November 26, 2003 at 12:00 AM
The signs were all there as we left Monday Night Football and still remembered Kevan Barlow’s 78-yard run for a touchdown against the Pittsburgh Steelers and as we watched back-up quarterback Tim Rattay throw for 254-yards and two touchdowns and went untouched for sacks in that well televised game.
It was here that the San Francisco 49ers were supposed to begin their long awaited march back into playoff contention as we prepared to board flight to Lambeau Field and face an arch nemesis like the Green Bay Packers.
For two straight games we did everything right and we proved to the football world that even with injuries and even with an unproven and untested back-up quarterback that we were in this race for real. Every sign pointed in that direction from the offense that had seemed to replenish itself after the bye week by getting healthier to the defense being one of the best we have seen since our last march to the Super Bowl.
The San Francisco offense led by Tim Rattay out of Louisiana Tech marched to a different drummer so to speak and put points on the board. Pinpoint accuracy and beautiful spirals on the ball as it spun from his fingertips is what I witnessed and so many thousands of other football fans did as well. He had proven himself beyond a shadow of a doubt to the extent that it even created a quarterback controversy in the Bay Area that had management and coaches reeling.
The offense seemed to just click like a well-greased machine under Tim Rattay as it moved up and down the field almost at will under his leadership. The fact that he wasn’t a mobile quarterback didn’t seem to matter much because he got rid of the football when he felt there was imminent pressure upon him. The diversification of the ball was just unbelievable as well as Tim Rattay threw to a vast array of different receivers in order to move the chains.
The offensive line severely banged up with various injuries seemed to come to life under Tim Rattay as it blocked better and protected better realizing that Tim needed more time knowing he was a pocket passer and that he would stay in a relatively the same place.
Their assignments were actually easier because of this with providing protection because they knew inevitably where Tim would be and what they needed to do to give him that time to find targets.
And that they did, because he threw for yardage and he threw for touchdowns. He became an instant success story for every 49er fan that was clinging to find a savior on this season.
A season marred by mediocrity and inconsistency, because there were too many injuries but at the same time lack of execution and productivity from individuals that were thought to be better than just average. Dreams were reborn hopes begun anew among many 49er fans that withstood the ridicule from 49er haters that feasted on every thought that we were struggling.
Players that should’ve been playing more in the past began to show that they were worthy of more playing time such as fullback Fred Beasley who caught a 28-yard touchdown pass from Tim Rattay in the Monday Night Football Game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
At left guard second-year player Kyle Kosier assisted an offensive line that didn’t allow one sack against a well coveted Pittsburgh Steeler defense, and helped open up a running game for 169-yards.
“Now that everyone on the line seems to be getting healthier, we’re getting some of our depth back,” right tackle Scott Gragg said. “And that’s going to be very important with some of the big games we’ve got left.”
Too bad legendary defensive back Ronnie Lott hadn’t flown to Lambeau Field shortly after this game had bee finalized. We retired his number forever at halftime during a dramatic ceremony that included former owner Eddie DeBartolo with tears in his eyes at what was once his. We could have used him on the field in a different number in that secondary in shutting down Green Bay Packer running back Ahman Green.
Tim Rattay looked like the savior after this game because he has been able to throw the ball with outstanding precision and has connected with his receivers for huge yardage versus the Jeff Garcia that struggled all season to find targets and used his legs and body as battering rams when plays wouldn’t materialize.
Tim posted a 130.6% passer rating after this game far surpassing even Jeff Garcia’s best game so far this season especially after throwing a 61-yard touchdown pass to Terrell Owens that he seemed to hold on to every time Tim Rattay threw in his direction.
“Rattay is spreading the ball all around,” Beasley said. “Teams are going to key on Terrell Owens and Rattay is giving everybody a chance to get involved. That’s why it’s tough on the defense to key on one person. That is why we’ve been winning the last two games.”
The fact that the 49er offense was able to roll up 423 total yards of offense was a remarkable shift in itself as all season the offense has struggled to get anything going and have had to rely on field goals much too often to everyone’s dismay. Being able to move the ball down the field and to complete your drives in the red zone with seven points versus three is a huge accomplishment.
“We knew we were capable of this type of play all season, but it was just a matter of coming out and doing it,” Scott Gragg said. “Talk is cheap, and tonight our actions on the field speak volumes about what we can do.”
But it was in this next game against the Green Bay Packers that would dash any dream or hope or aspiration for post-season contention. It would be this game against an old foe that is lethal on their on home turf that would subdue us like a man on death row that just received his last meal and is escorted to the death chamber. The San Francisco 49ers have an enemy that is like kryptonite to Superman and that is the Green Bay Packers.
The preparation for this game was centered on Brett Favre an athlete that loves to bring Bay Area fans to their feet and sit them down just as quickly with his hands. The prognosis on his thumb for this game was good news for the 49ers as it continued to bother him in throwing the football. However Brett Favre being the athlete that he is has always put minor injuries in their exact category and that is minor.
“He is a competitor and he finds a way to win. I mean he is as good as anyone who has ever played the game in my opinion,” Dennis Erickson said of Favre. “I don’t know how his thumb is, but everything you read says it doesn’t bother him. Seems to me he plays with any type of injury.”
But what everyone was not watching was the real offensive weapon in Green Bay and that was Ahman Green who is one of the league’s most explosive running backs and has a toughness that doesn’t quit or never surrenders.
In fact the Packers star ranked second in the league with 1,172-yards and ten touchdowns right before this game started. Dennis Erickson still remembers a glimpse of Ahman Green from coaching him in Seattle when he was the headman with the Seattle Seahawks.
“He has tremendous explosion. He just has great all out speed and burst. Probably better than anybody I have ever seen, as far as flat out take it to the house, which he can do,” Dennis Erickson said.
“You watch him now, and I have watched him ever since he ahs been in Green Bay and of course, I watched him quite a bit here in the last day or two. That’s what he can do. You don’t adapt against him and he gets a shot to get in the secondary and he might take it the distance. He is that kind of guy. He is that explosive.”
Boy was Erickson right on this one. And if he was so concerned with Ahman Green why didn’t the defense prepare better to defend against him? Ahman Green carried the ball 27 times in this game for 154-yards with a 5.7-yard per carry average. He had a long run of 24-yards before he was brought down and helped set up the Packer offense on almost all of it’s drives down and inside the red zone.
To a San Francisco defense that allowed nine yards rushing to the St. Louis Rams and 44 rushing yards to the Pittsburgh Steelers we allowed 243-rushing yards to the Green Bay Packers. Why? What happened? How can we be so suddenly pathetic in run defense when we had established ourselves as very stingy in this category?
Our defensive line was manhandled at the line of scrimmage almost on every play, because their offensive line won the battles in the trenches and opened gaping holes for both Ahman Green and his subsidiaries.
“I thought gap control was all we had to do,” 49er linebacker Jeff Ulbrich said. “But Green is so patient. And their offensive line is playing this zone technique where they’re just taking you where they want you to go. Even if you’re in the right gaps, he might hit vertical seams and exploit you.”
This was a pure indication that our defense has yet to be an elite force considering the yardage that was averaged against us in this game. We had full knowledge that it would be Ahman Green that would get the bulk of the offensive carries and total workload yet we couldn’t stop him. San Francisco 49er coaches prayed to get the ball away from Green and back into Brett Favre’s hands but that wouldn’t happen.
“It’s almost like guys are trying to do too much when they play against him,” Jeff Ulbrich said. “Sometimes a linebacker will just hop into a gap and he (Green) will just split it and go. We’ve got to be technically sound.”
Brett Favre almost had a day off considering the load of offense that was produced in just the running game by the Green Bay Packer offensive line. Our front four were basically tossed to the side right before our eye’s as gaping holes appeared as three-lane highways for the running game to prosper.
Overall Game Statistics
Every San Francisco statistic is of course substandard when you consider that we lost 20-10 against the Green Bay Packers to a roaring icy crowd of cheese-heads at Lambeau Field home of the frozen tundra. Tim Rattay was 14-of-30 for 142-yards with one touchdown and one interception.
He had a long pass of just 24-yards and a quarterback rating of just 57.9% a sharp contrast to the other two games he led. He was also sacked behind a makeshift offensive line again four times for a loss of 23-yards.
The San Francisco 49er running game never materialized either as right guard Ron Stone left due to injury and Dwayne Ledford was called upon to fulfill that role. Garrison Hearst had 16 carries for 59-yards averaging 3.7-yards per carry with a long run of 22-yards. Kevan Barlow was also nullified by the 25th ranked defense in the NFL for four carries for just 18-yards averaging 4.5-yards per carry.
In all the rush attack generated 73 net yards and was such a non-factor that it forced Tim Rattay to take chances against stout coverage and attributed for an interception.
Little was found through the air on Tim Rattay’s arm because of the tremendous pressure that the Green Bay Packer defense generated against our banged up offensive line. Terrell Owens had five receptions for 49-yards with a long reception of 24-yards and one touchdown.
Cedrick Wilson had three receptions for 43-yards with a long reception of 20-yards and Tai Streets had three receptions for 26-yards with a long of just 10-yards. In all we generated 142-yards through the air not nearly enough to generate points on the board so that we could stay competitive.
On special teams we had minimal success as on punt returns Jimmy Williams had but two for 12-yards and on kickoff returns Cedrick Wilson led with three for 69-yards averaging 23-yards per touch. On defense the 49ers surrendered 243-yards rushing by the Green Bay Packers but did account for three interceptions that generated only three points out of all three.
Safeties Zack Bronson and Tony Parrish were responsible as was second-year cornerback Mike Rumph was. On just stellar defensive playmaking linebacker Julian Peterson led the pack with10 tackles and was followed by teammate Jeff Ulbrich with five tackles.
Defensive end Andre Carter accounted for the only sack of the day on Green Bay Packer quarterback Brett Favre. To not generate any points in the form of touchdowns on these turnovers was a tragedy for all 49er fans. It testifies to the fact that they wanted this game more than we did sending us to a (5-6) overall record and three games behind division leading Seattle Seahawks.
On first down the Green Bay Packers generated 18 to our 13 and had 53% success rate on third downs. Penalties played a huge part in the success of the Green Bay Packers as we self-inflicted ourselves with six of them for 45-yards at key opportunities as well. In time of possession the Green Bay Packer running game ate the clock and in favor of the cheese-heads 34:43 to 25:17.
Every way you slice this game we stunk. It was a pathetic performance and the cold definitely had to be a factor in this one as was pure lack of execution and being able to overcome injuries. Every games success rate is dictated on the line of scrimmage and it was here that the Green Bay Packer offensive line just dominated throughout the games entirety.
First Quarter Game Highlights
The Green Bay Packers begin their very first offensive drive from their own 29-yard line and then from their 34-yard line in shotgun formation Brett Favre hits Jevon Walker for a 66-yard touchdown pass that makes it 7-0 Green Bay.
On San Francisco’s second drive of the quarter Tim Rattay comes under fire getting sacked twice on one drive. After the punt on Brett Favre’s second drive from his own 23-yard line he throws an interception intended for tight end Bubba Franks to safety Zack Bronson who returns it 22-yards.
The San Francisco 49ers now from the Packer 20-yard line drive to their 10-yard line held up because of a false start attributed to Jed Weaver and a third sack that Tim Rattay suffers. This forced 49er kicker Todd Peterson to attempt a 28-yard field goal in which he misses after watching it hit the left upright.
Second Quarter Game Highlights
Starting from his own 20-yard line Brett Favre continues upon his next drive down to the 24-yard line where he throws an interception again intended for tight end Bubba Franks that 49er safety Tony Parrish snatches and brings back for 11-yards.
On the San Francisco series following this from the Green Bay 22-yard line the 49ers get penalized twice for offensive holding and a false start. With pass in-completions combined the 49ers are forced to punt the ball away.
On the Green Bay first drive of the quarter and on Ahman Green’s legs the Packers from their 17-yard line drive all the ay to the San Francisco 16-yard line where Brett Favre hits Robert Ferguson for a 16-yard touchdown to make it 14-0 Green Bay Packers.
On San Francisco’s second drive of the quarter Tim Rattay starts out at the 40-yard line and leads the team to the Packer 6-yard line where pass in-completions force them to let kicker Todd Peterson attempt a 24-yard field goal in which he makes it 14-3 Green Bay Packers.
With less than 2 minutes left in the first half Brett Favre starts out at his own 44-yard line after a good kick return by Robert Ferguson of 31-yards. The Green Bay Packers march down to the 49er 19-yard line despite being sacked by Andre Carter and attempt a 38-yard field goal, which is good to increase their lead to 17-3 Green Bay Packers at the half.
Third Quarter Game Highlights
On Green Bay’s first drive of the second half starting at their 37-yard line, they drive all the way to the 49er 31-yard line where they attempt a 49-yard field goal, which falls short. On the next two series for the 49ers they go three and out with a sack in there for good measure on Tim Rattay.
On Green Bay’s third possession from their 29-yard line Brett Favre and Ahman Green drive down to the 49er 30-yard line where Brett Favre throws a pass intended for Antonio Freeman that is intercepted by 49er cornerback Mike Rumph and returned for five yards.
On the next 49er offensive drive from their 29-yard line Tim Rattay goes to work leading the 49ers down to the Green Bay 24-yard line where he hits Terrell Owens for a 24-yard touchdown to make it 17-10 Green Bay Packers.
Fourth Quarter Game Highlights
On Green Bay’s second possession in this quarter starting from the San Francisco 47-yard line after an unnecessary roughness penalty is slapped on 49er cornerback Jimmy Williams, the Packers drive down to the 49er 19-yard line. Here the Packers attempt a 37-yard field goal that is good to make the score 20-10 Green Bay Packers.
On the next San Francisco drive starting at their own 39-yard line Tim Rattay drives down to the 48-yard line and then throws an interception intended for Tai Streets. Green Bay gets the ball back with just over six minutes left to play and eats the remainder of the clock with it’s running game getting all the first downs against an exhausted and subdued 49er defense. The game ends 20-10 Green Bay Packers and we are dashed of any hope in getting into the post-season.
Overall Game Analysis
Stop the run folks that is what we needed to establish right from the get go and force Brett Favre to use his injured thumb to try and win the game. Even when he did use his thumb we were able to snatch three interceptions from him and still not win the game. Because we couldn’t get the ball into the end zone when it counted most. Momentum definitely changed as the game wore on and the Green Bay offensive line took control of the entire game allowing just one sack and 243-yards in rushing.
It looked hopeless for our defensive line to stop it and our offense looked anemic against a defense that had struggled all season for it’s own identity in the Green Bay Packers, but they found that identity with us unfortunately.
Unable to provide protection for Tim Rattay was a key to the game also. With Ron Stone out and Dwayne Ledford in we saw a transformation in the line that went from good to worse.
We had been able to win the battles at the line of scrimmage in these instances but not today. Getting sacked four times really rattled Tim Rattay and led to indecision most of the time upon his part.
What was once considered a cool cucumber was suddenly like an over ripened squash. He was not accurate nor was he prepared to handle such tremendous pressure on every snap. A Jeff Garcia was needed in a type of game in this nature.
Certainly the mobile quarterback comes in handy when you have it in this circumstance, without a doubt a Jeff Garcia would’ve been able to escape some of this pressure and probably would’ve made some key plays that could’ve helped our cause.
The offensive line not being able to adapt to overcoming injuries was also a key in this game. Certainly Ron Stone was a main cog in that line to be missing. You have to wonder how it would’ve panned out should he have remained healthy. Nothing taking away from Dwayne Ledford but the right side is usually our strength in the running game and it never materialized there for us afterwards.
Coaching and game planning for this game were also at fault. You have to wonder why this game wasn’t prepared to stop and stuff the run. It didn’t translate out on the field at all period. You have to really wonder folks if Dennis Erickson’s philosophies are ideal for the West Coast Offense. You have to doubt his ability to game plan and help expedite victories when they are sorely needed.
It is a tragedy that 49er fans have to swallow a (5-6) record and are staring from out of the division cellar with the Arizona Cardinals. This was a must win game folks. Even if we run the tables, which are very highly unlikely considering our record on the road, we would have to have a miracle to squeak in.
The road to Baltimore is no easier as they alone knocked off our division counterpart in the Seattle Seahawks last week. They have a defense and a running game like the Green Bay one we just experienced.
The time to show your worth is now in the fourth quarter of your season. We must adapt and play better and execute. We must have coaches and game plans that are detailed and oriented towards the first priority in eliminating their most daunting weapon; in this case it was Ahman Green.
This has been a season marred in inconsistency and self-doubt. We are our own worst enemies in so many cases. It is what we do in times like these that make us a better football team overall. Sure we have injuries and we are thin in many areas on both sides of the line. But so are many other teams in the NFL. We are the San Francisco 49ers and we must live up to our name regardless of what has happened.
Can we do it with the current management and coaching staff remains to be seen. I know I have my doubts after what I’ve seen thus far into the season. I question the integrity and drive of a Dennis Erickson.
I raise the question about emotion and intensity on the sideline, how much do we really see from him? It makes you really wonder sometimes on any given Sunday that you watch us play.
We need to look at all possible scenarios and rationalize exactly what happened this season and make a sound and positive ending with victories on the road. The convincing piece of the puzzle needs to be played out in the next several weeks.
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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