Article Title: Katrina Ghosts Terrorize 49ers.
Inside the Louisiana Superdome in the still ravaged city of New Orleans the San Francisco 49ers embarked on a mission to turn the 2006 season around by becoming legitimate playoff contenders. What they received instead was a New Orleans Saints team turned New Orleans Demons that highlighted various players in need of an exorcism as they terrorized the living daylights out of us in each and every quarter.
As the levees broke open for Hurricane Katrina that literally washed the city away so did the Saints turned demons that ravaged us on both sides of the ball. The 2006 San Francisco 49ers showing so much promise as of late were relegated to what they bore as an identity in their darkest of hours this season not long ago.
The San Francisco 49ers under Mike Nolan had a game plan that went absolutely nowhere due to various facts and turnovers that proved too costly to ultimately overcome. We did not execute or play well as a collective unit according to his analysis and with that I will comply that as being a correct analysis.
At the same time looking at the multiple flaws orchestrated by us offensively and defensively it leaves me to ponder and to wonder if we will ever get over the many hurdles and humps we have thrown in front of us on our very own. We are our own worst enemy in every sense of the word.
We are a young and still developing team, one that has made progress from where we were at back just over a season ago. Mike Nolan is still the ultimate coach for this club and will in time take us to the promise land. I still believe that, but the timeline is waning and weakening each and every time we play from one game to the next.
A distinct contradiction I’m sure you’re thinking. But think of it as being able to find the right parts that fit and make the engine in your car run correctly and with a vibrant energy that even conserves fuel.
That is exactly where we are at in our development process right now; with finding the right personnel and coaching that personnel to play minimal mistake football with and adaptation to overcoming extreme adversity at the same time on a more consistent basis.
In the beginning the 49ers within the first quarter looked like they would be competitive with both teams struggling to find their offensive identity in this game. The 49ers even confused the New Orleans Saints by implementing the 3-4 conversions in the defensive alignment to maximize the pass coverage and force veteran quarterback Drew Brees hand off the ball rather than be as pass happy, as he has been.
As the New Orleans Saints became wounded in their passing game the emphasis increasingly started to revert towards their ultimate duo in running backs Deuce McAllister and first round pick Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush. It would be a day for both of them to remember as they ran and caught the ball as two players possessed with an inexplicable demon that assisted them with pure adrenaline execution.
The 49ers under Alex Smith drove down the field in a successful series of plays with 6:18 left in the first quarter to make it 3-0 49ers off Joe Nedney’s 29-yard field goal. But at the very beginning of the second quarter on a dynamic kick-return to the Saints 48-yard line Drew Brees fed the ball to Deuce and Reggie with Reggie crashing into the end zone from 1-yard out to score 7-3 Saints.
Inside the first half we looked anemic and pathetic, as we were unable to do anything of real substance on both sides of the ball. Like right out of a storybook novel back in our game against the St. Louis Rams, the New Orleans Saints faced a fourth-and-one call at the 49er 48-yard line.
This happened with 4:33 left in the first half. It was a gutsy call by New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton if I ever saw one. Already up by 7-3 he chose to instill some hardcore confidence in his offense by going for it on fourth down.
“I thought we needed something at the time,” Payton said. “It was a short one. I felt confident enough about how we were playing on defense. It thought it was one those opportunities to where we could keep the drive going. I just trusted my gut instincts in that situation.”
And it was a great call that netted them another first down of 11 in that first half to our four we had only been able to produce. It was one of many game-changing calls I remember in this game, as being one that touched a sensitive note on my mind remembering when we faced that situation in St. Louis.
Deuce McAllister crashed through for three yards and a first down. With 3:48 left in the first half the Saints drove down the field literally unopposed and handed the ball again to Reggie Bush from eight yards out to collect yet another touchdown to make it 14-3 Saints.
This was a drive built off from the confidence the head coach had in his offense to deliver and in his defense that so far had managed the 49er offense to just three points in the half. The New Orleans Saints had netted 167 total yards just in the first half opposed to the 73 yards the 49ers had tallied.
Alex Smith who was 14-of-28 for 171 yards with one touchdown was under constant pressure and had little time to identify and select his targets. His throws were often inaccurate and poorly timed. He was sacked four times for a loss of 26 total yards and intercepted three times that proved catastrophic.
It was certainly not a very good day for Alex. The offensive line was blatantly ineffective in providing him protection, again referring to right tackle Kwame Harris that the masses of 49er faithful agree is a major contributor to pressure on a consistent basis. His lack of ability to fend of an onrushing attack is clearly a consistent problem that this coaching staff is turning a blind eye to and a deaf ear as well.
Certainly game film illustrates the flaws in his stance and technique that show his weaknesses on a weekly basis as reasons enough to sit him down and start someone capable as Adam Snyder.
But yet again the injury bug has bitten, and that has been Adam Snyder. Still someone like Tony Wragge a proven journeyman of an offensive lineman or even long lost David Baas could be acceptable fill-ins.
Left tackle Jonas Jennings didn’t have all that a good game as well as he was bitten and beaten on a number of plays. Playing alongside Larry Allen you’d expect a veteran savvy presence to be identified on that side of the line and not have to worry, but that wasn’t the case in this game.
Frank Gore was successfully contained throughout this game because of the lack of effort attributed to this offensive line. We faced eight men in the box the same as we’d had in many games before knowing that our run game was our trump card.
Not this time, as the New Orleans Saints front line proved too daunting and intimidating to our offensive linemen in the trenches. In fact Frank Gore had only 13 carries for 40 yards averaging 3.1 yards a carry. His opportunities were diminished as Mike Nolan admitted to because of our sense of judgment to pass the ball knowing they would stack the line of scrimmage.
Pass play after pass play proved to be costly and sometimes fatal as wide receivers didn’t run their routes right, dropped passes and not only had to fight tight coverage but the officials in this game as well. Turnovers resulted and botched calls added up to sink any kind of hope we had in turning the tide on this game.
As for the San Francisco 49er defense elevated in recent weeks to a sense of confidence in their ability to shutdown an opponent, their game plan was to take away the receiving weapons that Drew Brees had at his disposal only to be raped and pillaged at the hands of Deuce McAllister and Reggie Bush.
The only bright offensive drive for the 49ers happened as the second half broke in with Alex Smith finding Antonio Bryant with 11:00 in the third quarter for a 48-yard touchdown that made it 14-10 Saints.
The next call by Mike Nolan to go for an onside kick was gutsy as well. It proved to be successful with Michael Robinson recovering it and taking it away from the Saints. But on the first play of the drive following the onside kick Alex Smith went deep from the 49er 41 yard line and was intercepted by Saints defensive back Mike McKenzie which was fumbled and recovered by Vernon Davis.
But upon a challenge by the Saints it was reversed and the Saints were encamped on our own six-yard line where our defense did hold them to a field goal for a score of 17-10 Saints. With 6:41 in the third quarter the New Orleans Saints under Drew Brees attacked again by driving 67 yards assisted with two defensive penalties on Keith Lewis for facemask and Anthony Adams for holding, on a five yard pass to Reggie Bush for a touchdown to make it 24-10 Saints.
Our rush defense was non-existent as this game wore onward. Deuce McAllister had 26 carries for 136 yards averaging 5.2 yards a carry. Reggie Bush had 10 carries for 37 yards but more importantly near the end zone for three touchdowns. He was even more dangerous on nine receptions for 131 yards with a long scamper for 74 total yards and one more touchdown.
So in other words they rammed the ball right down our throats in every literal sense of the word. Opportunities did present themselves from time to time in the second half for us to turn the tide. But we never capitalized on those and allowed the Saints to hang around far too long on the field because our offense couldn’t.
In the start of the fourth quarter from the Saints nine-yard line Drew Brees drove the team down to the 49er 10-yard line where Reggie Bush went around the left end to score another touchdown to make it 31-10 Saints.
With 2:36 left in the game the Saints again drove down the field from their 30-yard line to score on a Joe Carney 33-yard field goal that sealed our fate 34-10. Earlier in the fourth quarter Alex Smith was again picked off by Saints defensive back Mike McKenzie and then by Jason Bullocks to end the game on desperation throw.
What I saw from Alex Smith didn’t impress me either though. On KNBR sports radio in the Bay Area during the Mike Nolan Show, he was asked about Alex Smith’s performance and his ability to go from managing a game to being able to win a game. It was interesting to hear that Mike didn’t really know how to answer it.
He diverted attention away from Alex as indicating that they lost the game as a collective unit. And that justifiably he had little time to set his feet and throw the ball as he wished he could’ve. But there comes a time as asked when a quarterback has to take that next step in his development and try and win the game based upon his abilities and talents.
Alex Smith is still trying to find his where Reggie Bush had his breakout NFL game right here at our expense. Both teammates from the same high school yet Bush so further ahead it seems of Alex his former quarterback.
Our passing game is definitely a clear weakness and all of our opposition knows it and dares Alex to make plays by taking away Frank Gore. Can we win a game without Frank Gore? I would be challenged to answer this question in all honesty. No Frank doesn’t win all games for us individually by himself, but he is the primary offensive battering ram that makes victories happen more so than not.
“As part of everyone’s maturity, there are bad days that you hope you can learn from,” said Nolan. “Not everybody performs at their highest level in their second year as a quarterback in the NFL. Week in and week out there is a growth and a maturity that goes with them and the difficulty this year is different from last year. Last year his surrounding cast made it more difficult for him to do things. This year the cast is upgraded, but you have to keep your expectations in check. The best definition that I can give you is that it was collective.”
Again collective, it seems Alex Smith still has a lot of more growing to do. It is the surrounding cast that makes the difference and the offensive line needs an injection of pure toughness to make sure it stands together as a collective unit rather than showing its cracks between Kwame Harris and Jonas Jennings who doesn’t perform well if he has something as minor as a hangnail.
We have to execute and we have to be accountable. Playoffs shouldn’t even be on the format of what we do from here on out. Concentrate on winning and winning consistently by fielding a team that has that attitude and mentality to go out and get the job done without turning the ball over.
With Green Bay in our sights and Monster Park a friendly place to relax in, I can only hope and wish for better days ahead. And even Mike Nolan came to a conclusion with his players, and that was a little dreaming is acceptable.