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Article Title: Sitting in the cellar
Article Date: November 11th 2004
By Sydney

Just when you stop critiquing the San Francisco offense and all of it’s foolish inadequacies, the San Francisco defense let’s everyone know that they are far from perfect in blowing yet another potential victory and well deserved revenge against division rival Seattle Seahawks.

Falling to (1-7) and staring up from the NFL cellar is so hard to take when you are a die-hard 49er fan. It eats away at the liner in your stomach and makes you feel like absolutely nothing matters, in as long as we continue this downward spiral that up till now shows no end in sight.

When you sat down to watch this game in the very beginning again hope was bountiful as we came out with a vengeance that made one think that “yes we have a chance at getting revenge in this one.” We even had leads several times in this game and the first 15 minutes of this game were the ideal conditions we play best in.

As we led 14-7 in this game we simply had outplayed, outgunned and out-performed a Seattle Seahawk team that had blanketed us earlier in the season 34-0. Even on two of the Seattle Seahawk’s first three plays quarterback Matt Hasselback was sacked twice by a 49er defense that looked to be menacing for the rest of the game.

This was not to be the case after the first quarter though as the Seattle Seahawks quickly overcame their mental lapses and began executing almost like an arrow hitting its intended target. Our run defense gave up 160-yards to Seattle Seahawk running back Shawn Alexander and two touchdowns. On top of that Seattle Seahawk quarterback Matt Hasselback threw for 285-yards and two touchdowns himself in a game that boosted his ratings.

“It’s sickening to me,” linebacker Jeff Ulbrich said. “There are no excuses. We have professionals and we have to get it done.”

Our defensive front four were consumed for much of the game after the first quarter by an offensive line considered being one of the best in the league. Obviously when you have a running back like Shawn Alexander that can churn out 160-yards of rushing offense your line is winning the battle at the line of scrimmage.

Alexander is “tough, and you’ve got to give him credit,” Ulbrich added. “You’ve got to give his offensive line credit, and whoever was calling plays was calling some good ones. But what it comes down to is we made too many mistakes.”

What the 49er defense was unable to do, the offense tried to make up for if you can believe it. But mistakes were prevalent in everything that we tried to do. When we were trailing 35-27 with just about 8.5 minutes left to play in the game, Tim Rattay dispatched tight ends Aaron Walker and Eric Johnson on passing routes down the middle of the field.

When Tim Rattay saw linebacker Anthony Simmons drifting towards Eric Johnson, he figured wide receiver Cedrick Wilson would suddenly be open. But as Rattay released the ball Simmons was seen sliding away from Johnson and out into the flat; the Seahawk linebacker caught the ball in stride and returned it 23-yards for a victory -sealing touchdown.

This was a play that made me absolutely sick, as this was the game’s defining last moment in getting us back on track. Everything you set yourself up to believe that “we can comeback, that there is still hope,” ends with a gut-wrenching turnover that rips your whole heart out. Absolutely turnovers seem to be the catalyst that I keep going back to time and time again. This is what has thousands of fans in an uproar despite the rookie plays and the injuries that have affected every aspect on both sides of the line.

49er fans again sounded their disapproval at the coaching staff, particularly Dennis Erickson, as the first half was about to close out with nine seconds remaining. Many fans at Monster Park and through the airwaves threw their hands up at the notion of kicking a field goal; rather then take another shot at the end zone with one timeout remaining.

“Believe me, I debated it,” Erickson said. “I’ve been there before where we have gotten sacked or come up short on the throw. We needed to get some points. I don’t doubt my decision.”

Rattay said: “It was the right call. We took a shot on the play before. We came out with three points and got some momentum.”

But that momentum turned rather swiftly with the Seattle Seahawks. Todd Peterson’s field goal cut the Seahawk lead to 21-17. On San Francisco’s first drive of the third quarter, Rattay found a team-criticized Brandon Lloyd in the end zone for a 39-yard touchdown.

This very pass gave San Francisco it’s last and final lead at 24-21, but everything quickly unraveled soon after that as less than two minutes later Seattle Seahawk wide receiver Koren Robinson slipped past cornerback Joselio Hanson for a 25-yard touchdown catch, and the Seahawks never trailed again.

Still blunders and mistakes seem to be the undoing of our team. I’ve never seen such mediocrity and players that should have potential but just aren’t showing it as of yet. I will take my hat off to the offensive line this time as they were challenged to do something different and they did. Still we didn’t convert third down opportunities only 3-out-of-11 is pretty bad and we were unable to establish a rushing attack with only 74-yards on the ground.

This along with being in the red zone with an efficiency rating of 33% was appalling, but nonetheless an improvement over the Chicago game. Tim Rattay was pressured and sacked for three times and threw a costly interception, but he was 23-of-35 for 259-yards with two touchdowns and had a quarterback rating of 94.8%.

Tight end Eric Johnson again led the receiving unit with five catches for 54-yards and Brandon Lloyd stepped up with four catches for 75-yards including a touchdown. Several veteran players on the offense questioned Lloyd and he responded in stride with a concerted effort to erase those images.

Brandon Lloyd has been trying to step into the shoes of Terrell Owens and is finding that sort of pressure and expectation overwhelming. He has struggled to get consistency happening with missing two games earlier in the season due to a pulled groin injury.

Fullback Fred Beasley earlier in the week criticized Brandon Lloyd’s heart and ability to make critical plays when they most counted due to his admiration for success in relation to his image and financial expectations.

“Guys are pulling together. We know what we have to do: go out there and make plays, and I feel like we did that today,” said second-year receiver Arnaz Battle. “We never felt pressure. Pressure pipes burst. We go out and try to perform at the highest level. We’re a young group, but we’re getting better and better.”

“It shows we need to execute better as a team. Execution is an issue with us,” Lloyd said. “We make mistakes, and that’s what hurt us. You can’t afford to make a ton of mistakes in an NFL game.”

What is even more astonishing is the 49ers releasing running back Jamal Robertson for the promotion of running back Maurice Hicks. Here is an athlete not ignorant to the rules and regulations of the NFL and he commits a cardinal mistake on special teams.

On a kickoff to the 49ers in the second quarter of play, Maurice Hicks catches the ball just outside the end zone and promptly stepped out of bounds at the 1-yard line causing us to work against the wall.

This very play and carelessness on the part of Hicks gave the Seattle Seahawks the ball at their own 47-yard line and caused the Seattle Seahawks to go up 21-14 on us in the second quarter with the help of defensive pass interference on Shawntae Spencer. It is these kinds of mistakes that make all 49er fans and coaches alike to scratch their collective heads and wonder why.

One veteran that knows a thing or two about what the 49ers are experiencing is legendary wide receiver Jerry Rice who played against us as a new Seattle Seahawk after being given his walking papers through the Oakland Raiders. Jerry had minimal playing time on the field with just one catch for five yards, but enjoyed his trip back home to Monster Park as it is called today.

“The (49ers) play hard but I just think they don’t have the players yet,” said Rice. “Hopefully they can continue to grow and the young guys can fill some shoes. It’s up to those young players.”

The San Francisco defense entered this game ranked as the ninth best in the league, right after this game that fell to 15th. We could not stop Seattle Seahawk running back Shawn Alexander for the life of us, he penetrated the front four and caused havoc with our linebackers over shooting their gaps period. 160 rushing yards on the ground during this game was evident of the size questions that still exist on the defensive line that misses Issac Sapoaga because of a back injury.

“Maybe we need a few more pieces to the puzzle to make things better,” Bryant Young, an 11th-year veteran, said. “But the people we have and the coaches we have here and the way they’re pieced together, guys are playing their butts off to get this turned around. For some reason, it’s not our year.”

Seattle Seahawk quarterback Matt Hasselback compiled a quarterback rating of 130.8%! After the first two initial sacks on Hasselback early in the game, pressure was a non-issue right after this. This allowed him time to pass the ball against a very weak secondary without its starting cornerbacks on each side.

Cornerbacks Jimmy Williams and Joselio Hanson (who?), and safety Ronnie Heard, who by the way was matched in single coverage against wide receiver Darrell Jackson, all were beaten on long touchdown passes. As much as Zack Bronson declined after the years when you look at the speed and mobility of Ronnie Heard you just have to wonder why?

This secondary is in a lot of trouble for the rest of the season should the 49ers not get Andre Carter, Andrew Williams or Brandon Whiting back. No pass rush equals limited hurried throws which in turn means great quarterback completions and ratings. We were supposed to be able to rely on the defense to keep us in games this year, but when you’re (1-7) that clearly turns that thought into a fluke.

The San Francisco 49er defense now ranks 31st in the league with 224 points allowed on the season. What is even more curious is how Dennis Erickson described the running game as actually being improved after this game was over.

“I liked how we came off the ball,” Erickson said. “I liked how we blocked. We were much more aggressive. Kevan (Barlow) ran with a lot more authority. I saw a lot of improvement in our running game.”

I’m sorry I didn’t. Kevan Barlow accounted for all 21-yards on a three-play touchdown drive only after a great punt return by Arnaz Battle in the first quarter. But for the game, Barlow only was able to manage 61 yards on 18 carries. A 3.4-yard average, which is not going to get the job done folks. Kevan Barlow is averaging 3.6-yards a carry this season, so this past Sunday it shows a lack of improvement in both the line and himself.

Speculation was after this game that Dennis Erickson wanted out of San Francisco with a record like this. It is not the truth as told by the coach himself. I want to make clear that I don’t believe this is a head -coaching problem when you look at the demise of our beloved team. It is clear that losing 11-veteran players seven of who were starters is going to take a toll.

Rookies are being asked to step up and make veteran-like plays and injuries have robbed the team of any sustained strength as well as financial means to build a team with any sort of depth.

I’m not a Dennis Erickson fan by no means but I’m willing to cut the man a break. It is ownership and management’s fault for the situation we are currently in and at the rate we are going we could be the team that all NFL players want to avoid. Much like the old Cincinnati Bengals we are now headed in that direction in my opinion.

Fans at Monster Park are selling their seats in record numbers and doing other things and most fans that attend leave early allowing more opposition fans in the stands to sound as if we were playing away.

It’s a sad season for us no doubt. I’m standing fast though and waiting because I believe we are going to be a better team next year. I’m still excited to watch this team because so many things are still possible and to just watch the development of the rookies and other refugee free agents that have signed with us. Bite your lip and stay the course my friends we are in for a long season of growing and learning.