Alex Smith still expects more from offense


Alex Smith still expects more from offense

The disconnect between the 49ers as they are and as they want to be continues to widen, which is to say that now the league has figured out why they win every week, theyre moving on to why they make winning more difficult than it should be.In short, the NFL looks at the 49ers in terms of results rather than style points, and the 49ers are trying to reinvent themselves before the league figures out how to punish them for their shortcomings.Sunday was that day all over again. The 49ers smothered the hopeless Arizona Cardinals, 23-7, to improve to 9-1, but the word of the day from Alexander D. Smith was frustrating.

Its good to keep winning, but its frustrating too, the quarterback said after what was probably his least impressive game (20 of 38, 267, two scores, one pick). You look at the defense and see how theyre doing to keep us in games, and its kind of frustrating to leave so much out there. In fact, it makes it more frustrating when they play like that.Play like what, you ask. Play like: Needing six field goal attempts to take a surmountable 9-0 halftime lead despite having the ball for 21 minutes. Going only 2-for-6 from red zone situations, making them 3 for the last 11 and seven for the last 20. Failing to get to 30 points for the ninth time in 10 games (if you take away the two Ted Ginn returns in Week One, they managed only 19 against Seattle). Having 44:16 of possession time, the most of any team all year (and forever, according to Arizona coach ken Whisenhunt), and still managing only two touchdowns. This futility rate exceeds only Cleveland, which needed 42:56 to beat Seattle, 6-3, in Week 7.In short, while the rest of the league is seeing a spectacular march to glory from a team whos glory days are long ago, the 49ers are seeing offensive inefficiencies.Thus, while Smith is admitting to frustrations about the offenses ability to reprise its 48-3 win over Tampa Bay, the rest of the NFL is marveling at what the 49ers actually do:Namely, not let the opposition even rise to a level of frustration about the opportunities it wastes because there are no opportunities to be had.I usually dont credit to anyone, especially in the division, but I give credit to them, Arizona defensive end Darrell Dockett said when asked how the 49ers are different than the team he has known most of his career. Theyre still doing the same things, theyre still running the ball . . . actually, the quarterback is playing A LOT better. Hes not asked to do a lot, get the ball in there. The biggest thing theyve got for them is their defense. Its keeping them in the game so they CAN run the ball.Dockett is merely spouting the orthodoxy of 49er World make no mistakes, and wait for the defense to force its share. The Cardinals turned the ball over five times, gained barely half as many yards as the 49ers, and averaged a preposterous 1:19 per possession. Quarterback John Skelton was poor even by Whisenhunts public standards, and his 10.5 quarterback rating from six completions and three interceptions in 19 attempts seemed generous when placed next to his actually play.But the 49ers still left La Candeliere Sunday feeling more hungry than sated, and when Smith said, If we get those other three field goals (from David Akers, who was 3 for 6), its 32, and were probably feeling better about how we did, he didnt sound all that convincing.Convert half those field goal attempts to touchdowns, for example and the 49ers have a minimum 35 points, and the final score looks more like the run of play and less like a lost day against a defeated and demoralized opponent just playing out the string in mid-November.It is the new motivational point for the 49ers to be an offense the defense can be proud of, and can be confident in if it has its own off day down the road. Sundays breakout performers, Michael Crabtree (7 for 120) and Kyle Williams (5 for 54), helped jump-start a stagnant offense, but the 49ers are edging toward the time when jump-starting and stagnant should no longer be part of the vocabulary.Two other worrisome numbers: They rank closer to the bottom than the top in touchdowns scored, but lead in field goals and field goal attempts. Since the 49ers are running in Walsh Era territory, it should be mentioned that Walsh regarded a field goal with the same contempt he did a punt it represented not half a touchdown, but failure.Jim Harbaugh probably does as well, but maybe hes just dancing longer with who brought him.You never really know how good they are under the gun, down 21, and lets see them pass it all over the field, Dockett said. Instead, they keep it close, they dont make mistakes, they get three points and three points and its keeping them in games. Hell, Id keep doing it the same way every week if I was them.Then again, Dockett is on a team that is now 3-7, in full retreat, and feeling fortunate to have only lost by 16 on a day when a margin of twice that would have been barely explicable.And the 49ers are 9-1, knowing how good they are, but beginning to wonder how good they could be if they really assembled that offense that the defensive players could brag about to their friends.

A sports-related pie-fixing scandal? Hell never felt so fun


A sports-related pie-fixing scandal? Hell never felt so fun

I’m liking this 2017 so far. Then again, after 2016, nearly any year would be an improvement.

Just this last weekend we got a flat-earth scandal that turned into a mock-up about media self-importance and fake news (yay Kyrie Irving and his impish sense of satire!).

We got the overblown Russell-Hates-Kevin narrative, and the faux Russell-Secretly-Loves-Kevin counternarrative, all because we are stunningly attracted to meaningless and utterly contrived drama (yay our ability to B.S. ourselves!).

We got the NBA All-Star Game ripped for having no defense even though last year’s game was, if anything, worse (yay short attention span!).

We got the Boogie Cousins trade and the national revulsion of all the thought processes the Sacramento Kings put into this perpetually rolling disaster (yay making Boogie and Vivek Ranadive household names!).

And now we got the Great Sutton United Pie-Fixing Scandal. Yeah, pie-fixing. Hell never felt so fun.

So here’s the deal. Sutton United, a very small fry in English soccer, got to the fifth round of the FA Cup, a competition in which all the clubs in England are commingled and play each other until one team remains. The big clubs almost always win, so any time a small club goes deep, it’s a big deal.

Anyway, Sutton went deeper in the competition than nearly anyone in the last century, a charming development given that it is such a small club that it had a stadium caretaker, goalie coach and backup goalie all in one massive fellow, a 46-year-old guy named Wayne Shaw. Shaw became the globular embodiment of the entire Sutton Experience, a jolly lark for everyone involved and especially when he ate a pie on the bench in the final minutes of Sutton’s Cup-exiting loss to Arsenal.

And now he’s been eased into resigning his jobs with the club, because – and this is so very British – there were betting shops taking action on whether he would in fact eat a pie on the bench, and he either did or did not tip off his pals that he was going to chow down on television.

He did eat the pie. His pals collected on their bets. The sport’s governing body opened an investigation into market manipulation by gambling – which is hilarious given that no fewer than 10 gambling establishments have advertising deals with English soccer clubs. Shaw was invited to quit to kill the story, and he took the hint.

Hey, dreams die all the time. But it’s still pie-fixing. Let that rattle around your head for a minute. Pie-fixing. Not match-fixing. Not point-shaving. Pie-fixing.

Now how can you not love this year?

Sure, it sucks for Shaw, but it serves as a series of cautionary tales for athletes around the world.

* Gambling is everywhere, and every time you inch toward it, you dance on the third rail.

* If you want to help your friends, give them cash.

* This is a horribly delicious way to lose your gig.

* And finally, fun in the 21st century isn’t ever truly fun because someone in a suit and a snugly-placed stick is going to make sure you pay full retail for that fun.

But it is nice to know that something that has never happened before is now part of our year. Pie-fixing is a thing now, as silly in its way as Irving’s flat-earth narrative was. And as we steer away from normal games as being too run-of-the-mill-fuddy-duddy entertainment, we have replaced them with sideshows.

Or do you forget how many people complained Saturday and Sunday that the dunk contest wasn’t interesting enough? How stupid is that?

Lots. Lots of stupid. But against pie-tin-shaped planets and pies turned into betting coups, how can it possibly compare?

We chase a lot of idiotic narratives in our sporting lives. The great What Will The Patriots Do To Roger Goodell story died like the old dog it was. We still try to flog Warriors-Thunder as a rivalry in search of better TV ratings when all the obvious evidence is that it is no such thing unless you think a couple that broke up nine months ago is still a solid story. We have Bachelor fantasy leagues, for God’s sake.

This would leave most normal folks in despair, thus matching their everyday experiences, but yin meets yang, and every time it looks like we are all barrel-rolling into the sun, we get Irving, and then we get Wayne Shaw.

In short, 2017 is going to be fun of grand surprises for us all. I look forward to the day President Trump tries to fete the Patriots and only gets to Skype with Bob Kraft and the equipment guys who midwifed DeflateGate, and Mark Davis in Las Vegas, just to see if he can get a P.F. Chang’s into the Bellagio.

Why not? This is sport’s year-long tribute to sketch comedy, and evidently everyone is signing on enthusiastically to replace lessons of morality and honor and equality and dignity and sportsmanship with slackened jaws and belly laughs.

So yay sports! Or as it is clearly becoming, A Night At The Improv.

Patriots win one for the ages, but where does it rank?

Patriots win one for the ages, but where does it rank?

The price of watching Roger Goodell being booed back to the Bronze Age is a subtle but real one, and one that people will feel very dearly soon enough.

The last great cathartic Super Bowl is now done, with the New England Patriots winning the brilliant and decisive battle to be sports’ new evil empire. In doing so, it rendered Goodell a permanent and risible punch line in National Football League history, the mall cop who wanted the death penalty for littering, and in the words of the song “got what he wanted but he lost what he had.”

True, $40 million a year can make the dissolution of your public persona a reasonably decent tradeoff, but we lost the argument about who won his windmill tilt with the Patriots. It’s done, and he is now permanently and irrevocably a figure of ridicule.

But that’s not the only debating point America lost Sunday night, and while you wouldn’t think it given how much time we are willing to shouting at each other, quality arguments are not easily replaced.

We have almost surely lost the mindless debate about the best quarterback ever, because there is nothing anyone can bring up that the words “Tom Brady” cannot rebut except calling his own plays, and since that is no longer allowed in football, it is a silly asterisk to apply.

We have almost surely lost the equally silly shouter about the best coach ever. Bill Belichick is defiantly not fun, but he has built, improved and bronzed an organizational model that is slowly swallowing the rest of the sport. That and five trophies makes him the equal if not better of the short list of Paul Brown, George Halas, Vince Lombardi, Bill Walsh and Tom Landry.

Plus, Belichick locked up the most absurd response to a question in coaching history Monday when he said, “As great as today feels . . . we're five weeks behind the other teams for the 2017 season.” Even allowing for Gregg Popovich in-game interviews, the so-grim-he-could-make-a-robot-cry worship-the-process response has now become a cliché. If 2017 prep was so important, he should have skipped yesterday’s game, and he definitely should have chosen not to waste so much time on the trophy stand after the game when training camp drills needed to be scheduled.

Oh, and DeflateGate died. Dead. No zombie possibilities here.

We do have a meatheaded argument ahead of us about which championship in the last year is the best, which can be settled here.

1. Leicester City, because 5,000-1 is 5,000-1, and the whole world understands that. Plus, there was invaluable three-month buildup that engaged non-soccer fans.

2. Chicago Cubs, because 108 years is 108 years.

3. New England Patriots, because . . . well, I don’t have to explain it unless you have no useful memory span. “Down 25 In The Third Quarter” is the new “Down 3-1.”

4. Cleveland Cavaliers, because they slayed the first unbeatable Warrior team by coming from 3-1 down, and even as a silver medalist, it will always be an internet meme, which is what passes for memorable in our decrepit culture.

5. (tie) Villanova basketball and Clemson football in a tie, because they were essentially the same great game.

7. The Pittsburgh Penguins, because the Stanley Cup Final was devoid of drama or high moments, and only 14:53 of overtime. Feh.

But everything else is settled, and this Super Bowl will not be topped for a long time. Our current cycle of absurd championships is almost surely going to end soon, because “Down 3-1” has happened twice in eight months (three times, if you count Warriors over Thunder), and the bar has now been placed well beyond reasonable clearing.

Indeed, the only thing left is for a championship team to spontaneously combust on the award stand. But if they do so and ignite Roger Goodell along the way, that would be an ending America would cheerfully endorse.

But that also isn’t an argument any more, and yes, that includes Gary Bettman.