Andy Lee bails out this offense. Lee boomed long punts when field position was critical. His 45.7-yard net average on six punts was impressive. After Alex Smith took a sack on third-and-6 from the 49ers' 22-yard line, Lee forced the Cowboys to begin their next possession at their own 26. He pinned Dallas at its own 9 later in the quarter. A 58-yarder in overtime gave Dallas a longer field after Smith took another sack.
Sometimes, Smith had no chance. The sack he took on the first play of the second quarter stood out. This was a jailbreak situation, beginning right up the middle with center Jonathan Goodwin barely even delaying Josh Brent's rush. The play design put Smith in an even worse position under the circumstances. He faked the screen to Gore on the left side, then spun around to find Anthony Dixon on the other. Instead of seeing Dixon, Smith saw Brent, Anthony Spencer and Alan Ball. They were on top of him before he could react. Smith could do nothing but take the sack.
Sometimes, Smith looked instinctive. That was the case on the play Smith made after dropping a high snap from Goodwin and then gathering it on the run. Smith rolled hard to his right and was still running fast when he fired a pass 45 yards on a line to the end zone, drawing an interference penalty. I kept thinking back to the disastrous play Smith made against Philadelphia on a broken play last season. That one required rolling left, preventing Smith from making this type of play. He might not have been playing freely enough to make this throw, anyway
Sometimes, Smith looked shaky. We now know Smith suffered a mild concussion at some point during the game, mitigating criticisms. But a two-play stretch midway through the third quarter was a bad one for him. Tony Romo had been knocked out of the game. The 49ers led, 14-7, and had second-and-8 from their own 22. Smith rolled left and badly overthrew Walker for what should have been a first down. On the next play, Smith had time, but something wasn't right between him and tight end Vernon Davis. Smith threw inside the yard-line numbers to the right. Davis broke across the numbers to the outside. Ball picked off the pass. In general, quarterbacks need time to find tight ends open down the field. Smith did not have time consistently.
Yes, the 49ers play defense, too. The first four notes here all dealt with the special teams or offense. The defense was generally good, but the spectacular breakdowns in pass coverage swung the game against San Francisco. It was tough finding too much fault with cornerback Carlos Rogers. He tipped the pass that Tramaine Brock picked off, setting up the 49ers' go-ahead touchdown late in the third quarter. The 49ers have been playing without the injured corner Shawntae Spencer. Getting him back will presumably help. San Francisco went into the season feeling very good about its veteran additions at safety. I think they'll feel a lot better about those additions against opponents other than the Cowboys.