49ers beat Patriots at their own game


49ers beat Patriots at their own game

So here, ultimately, what we learned about the 49ers after this week’s BIGGIDY-BIGGEST GAME OF THE YEAR, and right before this coming week's BIGGIDY-BIGGEST GAME OF THE YEAR:

1.      They can, as they did a year ago against New Orleans, beat the best at the other guys’ game, even when they can’t do it with their own.
2.      Colin Kaepernick is exactly what you thought he was – a player who can do spectacular things, for both teams.
3.      Say what you want about any other player on this well-constructed roster – Justin Smith is unquestionably first among equals, and the team’s most important player.

In beating New England, 41-34, the 49ers are again the nation’s darlings. Overcoming a mountain of statistical trends and the ethereal T. E. P. Brady, they are now the “team to beat” in the January sweepstakes.

[REWIND: 49ers out-slug Patriots 41-34]

Indeed, despite the hoop-de-blah to come about Seattle this weekend, the 49ers are essentially a lock to win the NFC West because they close the season out with Arizona. The only reason they actually need to win Sunday is to keep Green Bay (playing Tennessee and at Minnesota) in third, and hope that somehow Atlanta loses at Detroit and against Tampa Bay.

But we’ve known they were playing for January for awhile now, and Sunday night’s game was a fascinating study in a number of thiungs we should have already known. 

For instance, how Kaepernick can take errors of his own making and survive them (I mean, the 49ers fumbled six times and lost one), and in doing so make himself a folk hero.

This is now a rekindling of the Alex Smith debate. That ship has long sailed, and Smith is now a very distant memory, in that Steve DeBerg way.

But we knew Kaepernick would do wondrous things and make skull-smacking errors because that’s what rookies with physical gifts do. Normally a game with eight fumbles has a more even distribution pattern than seven for you and one for the other guy, and is therefore rejected as a game plan plus.

On a larger scale, though, the 49ers came to Foxborough unlikely to win a shootout, and did. New England got its 34 points, but the 49ers got more than twice as many as you’d have figured them to get, especially without a single legitimate rushing touchdown. Kaepernick threw two to Michael Crtabtree, the undisputed go-to receiver, one each to Randy Moss and Delanie Walker, and amazingly still can’t find Vernon Davis with a pack of bloodhounds.

And the fifth? An inadvertent fumblerooskie by Frank Gore. Hey, it’s better to be lucky than good, and best yet to be both.

But this was a rout in the making until Justin Smith went out with an elbow injury, and suddenly the 49er defense was at sixes and sevens trying to harass Brady or the Patriot offense as a whole. It is clearer now than ever that his work on the defensive line makes all other things possible, and if he misses any appreciable time with the injury (and he is likely to punch the doctor in the face if told he will), the 49ers stop being the team to beat.

That’s how important he is. On a unit that has essentially no outs in the lineup, he is the one that changes the way the other 10 are allowed to play. Even the secondary, which gave up 443 yards but forced Brady to beat them with Brandon Lloyd rather than Aaron Hernandez and Wes Welker, was far more effective while Smith was disrupting with Logan Mankins than not.

In sum, we had some evidence that the 49ers could run and with the Patriots, though we doubted they could do it in Massachusetts in December in crap weather. We were largely wrong there. We knew that Colin Kaepernick could do many good and bad things, and remains the damp dynamite of the 49er roster; we were spot-on there.

And we all knew about Justin Smith, though the difference between 10 points with him in the game and 24 when he wasn’t merely illustrates it more starkly. His health is in many ways San Francisco’s.

In all, this was a worthwhile expenditure of their time. They mostly re-established self-evident truths, but since those truths are flattering, self-evident is mostly a good thing. Now they just have to dance in one more graveyard – Seattle – before they arrive home safe and dry when the real season starts in three weeks.

Ray Ratto is a columnist for CSNBayArea.com

The neck-breaking rise and fall of daily fantasy sports


The neck-breaking rise and fall of daily fantasy sports

The apparent cratering of the Draft Kings/Fan Duel phenomenon is largely a tale of greed gone wild, with coatings of arrogance and bullying through advertising, not to mention naked avarice, raw cupidity and what the Greeks used to call “pleonexia,” which is Greek for greed, avarice and cupidity.

It is a tale of what happens when you try to game a system that’s bigger than your own without cutting the people who run the bigger system in on the goods. It’s alleged wise guys finding out that it’s easier to skirt the law when you make the law. And it’s very definitely guys who got out over their skis trying to dominate a market that was doing fine on its own.

And hey, what’s better than smart guys getting theirs?

But there is actually a greater lesson in this for all of us, and it is this: Fantasy sports leagues are best left as small, interactive tribes whose competitors see each other, talk with each other, exchange money with each other and socialize (re: drink beer) with each other. The phenomenon began as an entirely holistic and communal idea in the 1960s in Oakland surrounding the still-larval American Football League, and grew on the ground level in other sports, in bars, rec rooms, bars, office break rooms, bars, vacations, bars, taverns, and ultimately, bars.

It was a way for friends to gather and ignore the bigger issues of living (like, say, families, which are far too time consuming, expensive and always end up with the parents battling desperately for a tie in a game once it becomes clear that they cannot win).

It was not meant to be mass-produced, let alone dominated by the guy with the best algorithms. That’s not sports, that’s math, and when was the last time you said, “Honey, I’m going out. Some math teachers are getting together to raise a little hell, and I don’t want to miss it”?

So never mind the “The DraftDuelers and FanKings tried to pull a fast one” angle, even though they did. Ignore the “They got too big and too grabby too fast” narrative, even though they did that, too.

What happened here was a perverse monetization of something that didn’t actually need improving or enlarging, because it was perfectly good the way it was. And perverse monetization is the path to perdition, I think we can all agree.

The fantasy industry also made a fatal error by trying to say for legal reasons that it wasn’t gambling, which it clearly was – except in one very granular way that nobody ever addresses.

Gambling, as in finding a bookie who will let you bet on games in any manner of exotic fashions, is meant to be a solitary pursuit left best for quiet brooders. If you have Seattle plus the 1½ when everyone else is bitching about the evils of a 6-6 overtime tie, you quietly accept your incredible good fortune and start to handicap Broncos-Texans, which you probably lost.

Fantasy sports, on the other hand, are meant to be shared, but only with those in your particular fantasy league as opposed to all other people, who do not give a steaming chalky damn about your made-up aggregation of athletes and actively hate you for breaching their worlds with your relentless yammering about your alternate-universe imaginings.

Put another way, people who tell you about their fantasy teams are people who need to be taken into the desert and abandoned. And people who commit these crimes should be allowed to avoid hypothermia, dehydration and coyote dinner only by making regular offerings of alcohol and foodstuffs to those whose peace and quiet they have thoughtlessly breached.

And the industrialization of fantasy sports was the last frontier of that obnoxio-hateful social development. It used commercial television to beat us all to death with something only a few of us cared about, and it reminded us that our culture loathes two things above all others – people trying to pull a fast one, and people telling us repeatedly about things we’re not remotely interested in hearing.

In other words, even if you were planning to be saddened by the collapse of the first wave of industrialized fantasy sports, don’t. They were people trying to cut themselves in on action that wasn’t theirs, and make a national phenomenon out of a social development best confined to a single room with six-to-20 people, all of whom had the good sense to bring wine and snacks.

I mean, seriously. Why would you want to screw with that setup?

Very bad 49ers stay tumbling in truly lost 2016 season

Very bad 49ers stay tumbling in truly lost 2016 season

You can almost hear the sound whistling between the 49ers’ teeth at this point, beneath the droned platitudes and vague responses to what is a fully lost season:

“Look, what do you want from us? This is who we are.”

You can almost hear it, that is. They wouldn’t dare express such rampant defeatism – I mean, if they didn’t after Sunday’s 34-17 muzzling at the hands, arms, torsos and feet of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, it’s unlikely you would hear it at any point.

But they must surely know by now that this is a season already in the rear-view mirror. There are no secret plans, or stashed players, or untried ideas left to unearth, sign or try. The coming bye week will not clear their heads and give them new inspiration, save that of having a week off from the steady beatings. They are 1-6 on merit, and proved it again yesterday before another dispirited two-thirds-of-a-sellout crowd which is coming to realize that their hope is a mile wide and an inch deep.

[MAIOCCO: Kelly: No changes to 49ers defensive staff after loss]

Sunday, for example, Colin Kaepernick was their best running back, Shaun Draughn was their best receiver, the downed kickoff was their best special teams play, and their best strategic decision – well, they lost the coin flip so they didn’t even get a chance to defer the opening kickoff.

And their defense? It only allowed whatever Tampa Bay wanted, and only on demand. Jacquizz Rodgers became the sixth running back to gain 100 yards against them (and the first to do it in one half), which is noteworthy only because they allowed five all last year in a bad season, and nine in the four seasons before that, four of those by Marshawn Lynch.

And quarterback Jameis Winston threw the ball to wide-open receivers and into coverage with the same sense of well-placed bravado. Though his numbers didn’t exactly aurora the borealis (21-of-30, 269, 3/1, 117.2), he never emitted a sense that he couldn’t do whatever he wanted – save get the officials to give him a better spot when he snapped and cost his team a potential touchdown with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for headless-chickening.

In other words, this was not materially different than the Buffalo game, or the Seattle game, or the Carolina game. The only game that has been different is the opener against Los Angeles, when everything worked and made sense and life was happy and Jed York hummed “I Am 16 Going On 17” all through the suite all night long.

That game was 50,000 years ago. These are who the 49ers are now, and who they are going to be for awhile to come.

They speak of consistency, and yet they are the very model of it – leading the league in punts, and ranking second in three-and-outs, 27th in first downs and 31st in plays per drive. They don’t stay on the field, in other words, and when on defense, they allow 118 more yards per game than their offense gets them.

And they swear with unanimity that they are together as a team, and work hard each week to achieve the acme of their talents and learning. So this, if that is so, must be at or near the top of their game – which, as head coach for now and the future Chip Kelly (stop thinking this is just a coaching problem, please) put it, “We’re not doing what it takes to be successful right now.”

That was in response to a question about whether the 49ers were going backwards. He ducked the issue by saying, “I don’t think forwards or backwards,” which is probably a lie, but we can help anyway.

They have gone dramatically backwards since Game 1, and essentially stagnated since Game 2. It’s how they have gotten to where they are right now, and how they have become who they are right now.

It may be that stranger things have happened in the NFL than a team starting 1-6 and rallying to win eight, nine or 10 in a row, but on this team, based all the available evidence, this team won’t be that strange. They have revealed themselves for what they actually are, which is not good enough to change what they actually are.

And if that is too tough a sentence for you to swallow, well, go out and write some of your own. You can tell any tale you want, but this is the tale of the 2016 San Francisco 49ers, a team awash in unpleasant self-realization and the knowledge that there is nothing to be done but to go out each week and do it again.

Except next week, of course. Bye may be a favorite, but Bye must be played, just like all the others.