On Sunday, the San Francisco 49ers suffered what is probably their worst loss of the season, falling 21-19 to the NFC West rival Arizona Cardinals, just a couple weeks after dominating them at Candlestick Park. It's their worst loss of the season for a couple of reasons, the biggest of which being that they should be much better than the Cardinals at this point in the season. Another reason is because the 49ers are playing for just one thing right now - playoff seeding - and the New Orleans Saints gutted through their tough game to come out on top, matching the 49ers with a 10-3 record.
Offensively, the 49ers were absolutely battered. Quarterback Alex Smith was hit early and often, and that made a lot of his throws off-target and prevented any big yardage. Frank Gore ran well, but the 49ers were put in many positions in which they were forced to throw the ball. Braylon Edwards played poorly again, Vernon Davis continued to be just about invisible and without double coverage this time. Defensively, the team held the resurgent Beanie Wells to a paltry yardage total, but failed to prevent the big plays in the passing game.
Then we get to the special teams, and that's where the 49ers excelled. Andy Lee showed once again why he's one of the league's best punters, and Brad Seeley directed him to punt directly at dangerous returner Patrick Peterson, who wasn't able to get anything done. San Francisco wants to preach a position battle-oriented gameplan, and they certainly were able to execute it on Sunday, even in a losing effort. You'll see a lot written and said about the 49ers offense and their struggles in the red zone, but they never would have had a chance to have those struggles if it weren't for special teams.
David Akers did miss a field goal from 50 yards out, but the man is not invincible, that's bound to happen. He still played well and moved closer to two records: the 49ers franchise record for points scored in a single season, currently held by Jerry Rice, and Neil Rackers' record for most field goals in a season.
The other silver linings are pretty simple: Kyle Williams showed that he can consistently be good, and should be worked into the 49ers offense more, and the 49ers run defense is undeniably very good.
As much as morale-soothing statements are somewhat annoying, there is one thing to note that's very apt right now. San Francisco considers themselves in the same league as the New Orleans Saints, Baltimore Ravens, Pittsburgh Steelers and the other great teams in the NFL. While this loss was undeniably bad, folks should not forget that the Ravens lost to the Seattle Seahawks earlier this year, and barely overcame the Cardinals with a late touchdown drive. The Saints also gave the St. Louis Rams their first win of the season earlier on.
Sometimes, good teams lose to bad teams. That's probably what happened on Sunday.