Article Title: Still holding my head from the hangover.
The 2009 (3-1) San Francisco 49ers were eager to test their armor against the playoff caliber Atlanta Falcons coming off a bye week fully rested and motivated to meet one of the stingiest defenses in the NFL over the past four weeks. What they thought was going to be a slugfest of a fight turned out to be a game full of great fortune and meticulous offensive execution that throttled our defensive unit on the field and in conjunction with that their defense shutdown Glen Coffee and made us one-dimensional.
Up and until this game there was little reason to be concerned. After drumming St. Louis 35-0 and establishing ourselves as the undisputed leader of the NFL’s weak-link NFC Western Division. One would be somewhat confident in the thought we can hang with this team as we did with the Minnesota Vikings. That thought was utterly obliterated almost instantaneously as the first quarter began to tell the imminent conclusion of this game after several mishaps exploded right before our collective eyes.
Shaun Hill was intercepted on a tipped ball on the first drive of the game, which led to a Michael Turner touchdown to make it 7-0 Falcons. Then a personal foul on Parys Haralson an illegal contact on Michael Lewis and another defensive off-sides on Haralson compelled Mike Singletary to order a timeout on his defense. He brought the entire defensive unit together and appealed to them to stop the bleeding.
On the next ensuing play Atlanta Falcon quarterback Matt Ryan connected with Roddy White for a 31-yard touchdown to make it 14-0 Falcons. Our only offensive points of the game would come with the transition of first quarter into second quarter with a two-yard run by Glen Coffee for a touchdown and a field goal by Joe Nedney to secure us from being shutout.
With 11:03 left to play in the first half the Atlanta Falcons would add three more offensive touchdowns to their total with another to Roddy White who had 8-of-10 receptions for 210 total yards and two touchdowns against us and two more from running back Michael Turner who had 22 carries for 97 total yards and three rushing touchdowns against a defense that hadn’t allowed one up and until now.
Tight end Delanie Walker muffed a kick with 6:51 left to play in the half that became a fumble that helped set the ball up for Atlanta at our 38-yard line. What was ironic about it was the fact that on instant replay it was not seen as a fumble but because of a timeout called to get Glen Coffee back on the field where he was absent, it was an opportunity with no timeouts remaining for the hapless 49ers. The Falcons completed 5-of-7 third down conversions and had 16 first downs and 35 total points on the scoreboard as the first half came to a conclusion.
Mike’s call to arms when he saw the momentum swinging away from us fell on deaf ears. His stoic stance on the sidelines in the fourth quarter as he sensed the insanity of what was being performed right out in front of him was the most bitter pill he has ever had to swallow. Not even the halftime locker room speech could compel the team to change its ugly ways, the penetration of defeat and submission had already been embedded by a far better and superior team in the Atlanta Falcons.
In a sense this was more of the same of the 2008 San Francisco 49ers that went (7-9) and showed glimpses of improvement but nothing ever concrete. To play anyone outside our division and believe we have the ability to entertain is becoming a new sequel in a drama that is yet to be determined. We just are not that good in relative speaking when you look at the utter meltdown on defense the mediocrity of the offense without Frank Gore and a veteran-like quarterback and a coaching staff unable to reverse a menacing trend that is tainting this personnel to the point that they are only as motivated as they want themselves to be. If you can’t be inspired to play and execute better after your head coach has the compassion to hold you all together in a sense of dramatic time and place and appeal to you to hold your ground what sense does it all make?
Everything that could’ve gone wrong really did go wrong. Mike Singletary and Greg Manusky could not defend against this type of offensive onslaught and were rationally outwitted by the Atlanta Falcons offensive coaching staff. Then as you look at our offense no-one can convince any die-hard 49er fan that Frank Gore is not missed. Glen Coffee was actually out gained in yardage by his very own quarterback in Shaun Hill who had four carries for 53 total yards. Vernon Davis forgot how to run routes the right way all over again as you watched one pass after another leave Shaun’s hand and fall helplessly to the ground where in position Vernon should’ve been.
Shaun Hill struggled mightily with his accuracy on the ball as well, as the Atlanta Falcons were able to make him hurry and applied immense pressure on him to scramble for his very life. So much was evident in his 15-of-38 passes completed for 198 total yards and a mere 45.7 quarterback rating. He incurred three sacks for a loss of 19 total yards and was unable to throw any sort of a touchdown with those statistics. It almost drew a response from the Candlestick crowd to scream for Nate Davis in the fourth quarter when everything was so utterly lost and the continued play of Shaun was so mute.
Beating up on Shaun although easy to do is not my intention. He has a stellar record at home as a quarterback and has led us on many a miracle march into the end zone when the timing has called him to be there. In this particular game though he knew that he was trying to carry the utter weight of the team’s inequities upon his shoulders and was buckling under that weight, this brought about intense frustration and impaired his better sense of judgment on the field. Time and time again I still point to the offensive line as not being dominant at the point of attack while in the trenches as the Atlanta Falcon pass rush was aggressive and well orchestrated in knocking Shaun’s sense of timing out of whack.
As the second half came into the limelight the defensive mishaps continued with 49er cornerback Dre Bly incurring a facemask call the making an interception and showboating while running with it and allowing a Falcon defensive back to catch-up with him and force a fumble to negate his fine turnover. Then safety Dashon Goldson incurred a defensive pass interference call and linebacker Takeo Spikes an unnecessary roughness call to conclude the second half of play. The meltdown simply continued to happen as the compounding of one mistake after another equaled ten more points for the Atlanta Falcon offense and its star quarterback in Matt Ryan who completed 22-of-32 passes for 329 total yards and two touchdowns and a quarterback rating of 110.0 to boot.
On the ground with Michael Turner leading the way, the Falcons put 148 total yards on the turf and three touchdowns into the end zone where no one this year had done thus far. Meanwhile our offense sputtered and spat like an engine on a subzero frozen winter night not wanting to crank over due to the intensity of the cold. It was pathetic in every sense of the word, with even Isaac Bruce not being utilized properly as the downfield threat we needed him to be within the second half.
Mike Singletary referred to lack of preparation as the root cause for this defeat. If that is the case I say cancel the bye week and convene out on the practice field for the full two weeks following a devastating loss like this one. Nothing else seems to be fair. Planned vacations be damned as we marinate in the despair of this destructive loss for two full weeks before we travel to Houston. These next two road games have to spell out what we are after suffering such a loss and it has to be a recognition of our failure in getting back to being what Mike wants us all to be: “Winners.”
The banners and the slogans all over the Bay Area say the same thing. But we have to uphold the value of those words with great deeds and great actions that take place in the classroom and out on the playing field. Mike knows this to be true and it is my hope that we can read that with pride again. Suffering a tragic loss in Minnesota in a game we had won and now a loss in our hometown so immense it destroys the character of who we are and what we have bought into for a philosophy will be very difficult for us to overcome, no matter who is leading us. God be with us all.
Sources of Information: Mercury News.com, SF Gate.com, Inside Bay Area.com, NFL.com and my own personal analysis and opinion.