Article Title: The only statistic that matters.
The optimism was so intense you could just sense it as you sat either inside Candlestick Park and or the comfort of your own living room. After all we had the new young bright character of quarterback J.T. O’Sullivan to lean on and a high powered Mike Martz offense that had churned more total yards in the pre-season then the entire 2007 regular season of yesterday. We had legitimate reason for hope finally or did we?
Boom! The Arizona Cardinals whom we had defeated twice in 2007 dealt a catastrophic blow to that new home-grown optimism by casting an ugly cloud storm of pessimism by defeating us handedly 23-13 with long time nemesis quarterback Kurt Warner at the controls. Warner was as magical as the Great Houdini in that he literally escaped multiple setbacks by orchestrating absolute precise timing on his last minute throws to open targets with masses of 49er humanity literally in his face.
Although the game is over and the memory depressing, one has to look at this as a hard fought battle right on up till the very end. Warner came into Candlestick (7-1) as a career record against the San Francisco 49ers mostly of course as the Mike Martz mad scientist project and played as though he was a Super Bowl quarterback all over again.
Warner completed 19-of-30 passes for 197 total yards and had one touchdown to Larry Fitzgerald. He was sacked three times for a loss of 21 total yards and left the game with a 93.3 quarterback rating. On the others side San Francisco 49er quarterback J. T. O’Sullivan completed 14-of-20 passes for 195 total yards with one interception thrown to Adrian Wilson that was returned for 28 total yards. He was sacked four times for 12 total yards and left the game with an 80.2 quarterback rating.
Mike Nolan said it best at the beginning of his post game news conference when he said: “The only statistic that matters is winning. Without a win statistics don’t matter at all.” Lord knows that is the absolute truth in a nutshell with the 49er faithful. We are exhausted of being on the losing end of the spectrum season in and season out. Mike Nolan understands and realizes this more than anyone by now. Now he is in a situation that he cannot hide behind and long time friend General Manager Scot McCloughan is facing some pretty unpleasant choices should the present situation sustain itself.
The first half as all of us know was a scratch and claw battle that resulted in a 10-10 tie where we lost the ball four times to a Frank Gore fumble, a Zak Keasey fumble and then a J.T. O’Sullivan interception and fumble as well. 49er linebacker Takeo Spikes would lend the fifth turnover on a muffed kick return that sent 49er fans into a depressed frenzy. Despite the hopelessness as it materialized during the first half we moved the ball well with eight first downs and 219 total net yards of offense.
Frank Gore’s 41-yard touchdown run was the most brilliant light during the entire game. Once he broke free he saw pay dirt and was off and running to all of our immense excitement. Arizona tested J.T. O’Sullivan with multiple defensive spectrums where pressure was coming in all sorts of directions, yet he seemed composed and confident in his reads and timing of his throws, despite that one interception where he was caught red handed by Adrian Wilson.
49er wide receiver Bryant Johnson the former teammate of Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin took them to school with three catches for 48 total yards the long one most remembered as a 31-yarder that caught my eye. Johnson more then proved he is capable of being the perfect compliment to both Isaac Bruce who wasn’t thrown to all night and Arnaz Battle who had only one reception inside that game. As far as the reality check the passing game was, at least it was an ever present threat despite the loss versus last season’s mentality of Frank Gore being the bleeding mule so to speak scenario.
Defensively the 49ers looked the part of becoming one of the league’s elite especially in the first half where despite the doom and gloom of bad field position and countless turnovers they kept the team within the game believing that momentum could swing our way with enough plays that proved to have some substance in allowing us some hope.
Within the second half though our third down defense simply dug a grave and died. It was really that pathetic as the Arizona offensive line totally dominated that series from beginning to end within the second half of play.
The Ray McDonald roughing the passer penalty was anything but that from an obvious standpoint. Again the same voodoo doll by way of the NFL officials seems to be in play with an “SF,” logo on it. This is certainly starting to be beyond the coincidence stage. After the first half though that defensive manipulation suddenly and quietly came to an abrupt end as the Arizona Cardinal high-powered offense on the arms of Kurt Warner and the legs of Edgerrin James manufactured 45 offensive plays to our mere 15 and time of possession swung overwhelmingly in their collective favor with 37:05 for the Cardinals and just 22:05 for the 49ers.
There was one Arizona drive in the second half that lasted well over 10 total minutes. Field position was also a very real issue with the Cardinals starting out on an average at the 48-yard line with ours being only at the 20. The second half also became the feared Anquan Boldin show who was almost unstoppable as he manufactured eight receptions for 82 total yards with no one close enough man on man to make any kind of legitimate threat to him.
The San Francisco 49er offensive line played average at best. We were not dominant enough in protecting J.T. O’Sullivan as he was sacked for four times, one that I most remembered was the sack he took because of right tackle Jonas Jennings getting clearly beaten. Center Eric Heitmann had to leave briefly due to a superficial injury with Tony Wragge sliding over to resume his duties, but clearly the running game flourished to a certain extent in that we had 108 total yards on the ground for a 5.4 yard average.
Pass protection must be there for us to sustain offensive drives. Without it we lose the ability to maintain time of possession as this is what the Arizona Cardinal offensive line did to us in the second half. Our defense without a Bryant Young wore completely down in the second half and allowed momentum to build for the Cardinal offensive juggernaut.
Concerted efforts by way of pass rush specialists Parys Haralson and Roderick Green failed to dent the armor around Kurt Warner including his mental awareness of what he had to do to keep the ball in play. I was amazed at his poise and form on the field and the way he held true to his reads and ability to make plays while under intense adversity.
I also want to credit J.T. O’Sullivan because I truly believe that this game would have had a much uglier ending had Alex Smith been our starting quarterback. When you think about the weaknesses he has with ball hesitation and accuracy of his intended throws on target whether it be the long ball or even intermediate passes this game without a doubt would’ve been a massacre. Alex Smith has earned a one way ticket out of San Francisco at enormous expense to its utter foundation and its very loyal fan base.
J.T. O’Sullivan for now is who we need to embrace and to believe in with all our hearts. He has charisma, movement and mental stability. He has the keen awareness of where his receivers will be and is a master thus far of the Mike Martz offense. He will still make mistakes as highlighted by the facts of this game and those earlier in pre-season. But he will give us the very best chance at winning, to me that is all that matters.
The weapons of opportunity are all there. We have so many that have yet to be utilized to their fullest potential. I believe Mike Nolan when he still says that this is a better football team than last year. I do believe that. The evidence in salaries is there. The free agent acquisitions are there to lead via experience and the youth movement by way of successful drafts continues to pile on the depth we see in Dashon Goldson and Vernon Davis.
Winning is all that matters. Something we still are unaccustomed to. Can the Mike Martz offense right itself with this unproven underdog of a quarterback? Can our defense play hardball through four quarters of play and never let up? Will Isaac Bruce be a factor at all and catch multiple touchdowns something we haven’t had since Terrell Owens left? Will Justin Smith replicate what Bryant Young did for this team? What will it take for the offensive line to mesh and provide adequate pass protection? Can anyone that wears stripes and calls themselves an NFL official give us a legitimate reason why they hate us so much?
All questions without a true ending thus far. Our trip to Seattle to battle a wounded division rival will not be an easy one. Ball security must be a foregone conclusion once and for all if we are to change the ultimate statistic in any sense at all. Mike Nolan knows it. We know it. Our enemies know it. But does the collective team know it? Actions always speak louder than words. Let’s put it up or shut up folks.
Sources of Information: Mercury News.com, SF Gate.com, Inside Bay Area.com, NFL.com and my own personal analysis and opinion.