- i.e., working with the same offensive coordinator for more than 45 minutes -- and a stud offensive lineman or two will come more, greater strides.Then you realize that offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye didn't really have a system. He had a different game plan every week. And that O-lineman don't grow on trees; even when you get a keeper, he usually needs a couple of years before making an impact. And that Smith led the 49ers to zero point in the first half Sunday against a team that might very well have given up 28 points to De La Salle in the same span.You want to point to the defense's brilliant play in the closing month of the season and Wait, there's that whole Lions and Rams thing again. Granted, the Niners' D had gems against some decent teams, too, but it also got carved up to the tune of 45, 34 and 30 by the Falcons, Titans and Packers. Only the Packers are playoff-bound, as a wild-card entry.If it's not one thing, it's another. Is this truly a team headed in the right direction, or is it a directionless team that escaped the clutches of another 7-9 -- or 6-10 -- season on strength (rather, weakness) of schedule?Can it be both? Kind of feels that way, doesn't it?