Chip Kelly is a lucky man indeed, in that he never had to field the burning question of the night, namely:
“Since the 49ers won by the largest margin of Week 1 and also were the only team to use two quarterbacks, can we infer that there is a quarterback controversy? Oh please say yes, oh please say yes, oh please oh please oh please.”
But no, his night went so delightfully that he fielded no such idiocies, nor faced any great existential issues. His first game as 49er coach got him 28 points, cost him zero points, and unlike his Los Angeles counterpart Jeff Fisher, his short week will be a largely pleasant one.
In fact, these were his stated complaints after Monday’s 28-nil pillow-smothering of the utterly gormless Rams: The team ran the ball indifferently in the third quarter (seven carries, seven yards, all by Carlos Hyde), and his kick return defense (all two of them), which allowed the Rams to start their drives at the Los Angeles 31.
In other words, he has actually nothing of substance about which to grouse.
Oh, he will find some thing or things, to be sure. The 49ers handled an excruciatingly bad Rams team (or an excruciatingly badly coached, taught or motivated Rams team, choose your weaponry), and he has to convert a potentially complacent team back into a hungry and angry one against Carolina Sunday.
In other words, he has to prove that this game was not the same sackful of fool’s gold that last year’s 20-3 win over Minnesota was. In that game, the 49ers outgained the Vikings by 147 yards (against the Rams, it was 135 yards), Carlos Hyde rushed for almost twice as many yards (168-88) and Colin Kaepernick’s quarterback rating of 83 was essentially that of Blaine Gabbert’s (84.2) Monday. In sum, they were never truly threatened until . . . well, until Week 2. And then Week 3 and Week 4 and on and on and so forth and so on . . .
And therein lies the conundrum for Kelly, for his fellow coaches, the roster, the front office and the customer base: To believe that this game is not an outlier at all, but a sign that the S.S. York is again not only seaworthy but worth the bother of booking a cruise.
And there is no way of knowing that without knowing if the Rams are really as hideous as they performed. Because they were, very much so. So much so, in fact, that Fisher cited the fact that the team has had to move four times in seven months as a reason for their masterpiece of ineffectiveness. I mean, if that’s the best you can do, you have problems even HBO can’t gloss over.
But as a matter of raw data, the 49ers defense was wall-to-wall superb, holding running back Todd Gurley to a desiccated 47 yards on 17 rushes, quarterback Case Keenum to 130 yards on 17 completions in 35 attempts, and Tavon Austin, the inspiration for Fisher’s possibly ill-fated and surely oft-cited “7-9 Bulls---“ quote, caught four balls (in 13 targets) for a miserable 13 yards. The Rams averaged a hideous 3.1 yards per play, which explains why punter (10 times, in fact) Johnny Hekker put himself in contention for Player of the Week.
Indeed, the only crypto-drama of the evening, other than, say, the drunken fan who was immortalized by ESPN Radio’s Kevin Harlan, was whether Colin Kaepernick, who came in for the last 49er series of the evening, would not only take a knee before the game but one of the final play of the game.
Indeed, Kaepernick was but a very minor sidelight on a night that belonged . . . well, it’s actually hard to say who it belonged to, really. Few players who weren’t Rams committed egregious errors, and in fact one of San Francisco’s two five-yard penalties came on a botched play call by Kelly. On the other hand, he converted one of two high-risk fourth down calls and gave at least some indications that he still has a swashbuckler’s soul, which is surely going to be more fun in success and failure than the three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-despair offense of a year ago.
But again, the Rams aren’t the Panthers, the road isn’t home, and 2015 is only a bad memory away. This could be a massive false positive.
It could also be the sign of the 49ers in Kelly Year 1 – a very good defensive team that will need that defense to hide the deficiencies of an iffy offense. You know, the way they were in Harbaugh Year 1.
That’s the beauty of a small sample size – you can make it into anything you want, and have the lack of data to prove your point either way.
But what you don’t have is a quarterback controversy. Yet. And if the new 49ers still are in their larval stage, they can still fall back on that time-honored football stratagem – “If you can’t be good, you may as well start some bar fights.”
And either way, it sure as hell beats being the Rams right now.