Defeat our new best friend
October 15, 2003 at 12:00 AM
The drama that unfolded in Seattle where Dennis Erickson began his NFL career and Terrell Owens pulled a Sharpie marker from his ankle and signed a football in the end zone was not one of triumph like all of us hoped it would be. Rather it was the same old song and dance we have suddenly and reluctantly become accustomed to and that is being defeated due to a variety of reasons.
The West Coast Offense does not look at all the same as it was under Steve Mariucci and George Seifert. Instead Dennis Erickson continues to struggle in understanding its ideology and its principle fundamentals. If I were Bill Walsh I would be enraged at what has happened to his treasured invention that has been a staple in the National Football League since its indoctrination, and used by more than half of all the teams in one form or another still today.
Signs of promise arose from the ashes of the narrow victory over the Detroit Lions one week prior to meeting the Seahawks in Seattle. Terrell Owens seemed primed for a repeat showdown against a better Seattle Seahawk team that now stands alone on top of the division and Dennis Erickson had finally managed a victory after three horrible losses that have kept 49er fans up all night wondering why?
Other good news filtered in as the match-up between the San Francisco 49ers and the Seattle Seahawks loomed closer. We had to prove that we could stand toe to toe with the division leader and we had our offensive line returning all in tact healthy for the very first time. We had just enough in most of our minds that we could pull a victory off and reach the .500 mark and at the same time carry a win in our pocket over the best team in our division at the present.
“It is significant,” said Gragg, of the return of Eric Heitmann. “It’s great to have the linemen all back in the huddle, and good to have that familiarity.”
This was something that was so essential to getting back to winning and providing Jeff Garcia the maximum protection that he needed to make plays. It has been the offensive line that has been responsible for the beatings that Jeff has suddenly had to endure like a rookie quarterback behind a brand new inexperienced line.
It has been the offensive line that has squandered the running game and not been able to dominate at the line of scrimmage in providing key blocking and opening running lanes for our running backs. It has been the offensive line in almost every scenario possible that has contributed to our overall record, but has also been other factors as well.
Injuries for number one have ravaged the offensive line to the core, much like injuries did to our secondary last year. All of our linemen have incurred injury in one form or another and all continue to play despite their pain because that’s what is expected of an offensive lineman in the NFL. Grinning and bearing whatever is necessary to help the team win the game is their sworn allegiance and playing in extraordinary pain is but just another day for them.
Inexperience on the line has also contributed to the San Francisco record. With our entire left side in Derrick Deese and Eric Heitmann out including the Seattle game in which both had to leave the game due to injuring their old injuries yet again. The left side has been a side full of weakness that opponents have attacked relentlessly with great success and finding Jeff Garcia with relative ease and planting him on his back.
First round draft pick Kwame Harris and second-year lineman Kyle Kosier have struggled to defend against some of the league’s best pass rushers and have had tremendous trouble in managing the blitz from their side. It has almost become a feeding frenzy of sharks with quarterback Jeff Garcia being the bait that they all are competing to get to first. Jeff has been rattled severely like a pinball machine gone bonkers over the last couple of weeks and his overall health has retreated as a result.
Jeff started the season in question because of his bulging disk in his back through training camp and the pre-season games that he was forced to sit out. Then just a few weeks later he incurred a mild groin strain and just recently in the game against the Detroit Lions in Candlestick Park he suffered a bruised right forearm that had to be heavily padded for the game against Seattle.
The Seattle Seahawks defeated us 20-19 last Sunday night on ESPN before the entire world. They did it because they are the better team at this time and have carved a notch out of the Western Division and plan on keeping that notch for the remainder of the season. How did we lose yet another close game? It was because of a variety of things that all could have been avoided and just plain executed better.
Just when you thought that our kicking woes were behind us with the firing of Jeff Chandler as our starting kicker and the hiring of Owen Pochman you were wrong. Because it was in this instance that we could have won or at least tied the game when punter Bill Lafleur mishandled a Brian Jennings snap. Although LaFleur just managed to get the ball down, Pochman had to hesitate in his approach and the kick went wide right.
Owen Pochman did fail to get the ball between the uprights but not because of any fault of his own, but to the fault of our much-maligned punter in Bill LaFleur in gaining control of the ball after the snap and placing it correctly so that the extra point could’ve been accomplished.
It was a scene that I went crazy on knowing much like all of you that saw this game that the point would come back to haunt us in this game. And it did just that because even with a field goal that made the score 19-17 midway through the fourth quarter, the Seattle Seahawks had enough time left to kick a field goal of their own to make it 20-19 and win the game outright.
Even before this dramatic realization though we seemed destined to lose this game right from the very beginning when in the first half we trailed the Seahawks 17-3 and looked utterly pathetic in anything offensive that we tried to accomplish. The offensive line was devastated and plundered time and time again as the Seattle Seahawk defense under Ray Rhodes fed on putting Jeff Garcia on his back and scrambling for his very life as they brought heat from all directions.
Overall Game Statistics
Total first downs by the San Francisco 49ers in the first half were six compared to 14 by the Seattle Seahawks. On third down efficiency we ranked in at 17% going 1-for-6 and the Seahawks 63% going 5-for-8. Jeff Garcia was under constant and endless harassment from the Seahawk defensive front and secondary, he was put in hopeless situations as the offensive line crumbled before his eyes time and time again.
Both Derrick Deese and Eric Heitmann left the game due to injuries yet again and inexperienced Kwame Harris and Kyle Kosier manned the left side. Jeff completed 16 of 27 passes for 168 yards and zero touchdowns with a quarterback rating of 77.4%. His longest pass of the night was for 29 total yards as he continues to struggle in finding receivers down the field for long yardage.
Terrell Owens proved to be a bust when he dropped three balls thrown to him at various times throughout the night and had a measly four receptions for 36-yards. The Seattle Seahawk secondary kept Terrell Owens double-teamed throughout the evening and effectively took him away with assistance as Owens was a weakness all by himself in not holding on to the ball.
It measures right up there in evaluating rather we should resign Terrell Owens when in so many instances he has been thrown to and he mismanages the ball on too many occasions. He is paid to be a star wide receiver and paid to make plays that is the bottom line, when he fails to do this questions have to arise as to rather he is really worth paying the price to or not.
Owens is a great receiver don’t get me wrong and he has been all the difference in the world in deciding ball games, but he has equally been as disappointing in contributing to losing ball games as well.
Tai Streets generated some interest in the game as Terrell Owens proved ineffective, he had five receptions for 77-yards and Cedrick Wilson had four receptions for 35-yards. Tony Parrish had a key interception on Seattle quarterback Matt Hasselback in the third quarter, which assisted in Jeff Garcia scoring a bootleg touchdown in the third quarter.
On the punting unit Bill LaFleur had five punts that averaged 37.5-yards per punt and a long one of 41-yards. On punt returns Jimmy Williams had two for an average of 4.5-yards and Arnaz Battle had kick return duties for four of them averaging 18-yards per carry.
In the running game Garrison Hearst had 16 carries for 62-yards averaging 3.9-yards per carry and one touchdown. However He had a costly fumble late in the fourth quarter that killed a comeback drive that may have been a factor in deciding the game. Kevan Barlow had nine carries for 40-yards averaging 4.4-yard per carry and as a whole the 49ers had 111-yards of just rushing.
With a second half resurgence the San Francisco 49ers managed 19 first downs compared to 21 for Seattle and had a third down efficiency of 42% compared to Seattle’s 53%. The San Francisco offense managed 261-yards of offense compared to Seattle’s 333-yards.
On penalties the San Francisco 49ers actually had less than Seattle with six for 33-yards and Seattle having eight for 105-yards. In the red zone we had moderate success with a 50% scoring ratio and Seattle was held to 25%.
On defense we played hard yet again and Jim Mora Jr. deserves all the credit as he gets his units up and ready to play almost every week. We had four sacks on Matt Hasselback with sacks coming from Julian Peterson, Travis Kirschke, Andre Carter and Sean Moran.
However the Seattle Seahawks had four too many sacks of their own and generated quarterback pressure through the entirety of the game. Jeff Garcia did the best he could with what was presented to him in most cases and protection was upgraded with Garrison Hearst and Fred Beasley staying in to provide security against blitzes.
“You miss an extra point, and it becomes a one-point game all the time, and that’s basically what happened,” 49ers Coach Dennis Erickson said. “Obviously a field goal beats you.”
The botched placement of the ball was very unfortunate to the 49ers and Bill LaFleur carries the blame for that incident. It is a clear indication of important it is to execute soundly when playing in today’s NFL. Where every single point counts more than ever in a league that is equally balanced across the board by way of the salary cap.
“No matter where it’s at, If I touch it, I’ve got to get it down,” LaFleur said. “That’s my unit. That’s my job, so I’ve got to get that done. I didn’t get it done that time. It was just one of those deals. There’s no excuse.”
On top of all that the 49ers didn’t score but a field goal in the first half and struggled to find any offensive chemistry throughout the game. More points would’ve made this failed extra point a mute subject. A subject that would not be such an issue if the 49er offensive unit had made points happen and execute to a beat that the Seahawks could never blunt.
On the opening series of the game left guard Eric Heitmann left the game after injuring the sprained right ankle yet again, and later in the first quarter Derrick Deese twisted his right ankle in a pileup and had to be removed from the game as well. This helped set up the defensive onslaught that targeted Jeff Garcia throughout the game.
“It’s extremely frustrating,” said Heitmann, who played hurt sporadically and later told coaches he was available in an emergency. “We were definitely looking forward to having everybody back this week. It’s tough to see guys go down like they did tonight, but you know, all we can do is bounce back and just get ready for next week, get ready for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.”
What did happen as the game wore on was that the offensive line started to gel a bit and come together in getting protection for Jeff Garcia after a relentless first half. Long time pass rusher John Randle was able to bull rush second-year veteran Kyle Kosier on one play and put Jeff Garcia on his back in the second quarter.
The San Francisco 49ers had one last chance with 3:04 left to play in the game and had all of their timeouts remaining. It was a chance that the 49ers could’ve made the best of as they had so many times before, but it was not meant to be.
On the first play after the two-minute warning, Garrison Hearst took a handoff and bolted up the middle. Seattle Seahawks linebacker Chad Brown took a desperation swipe as the running back blew by and jarred the ball loose. A Seattle safety recovered the ball and the 49ers never saw the ball again after that, because the Seahawks made two more first downs to chew up the clock.
First Quarter Highlights
On the first drive of the game the San Francisco 49ers start from their 31-yard line and drive all the way down to the Seattle 19-yard line where they stall, being assisted on an unnecessary roughness penalty on Seattle safety Ken Hamlin. Owen Pochman attempts a 38-yard field goal that fails and goes wide right and Seattle takes over the ball.
From the San Francisco 28-yard line the Seahawks drive all the way down to the 49er 15-yard line where Matt Hasselback connects with tight end I. Mili in the end zone with some help with a defensive holding penalty on San Francisco. This makes the score 7-0 Seahawks and San Francisco gets the ball back.
The time of possession in this quarter says it all with the 49ers having the ball for 4:31 and the Seahawks 10:29. Both quarterbacks are sacked on their last drives of the quarter effectively ending that quarter, but Seattle drives down to the 49er 9-yard line at the end of it.
Second Quarter Highlights
From the 49er 9-yard line the Seattle Seahawks kick a 27-yard field goal that makes the score 10-0 Seahawks. On the 49er opening drive Jeff Garcia is again sacked and again on the second drive of the quarter. Seattle on their second drive though from their 38-yard line drive all the way down to the San Francisco 21-yard line and Matt Hasselback hits fullback Matt Strong with a 21-yard touchdown that makes it 17-0 Seahawks.
On San Francisco’s last drive of the half after being pounded into submission, Jeff Garcia starts from the 49er 30-yard line and drives the team down to the Seattle 24-yard line where Owen Pochman kicks a 47-yard field goal to make it 17-3 Seahawks.
Time of possession actually looks better with the 49ers having 6:46 to the Seahawks 8:14 in this quarter. The field goal by the 49ers lifts the hopes that at least they have points on the board going into their locker rooms.
Third Quarter Highlights
On San Francisco’s first drive in the second half with great field position on the Seattle 48-yard line, Jeff drives down to the 6-yard line where Garrison Hearst runs it up the middle for a 6-yard touchdown making it 17-10 Seahawks with assistance on a penalty against Seattle for un-sportsmanlike conduct.
Matt Hasselback is sacked on the next drive and on their third drive of the quarter Matt throws an interception intended for Bobby Engram that is snatched by 49er safety Tony Parrish on the Seattle 12-yard line and brought back to the Seattle 34-yard line.
From here Jeff Garcia drives down to the Seattle 2-yard line where he brings it in on a 2-yard touchdown. But on the extra point conversion Bill LaFleur mishandles the catch and it is kicked wide right marking a turning point in the game.
Fourth Quarter Highlights
On San Francisco’s first drive of the quarter Jeff starts from their 40-yard line and drives down to the Seattle 15-yard line where Owen Pochman kicks a 33-yard field goal that makes it 19-17 San Francisco for the first time. But on the next drive by Matt Hasselback he drives his team down to the 49er 19-yard line where they kick a 37-yard field goal to make it 20-19 despite a sack on Hasselback .
With 2:57 left to play the 49ers begin their last drive down by one point to try and win the game. They make it down to their 43-yard line right after the two minute warning has sounded and Garrison Hearst gets the ball and runs up the middle and fumbles the ball after it get stripped from his grasp. The ball of course is recovered by Seahawk linebacker Chad Brown, which effectively kills any last hope the 49ers have of coming back.
The Seattle Seahawks run down the clock after completing two first downs that signals the end of the game and the all the mistakes and the inability to score touchdowns in the red zone comes back to nip us in the bud.
Overall Game Analysis
Right from the start the San Francisco 49ers experienced a defense that is vastly improved under Ray Rhodes from last season. In fact it is the Seattle defense that is steering that ship as we know it and helping the offense win games. Pressure and sacks on Jeff Garcia were relentless in the first half and never ceased until the second half when the line finally adjusted and found the right balance it needed to counter.
The line adjustments were significant in that they allowed the 49er offense to get back on track and to come from behind even taking the lead at one point in the second half. Costly blunders from Bill LaFleur’s mishandling of the ball to Garrison Hearst’s last-ditch drive fumble in the waning of the fourth quarter, ultimately sealed our fate in Seattle.
Injuries are a huge part in our demise I will attest to that and the inability of the offensive line to gel together is a key issue. Depth on the offensive line is something this team has always taken for granted, instead drafting players for defense has always been the mainstay of this team. Now it is time to reverse that trend as soon as possible as glaring weaknesses in the depth on the line is revealed.
Terrell Owens not stepping up is also a huge factor in our loss this past Sunday as the big plays never transpired as they were supposed to when the ball was thrown his way. Dropping three passes for positive yardage is just one too many in my eyes, especially from a self-acclaimed superstar as he refers to himself.
Not being able to define a true running game is also a weakness that continues to plague the team as neither Garrison Hearst or Kevan Barlow are experiencing real success because the line is injured and not executing as well as it needs to. Blocks are not happening like they used to and both running backs are seeing defensive tackles and ends tackling them from behind the line of scrimmage.
Being without veteran tight end Eric Johnson is another weakness that is starting to grip this team as we move on in the season. Jed Weaver is not of the same caliber as an Eric Johnson and it taking away a potential target in the middle of the field that this team needs to be effective.
“We’ve got to find a way to win,” Erickson said. “We’ve lost three close football games. Bottom line, we have to find a way to frickin’ win. We’re frickin’ in a tough hole now. Two and four and we have these guys coming in.”
Regardless of how you look at it 2-4 is a tough margin to come back from and be known as an elite team. Plenty of players still have fight left in them but injuries and depth seem to be the bottom line cancer that this team is enduring. Play calling and coaching are also questionable in my opinion, as I’ve seen little to nothing in the category of effort on Dennis Erickson’s behalf.
You have to believe that coaching is at east some of the problem. The 49ers aren’t running a true by the book West Coast offense that’s for sure. And is that a bad thing? Well it if that is what your system has always been under previous regimes with this franchise. Dennis Erickson has done little to ignite his players and has done little to try and create better play calling on the field by being more involved.
We all know where we are in the standings, and we all know what lies ahead and that is the World Super Bowl Champions coming into town. Somehow someway we have to play a great game against these guys, and that will be a challenge like never before to Dennis Erickson. Here we’ll see his true merit and true grit as a coach going up against probably the best in the business in John Gruden.
May the good Lord be with us on this coming Sunday because we’ll need that and more. A win would be a tremendous feather in our cap after losing to division leading Seattle. Expectations are still high among most 49er fans but defeat has loomed far too many times for us to be even remotely comfortable.
Every player must be on the same page including the coaches that teach on almost every given day. I hope that the atmosphere in and around Santa Clara is still a positive place to show up and practice in. I hope that we’ll somehow rise above the ashes of defeat and make a run at .500 soon.
The views within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.
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