Article Title: We Want Moore Please.
The Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. said it so eloquently: “Free at last Free at Last, Thank God Almighty I’m Free at Last.” This can be said of the 2006 San Francisco 49er defense this past Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings in being the primary reason for our victory in a baseball score of 9-3.
Added to that atmosphere this past Sunday was the legendary nostalgia of two immediate football icons in former 49er quarterback Joe Montana and former 49er wide receiver Dwight Clark as they walked down memory lane together in the 25th anniversary celebration of “The Catch.”
That very presence sent shivers of championship flavor throughout Monster Park that Sunday and culminated an extra effort on the part of our defensive players and special teams. The entire team celebrated that anniversary in unison by wearing the traditional throwback jerseys that defined a dynasty not too long ago.
Somehow those very jerseys of the past affected the way we played in this contest against a determined opponent fresh off a devastating loss back at home against the New England Patriots. It even compelled 49er kicker Joe Nedney to crank two 51-yard field goal attempts with one being blown off because of a penalty for delay of game.
Come to find out the play clock had somehow reset itself and the penalty nullified, but the kick had to be attempted again despite the accident on the part of the officials. Go figure? It has been happening to us all season long.
Joe Nedney being the high caliber kicker we extended his contract for kicked the field goal again in dramatic fashion to the roaring satisfaction of the Monster Park faithful that day. He not only did something as unusual as this, but turned around in the second quarter and kicked a successful surprise onside kick to wide receiver Bryan Gilmore, which came right after we pulled ahead 6-3 with his 30-yard attempt.
I want to say that not many of us realize or understand the true importance of having a quality kicker. The San Francisco 49ers as a whole have struggled to obtain one that is truly legitimate since our glory days over a decade ago.
We have had some bright spots here and there with our kickers, but in all seriousness Joe Nedney has been a real clutch time kicker when we have needed him the most, and this game was one we can chalk up to that very statement and hopefully more. Remember the majority of our victories last season were won on his abilities as a kicker hands down.
“That was a big play for us,” said head coach Mike Nolan. “I knew we had to steal a drive, take a possession away from our opponent. We were able to do that with Joe’s kick.”
Looking back on these types of kicks for us, it was the second successful onside kick for us with the first one coming against Arizona in the opener when rookie Marcus Hudson recovered it.
“Joe works on it every week and it’s always part of our package,” added Nolan. “He’s always eager to do it.”
The game didn’t seem like it was going to go in our favor right from the very beginning because Minnesota came out after our first possession three and out firing on all cylinders, that kept us reeling for nine straight minutes until our defense stiffened at the goal line.
From there Minnesota Viking kicker Ryan Longwell had to kick the only points they would score in the game because of a ferocious 49er defense that was determined to rectify itself.
It was none other than a key tackle by 49er cornerback Shawntae Spencer on Viking receiver Travis Taylor that got the ball spotted short of a first down. In fact he combined to have eight total tackles throughout the game and improved his status after many a game where he was just plain, “vanilla.”
Most of all though we want Moore please in 49er linebacker Brandon Moore that is, to the point that Mike Nolan made him a starter in this game and leaned on his aggressive abilities. Brandon Moore played in Jeff Ulbrich’s position and performed at a very high level.
He illustrated the performance with all 246 pounds of him flying to make contact with the ball carrier and the ball itself. He was a hungry linebacker to the tune of a Ray Lewis or a Brian Urlacher in comparison.
“He did a good job tackling in the game. It wasn’t 100%, but he did a nice job. When he missed a tackle, he stirred it up enough for someone else to get one.”
After watching game film this past Monday, coaches credited Moore with 15 tackles; two of them for a loss and three quarterback hurries. He even had a hand in two recorded sacks on the day.
“Our leadership came alive this week.” 49ers linebacker Brandon Moore said. “Guys were getting sick of losing, and guys identified that something wasn’t right. We just went out collectively as a team and tried to remedy that.”
Once Jeff Ulbrich learned of the decision that he wouldn’t be starting and that Brandon Moore would be, he handled it like the professional athlete that he has always been. He immediately went down the hall and knocked on special teams coach Larry Mac Duff’s door.
From that Mike Nolan was so impressed with him that, he immediately plugged Ulbrich in the dime defense when safety Chad Williams bruised his thigh last week in practice.
It has to be something said for a former starting linebacker to swallow his pride just for a bit and take a supportive role. Jeff Ulbrich is one of the best linebackers in the business and continues to display that on the field on a weekly basis.
“If a guy has that kind of attitude, and he has done it before, we are sticking him back there,” Nolan said of Ulbrich, who did a fine job in coverage and may continue in the nickel defense.
“Whatever I can do to help,” said Ulbrich, a seven-year pro. “You’ve got to embrace whatever role you have. I enjoy third down, and I’m finally getting an opportunity to do that.
Keith Lewis started at free safety in place of Mike Adams, who still saw a lot of action and had an important pass defense on the Minnesota Vikings final drive of the game. What was the most interesting news though as this game progressed from one quarter to the next was the sharp execution on plays from both starters and reserves alike.
It was like a breath of fresh air that suddenly came through off the Bay and enlightened the 49er defense to the extent that they looked sharp all during the game with sound tackling that nullified Minnesota on third downs with 5-out-of-14 actually being converted.
The San Francisco 49er defense held Minnesota to 238 total yards without the favor of time of possession with the Vikings having the ball 34:45 to our 25:15. But nothing real special was done to knock Minnesota out of this game other than just executing the plan and playing sound technique out on the field.
We played a lot of seven-man fronts to put more emphasis on the pass defense, but according to Nolan they played just two basic fronts for most of the game. Like I said before the abilities and talents of each individual player be they are a starter or a reserve player stepped up and executed at a high level in this game.
The mentality of the 49er defense changed dramatically in this game as they showed up to play. With just a narrow lead at the start of the fourth quarter Mike Nolan huddled together with his defensive players and told them that the game and its outcome was in their hands.
This was the same unit on defense that came into this game surrendering more points than any other team in the NFL. They responded by thwarting an offensive drive by the Minnesota Vikings that kept them from scoring a touchdown in the end.
“That was a big shot in the arm for those guys,” Nolan said. “Minnesota is a good football team with explosive players on both sides of the ball. So this means a lot. Success breads success and certainly does the same thing with confidence. We need to build on this.”
49er veteran cornerback Walt Harris in my opinion continues to impress with yet another interception that stopped a Viking offensive drive in the third quarter, but on the 49er offensive drive following this Alex Smith threw an interception intended for Antonio Bryant that Viking defensive back Antoine Winfield caught at their 38-yard line.
Minnesota lost yet another scoring offensive drive when in the fourth quarter Bryant Young and Brandon Moore combined to sack Viking quarterback Brad Johnson, and his ensuing fumble was recovered by Manny Lawson.
Earlier in the game defensive end Marques Douglas set-up Nedney’s go-ahead field goal midway through the second quarter when he sacked Brad Johnson and forced a fumble that was recovered by Shawntae Spencer at the Vikings 21-yard line.
And last but not least when the Minnesota Vikings got the ball back with 4:09 remaining in the game, that drive stalled with wide receiver Troy Williamson dropping a third-down pass and 49er safety Mark Roman rose up and smothered an end zone pass intended for Bethel Johnson.
“To make that play at the end was huge,” Young said. “It’s good that we were in a situation like that and we were able to come through because it really hasn’t happened a whole lot this year.”
As is always the case and it has always been for us turnovers cost you football games and put another loss in your loss column. It was no different for the Minnesota Vikings as they finally received a touch of reality like we have been all season long.
Our 31st ranked defense forced three turnovers on the Minnesota Vikings twice on fumbles by veteran quarterback Brad Johnson and once on a tipped pass by Johnson that was plucked from the air by 49er cornerback Walt Harris.
Offensively you’d think the very strength of our team would’ve lit it up being at home and everything. Well it didn’t happen. Alex Smith only completed 13-of-21 passes for 105 yards with a total of 133 yards all together.
Minnesota’s defense sacked Smith three times for a loss of 14 total yards and intercepted him as well. He came out of the game with a quarterback rating of 54.7 and was unable to sustain drives due to the fact that we couldn’t turn enough first downs with only eight on the whole day.
Right offensive tackle Kwame Harris continues to be a thorn in our side as his blocking abilities are not enough to sustain passing protection for Alex Smith. Time and time again the same is turning into stalled offensive drives due to unnecessary quarterback pressures and ultimately sacks.
Even Frank Gore had an off day with 19 carries for 41 total yards and five receptions for 36 yards the most receiving yards on the entire unit. This was clearly a defensive game right from the get go, so offensive coordinator Norv Turner played the conservative offensive approach to compensate for that trend.
Crowd noise at Monster Park was greatly appreciated as well from Mike Nolan and the coaching staff as the 49er faithful did an excellent job at raising the tempo of the game with an abundance of approval.
Getting back the throwback colors would be something I would recommend and embrace as Mike Nolan has publicly nodded his approval for the jerseys to be reinstated as the main jersey color of the San Francisco 49ers.
However league mandates a lengthy discussion and approval marathon to lobby for such a thing and has to get a final nod from owner Dr. John York himself. We seem to play with a renewed enthusiasm and vigor when the players are in them. Lord knows we need whatever advantage we can get and this seems like a no brainer to me.
I love the fact that our defense has risen out of the very murky waters it has been submerged in for so long. The real question remains in that can we build upon this very trend and carry it over on the road?
That is the real test of fates to be able to go out on the road and play with that same infectious drive as we demonstrated here at home in front of all our faithful fans. Mike Nolan knows that all eyes and ears will be upon that with our arrival in Detroit this coming Sunday.
We have to execute and play brilliant defense and we have to manufacture offensive drives and convert on third down. Most importantly we have to secure the darn football and that is something, as common sense as it sounds has been difficult for us to do. I would love to finally see a football game where both sides of our team win it together equally.
I think it is possible. But Mike Nolan and the very players that showed up this past Sunday need to believe it as well. If they are truly serious about enough being enough, then lets have more of what we saw this past weekend.