The dreaded curse at the Edward Jones Dome Stadium in St. Louis has come back to haunt the San Francisco 49ers as they lost in overtime last Sunday in a pivotal battle for control of the Western Division in the National Football Conference. This was a game that was far from similar to the trouncing we inflicted on Kordell Stewart and the Bears in Week One. It was a battle against odds that the 49ers are all too familiar with when competing against the St. Louis Rams on their own turf.

Everyone in the 49er organization had a bead on this game beforehand and understood the importance of this game overall with ramifications on the race to achieving the division crown down the road. Both Dennis Erickson and Jeff Garcia had the right frame of minds in putting the Chicago victory away as the Rams poised a whole different set of problems for them.

“We’ll, I think it just goes to show that we are a team that is very well balanced as far as overall abilities go. We played well on special teams, we did a great job defensively and we did some very positive things offensively,” Jeff Garcia said. “If you are going to win in this league, you have to do it as a group. You have to be good in all facets of the game. We showed that against Chicago, but Chicago is behind us now.”

What all teams must do and each and every athlete on a professional football team is have short-term memory. Sometimes this is more easily said than done considering the complexity of the win or loss, but what coaches have preached and tried to do is erase the past from player’s minds and move ahead forward. With a long season in 16 games one has to ask them that the likelihood of a let down is always prevalent in each and every mind on a team.

“We have a new challenge ahead of us. It is going to be very difficult playing the St. Louis Rams in St. Louis,” Garcia said. “So, I think what we have to do with the Chicago game is to learn from the mistakes that we made. Learn to improve and learn to work on things that are going to make us a better team and then take that to St. Louis.”

With St. Louis taking a thrashing from the New York Giants in Week One in the NFL, by all accounts many a spectator and fan felt that we had a chance to topple a rising dynasty in our very own division. If the Giants could do it and make it look simple why couldn’t we? They had even successfully eradicated the Rams of starting quarterback Kurt Warner as he continues to have problems with his hand in throwing the ball as he had a terrible outing against the Giants.

Here the 49ers had an instant advantage against the St. Louis Rams minus Kurt Warner or did they? Back up quarterback Marc Bulger who replaced Warner as the starter last season due to injuries commanded a record of 6-1 as the starting quarterback for the St. Louis Rams and at many times looked more accurate and calculated than Kurt Warner at any one time last season. So as this game was about to unfold I must say I felt a nausea that came over me somewhat in realizing that Bulger was just that damn good.

“Well, we’ve had a tough time against the Rams over the past four or five years. We were finally able to get a chance to get some of it off our back with a win last year at home. But, playing there has been very difficult for us,” Garcia said.

“So, it is important for us to go out there, hopefully get a good start from the get go and somewhat quiet the crowd down because that will be very important. We understand the environment that we are going into. So, it is going to be important that we try and limit or eliminate mistakes as best as possible and go out there and hopefully play good football right from the beginning. It is going to be important.”

Certainly the emphasis was there on this game right from the very beginning. The concern that Jeff Garcia had for this game was with very good merit as he tried to make all of the people around him to realize that last week’s victory was but a mirage to this game coming up.

In practices held at the Santa Clara complex right before this game Jeff prepared diligently as this game approached. At one time he threw his helmet off from his head to the ground in utter frustration as the play he conducted failed, and he treated the flaw as if it was a cardinal mistake that had just been made in a playoff game.

This is what Jeff Garcia is all about and why he is the undisputed leader of this 49er offense because he shows great intensity and care for the game and is always striving to reach that elevated level of success that is earmarked for every 49er quarterback that comes through here. It is something that sideline coaches are all too familiar in seeing from Jeff the great drive that comes from within himself as he disciplines himself on and off the field with an intensity that rivals some of the great names in 49er history.

“That’s the same thing he’s been doing since he came here in 1999,” offensive coordinator Greg Knapp said. “I used to get worried, I used to say, 'Don’t beat yourself up.’ But that’s just his way of playing the game.”

Dennis Erickson fresh off from a win over the Chicago Bears went into this next contest with a much different look and strategy. Yet many analysts and sports broadcasters see almost no difference from what was the 49er offense of last season to what the 49er offense is this season. Can we honestly say it’s different or is it similar to what we’ve always done? What I have noticed is that the pass plays have increased with the running backs fulfilling that role in a more routine fashion, yet the running game remains a catalyst that the 49ers have stuck with and have again created balance.

“It’s important because it’s within our division. That’s why it’s important, whether you play them the first game or the 16th game; if it’s a division game it’s important,” head coach Dennis Erickson said. “They’ve won it. We won it last year. Obviously they’re the favorites this year, so it’s important. And the other thing is being able to play on the road and have some success on the road for us. There’s no question about it.”

What transpired in the Edward Jones Dome was a 27-24 defeat to the St. Louis Rams and new starting quarterback Marc Bulger who went 25-of-46 for 236 yards with two touchdowns and zero interceptions. In the beginning you would’ve thought that we had the upper hand considering that the Rams offense sputtered and was stopped repeatedly by a determined 49er defense. The 49er defense came on with such intensity that it forced two turnovers just in the first half; the third turnover by the Rams came on a muffed punt that helped Jeff Garcia orchestrate a drive that ended with a Tai Streets touchdown.

However the Rams dished out punishment of their own as they knocked Jeff Garcia out of the game in the first quarter of play with a hit from St. Louis defensive lineman Leonard Little. Jeff was diagnosed immediately with a mild concussion forcing Tim Rattay into the game where he completed 1 of 2 passes for 15 total yards. If that wasn’t enough wide receiver Terrell Owens was knocked out of the game with a mild concussion after being hit by safety Aeneas Williams. Oddly enough Rams quarterback Kurt Warner stared from the Rams sideline with a stronger concussion of his own sustained just a prior week before.

What I saw in regards to the hit on Garcia was a blatant lead with the helmet after the ball was gone. I felt that Little was definitely in the wrong but what he obtained for his efforts was a victory and a smile of validation on his part. Jeff was handing off the ball to running back Kevan Barlow when he sustained the chin jarring hit inflicted by Leonard Little.

“First of all, he hit me after I handed the football off,” Garcia said. “Right there, I think that’s wrong. Secondly, I believe he led with his helmet right underneath my chin. That’s where I felt most of the blow. It definitely becomes worth it to Little as far as getting a victory out of this, but there is the question of a potential fine.” Terrell Owens was diagnosed with what the 49ers described as a stinger and a slight concussion. But he was only on the sidelines but for a few minutes before getting cleared to come back into the game clapping his hands.

I must admit for a while I was in shock to see my starting quarterback and wide receiver sidelined with potentially dangerous injuries and still a whole lot of game left to play against the formidable St. Louis Rams. It was not a pleasant feeling to say the least as curious anti-49er fans watched around me to see what the news was. I can bet all of us fans were feeling the same disillusionment as to what had just transpired right before our eyes.

Meanwhile the 49er offensive line was a patchwork sorts in it as many of the starters looked like a group right out of a MASH unit. Left tackle Derrick Deese, left guard Eric Heitmann and right tackle Scott Gragg were all out of the starting lineup because of nagging ankle injuries. Center Jeremy Newberry and right guard Ron Stone also left the field during the game because of ankle twists.

Regardless of all these injuries the patchwork of back-up linemen held it’s own against a seasoned and determined St. Louis defensive unit. First round draft pick Kwame Harris started in place of Deese, Kyle Kosier started for Gragg and Dwayne Ledford started for Eric Heitmann. This line assisted in the running game by helping the running backs achieve 148 yards rushing in 26 carries (a 5.7-yard average), and Garcia was sacked but one time.

It was a line that was truly beat up, but their teamwork and their intensity for the game was a tribute to what this team can do against adversity. So much is ignored about the offensive line and of course taken for granted, but it is the offensive line that often takes the real definitive hits that cause injury and the technical plays create some self-inflicted injuries of their own.

“I thought, for having three young guys in the game, they battled their tales off,” Garcia said. “They exceeded expectations. They went up against quality defensive ends.”

Not only did the offensive line play well but the playmakers did as well, such as Terrell Owens who forced the overtime issue to begin with in having just 19 seconds left to play in the game with a 13-yard touchdown catch from Jeff Garcia. Again he makes the statement of being able to turn games around with his determination to help keep the team alive in almost any situation as he has done time and time again.

The play that sealed the game was Marshall Faulk who was being covered by none other than linebacker Jamie Winborn, who had the distinct honor of covering the legendary running back throughout the game. Faulk caught a screen pass from Marc Bulger that turned into a 22-yard gain that helped set up the game winning field goal in overtime. Whatever you want to call it though it was opportunities that presented themselves that were not acted upon in time that was the problem.

Right before this overtime play it was the 49ers that came knocking on the door to victory in the fourth quarter with 19 seconds on the clock. With but 9 seconds remaining on a snap to Jeff Garcia out of the shotgun, he scrambled right and threw a 23-yard pass to wide receiver Cedrick Wilson at the Rams 32 yard line. Wilson officially made the catch with four seconds remaining in regulation, but instead of calling a critical timeout that would’ve set up a potential game winning field goal, he kept running.

His running at the stunned masses of 49er fans and to the jubilation of Rams fans made it to the Rams 23 yard line where he finally got tackled at the Rams 26 yard line, and he frantically signaled timeout to no avail. Time had indeed expired with the 49ers dreams of finally winning one in the dreaded Edward Jones Dome Stadium.

Mistakes were plentiful in this game and blame for the loss can be attributed to the entire game and not just on wide receiver Cedrick Wilson contrary to popular belief among some people. First of all we should have buried the Rams in the first half, when the Rams lost three fumbles and were literally booed off the field by their own fans.

More points should have been scored by the 49er offense regardless of the mild concussions suffered in the first quarter. More points were in order for the turnovers that ensued and we didn’t capitalize on them.

Secondly penalties my friends were at an all time high with 13 of them for 121 yards is just unacceptable and a foundation for losing. We have to be better in this area if we are to compete with the heavyweights in our division and others. We also can attribute to the fact that we were minus almost the entire starting offensive line and had to play with all back-ups.

And thirdly and lastly the 49ers began the overtime play by allowing a 42-yard kickoff return, then gave the Rams 15 more yards on a face mask penalty, then got fooled by a crafty Marshall Faulk who split out as a receiver and went 22 more yards to set up the winning field goal.

Was Cedrick Wilson to blame for all this? I don’t think so. Was he wrong at all? Well think about how long he had when the ball entered his hands a mere 4 seconds. In essence he should’ve dropped to one knee and called a timeout, and that would’ve set up a 49-yard field goal attempt by Jeff Chandler, who had already missed a weakly 43-yard field goal prior to this. And in all practicality Wilson had no idea of how much time was left once he had the ball in his hands all he could see was possible end zone. This game should’ve been won long ago instead of pressing the button on overtime.

Overall Game Statistics

The San Francisco 49ers lost this game in overtime 27-24 off from a Jeff Wilkins field goal, but we had some interesting statistics nonetheless. Jeff Garcia went 19-of-35 for 222 yards with two touchdowns and one interception for a quarterback rating of 80.9%. Terrell Owens caught five passes for 42 yards and one touchdown and Tai Streets had four receptions for 53 yards and one touchdown.

Garrison Hearst had 11 carries for 89 yards averaging 8.1 yards per carry with a long carry of 36 yards. Kevan Barlow had 11 carries for 45 yards averaging 4.1 yards per carry with a long of 19 yards and one touchdown.

On the punting unit Bill LaFleur punted six times for 237 yards averaging 39.5 yards per punt with three of those six inside the 20-yard line. Jimmy Williams had three punt returns for 17 yards averaging 5.7 yards per punt. And Arland Bruce on kickoff returns had four for 88 yards averaging 22 yards per carry with a long one of 29 total yards.

The 49ers had one fumble and one interception as well as 13 penalties for 121 total yards. They allowed the Rams on third down efficiency to post 6-for-14 for 43% efficiency. In net yards passing we out passed them with 242 yards to their 190 yards. And of the two field goals that we kicked under Jeff Chandler we made only one of them.

On defense the 49ers accumulated five total sacks with sacks from Julian Peterson, Jeff Ulbrich, Derek Smith, Travis Kirschke and Jamie Winborn. Linebacker Julian Peterson and safety Zack Bronson posted team high seven tackles.

First Quarter Highlights

With 11:49 left to play in the quarter after St. Louis muffed a punt and was recovered by San Francisco at the St. Louis 11 yard line, Jeff Garcia found Tai Streets for a 16 yard touchdown after a false start penalty for the score 7-0. On the very next drive St. Louis struck back driving down to the 49er 11 yard line with Marc Bulger hitting Tory Holt for an 11 yard touchdown making it 7-7. Later in the first quarter Jeff Garcia would suffer a sack from Leonard Little and a concussion.

Second Quarter Highlights

With 8:50 left to play in this quarter the 49ers drive to the St. Louis 18 yard line where Jeff Chandler kicks a 35 yard field goal to make the score 10-7. On the next play Marc Bulger is sacked by Jeff Ulbrich and fumbles the ball with the 49ers recovering.

However as the 49ers drive down to the St. Louis 25-yard line Jeff Chandler misses a 43-yard field goal attempt and nixes the turnover that should’ve yielded crucial points. Penalties and an interception by Jeff Garcia to Terrell Owens mark the second quarter as well as fumbles in which the 49ers are at failure in capitalizing on.

Third Quarter Highlights

On a long St. Louis drive from their own seven yard line Marc Bulger drives the Rams down to the San Francisco two yard line where Marshall Faulk runs right and scores a touchdown making the score 14-10. On the next drive by San Francisco Jeff Garcia drives the 49ers with running back Kevan Barlow being the mainstay and him scoring from 19 yards out to make the score 17-14.

Fourth Quarter Highlights

From the St. Louis 29-yard line Marc Bulger drives the team down to the San Francisco 19-yard line where he connects with D. Looker for a touchdown making the score 21-17. The Rams stop the 49ers and get the ball back only to drive down the field and score again on a Jeff Wilkins 29-yard field goal making it 24-17. With timing as the factor in the fourth quarter Jeff Garcia engineers a drive from the San Francisco 15-yard line and hits Terrell Owens from the St. Louis 13-yard line for a touchdown making it a 24-24 tie.

Overtime Quarter Highlights

After losing a botched timeout with only four seconds to spare after Cedrick Wilson caught the ball and him failing to take a knee and calling the timeout, the 49ers relinquish the ball to the Rams. On Jeff Chandler’s 64-yard kickoff the Rams return it for 42 total yards to the St. Louis 48-yard line.

A costly penalty on Jeff Ulbrich gives the Rams 15 more yards and Marshall Faulk reels off 22 more yards putting them at the 49er 10-yard line. From here Jeff Wilkins makes the 28-yard field goal for the winning score of 27-24 St. Louis Rams.

The mixed bag of reactions from the 49er coaches and players was evident after the game, but the players did not hang their heads in utter defeat. They instead were determined to see the St. Louis Rams again this time on their turf. Opportunities were definitely there in this game and this game should’ve been decided on those but wasn’t. It was a lot of stupid things that we should’ve done and didn’t that cost us this game. It was a game that we fought well but shot ourselves in the foot as well.

If I were to give this game a grade it would be a C solid for effort and starting the game with a rag tag offensive line that stood up well in the face of adversity. Penalties and turnovers killed our chances at triumph in this contest. Lessons were definite in this game all the way around the board including clock management.

“It’s a very disappointing loss when you come back like that and have an opportunity and end up losing against a good football team,” said 49ers coach Dennis Erickson, whose team is 1-1. “They’re a good football team here, and we had a chance and didn’t get it quite done. We didn’t make the plays when we had to.”

Said 49ers linebacker Jeff Ulbrich: “It’s easy to say that we lost because of their filed goal in overtime, but the reality is that we had a chance to do the little things throughout, and we just didn’t get it done. Hopefully, this loss will make us hungrier and stronger.”

I must concede I agree with you Jeff. I feel this loss will ignite a new inner drive within our coaches and our players to get the job done next time. St. Louis is already earmarked on the calendar as a must win when they come around, that is a given to say the least.

The division must be won and we must dictate those terms to all of our opponents. Health and execution become paramount on this team like never before as we look ahead, and finding patience and compassion for effort must be a steady diet we all take part in.