Second Half Virus
December 8, 2005 at 12:00 AM
Have you ever just woken up in the morning feeling refreshed and vibrant and ready to take on the world? And then as the day progresses all of a sudden you feel like you were just run over by a tractor-trailer truck?
Well that is the same scenario that has been manifesting itself with the San Francisco 49ers over these past few weeks, as we wind down to the finish line of a devastating season that rivals that of the 1999 NFL season for the 49ers.
Rookie quarterback Alex Smith showed great promise in the first half of this game against the Arizona Cardinals inside Monster Park this past Sunday. In fact, I would say he looked fabulous on many passing plays, and his ability to stay focused and levelheaded despite the heavy pass rush was intriguing.
Inside the first quarter, he started out behind a quickly revamped offensive line that had the rookie offensive linemen, left tackle Adam Snyder and right guard David Baas, playing together. Eric Heitmann was taking the snaps at center with veteran Jeremy Newberry under the knife for his degenerating kneecap.
Right on the first snap of the game, rookie right guard David Baas committed a false start penalty. It became the first of four false start penalties that sent my head in endless revolutions around and around again.
"It's unacceptable that I started that way," Baas said after a 17-10 loss to the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday. "It took me a while to get into it, and that hurt our team."
In fact, two of the false start penalties were attributed to David Baas, one (of course) on right tackle Kwame Harris and one on wide receiver Johnnie Morton. Obviously the new faces on the line were responsible for the penalties imposed on the line as they try and become familiar with each other's mannerisms.
Even rookie quarterback Alex Smith who lined up behind Eric Heitmann struggled a bit in finding a comfortable rhythm. Head Coach Mike Nolan had him conducting double counts, meaning Alex Smith would go through the play call the first time trying to pull the defense offside. If no one jumped, Smith was then instructed to go through the call for real.
Everyone, including the 49er coaching staff, figured that the Arizona Cardinal defense would come gunning for Alex Smith's head right from the opening snap. This is where we thought we could take advantage of them being overly aggressive and use it to our advantage.
But the 49ers struggled with the timing aspects of the double counts and the decision was then made to drop the strategy of applying this trickery. "We tried to mix up the snap counts and got a couple of false starts," Smith said. "I think that was killing us at the time. I think we were better off just playing ball."
The rushing attack we tried to execute against Arizona was absolutely pathetic again behind a makeshift and transitional offensive line struggling to find a rhythm and establish some synchronicity with one another. In the absence of Kevan Barlow, Maurice Hicks got the call to carry the ball but he only touched the ball for a total of 10 snaps and accumulated only 17 yards. Just last year when he faced the Arizona Cardinals, if you can remember that game, he was known as a Bay Area hero when he ran for 139 total yards against the Arizona Cardinal defense.
But this is now and that was then right? In all, even with Frank Gore taking a total of six carries, the San Francisco 49ers were only able to produce 51 total yards with our running game. We will never win football games with statistics like this and if we are unable to establish a legitimate rushing threat every single Sunday.
Alex Smith threw some crisp and inspiring passes to Terry Jones and Brandon Lloyd in the opening drives. He even was able to get a quick shuffle ball off to Maurice Hicks instead of taking a sack and finished the first quarter a perfect 6-for-6 for 42-yards and a 95.8 passer rating.
Towards the end of the first half, on an offensive drive that ate up 85 total yards on six plays by Alex Smith, the 49er brain trust and all of its fans began to feel a sense of confidence rising inside their collective throats.
He fired two perfectly executed back-to-back passes of 24-yards to veteran wide receiver Johnnie Morton. After getting flushed from the pocket later on in this drive, Alex Smith was able to connect with running back Frank Gore at the 2-yard line for a 31-yard gain. From here Maurice Hicks was able to bring it in for the 1-yard touchdown that was the pinnacle moment for the 49ers inside this game.
Alex Smith looked and acted like the quarterback deserving of his mega-deal contract with the San Francisco 49ers after being selected with the first overall pick of the 2005 NFL draft. He completed 11-of-12 passes for 138 yards for a 114.6 passer rating.
Then the dreaded second half came as if an influenza virus had struck the entire offensive system of the San Francisco 49ers. This took place in front of more than 60,000 fans, but perhaps the bigger concern is that there were about 7,000 empty seats at this game.
In the second half, Alex Smith completed 5-of-12 passes for 47 yards and yielded three interceptions, producing a 13.5 rating which rivals that of his prior outings in a 49er uniform. This resulted in our fifth consecutive loss as a football team and has virtually cemented our place in the food chain in the National Football Conference's Western Division. We trail the third place Arizona Cardinals (4-8) by three whole games and for the first time since Arizona moved into our division in 2002, the 49ers have been effectively swept in this season's series.
The tale of what happened in the fourth quarter of this game is a depiction of what we are as a football team. We are in effect a team fluttering on life support and seeking donors to fulfill our physical and mental needs.
The San Francisco 49ers entered the fourth quarter with a 10-9 lead. One of the best plays in this game came at the hands of safety replacement for Tony Parrish Keith Lewis. Just earlier in the game Keith Lewis came within a fraction of a hair in blocking a punt, but good news would soon redeem him when in the waning moments of the third quarter he made a big play.
With the Arizona Cardinals in punt formation again, Keith Lewis exploded off the line of scrimmage, steam-rolling blocker Aaron Francisco, and reached to the heavens with his right hand to knock down Scott Player's fast accelerating punt.
This in turn led to Corey Smith recovering the ball at the Arizona Cardinal 26-yard line, and just four plays later; Joe Nedney kicked a 48-yard field goal to make it 10-9 49ers.
With 11:44 left to play in the fourth quarter and Arizona Cardinal veteran quarterback Kurt Warner at his 39-yard line, he reared back to throw a pass intended for wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald.
"I was definitely surprised he threw it," said Keith Lewis, who came up with his first-ever interception on the play. "For him being a veteran quarterback, I thought he would throw the ball out of bounds."
Nothing in this game though, was more pathetic then witnessing the 54-yard touchdown run by wide receiver Anquan Boldin. On third-and-20 from the Arizona Cardinal 46-yard line, 49er linebacker Julian Peterson started the match-up against Boldin on the left side slot before the snap. Peterson instantly started to blitz Kurt Warner, who then noticed Boldin uncovered and delivered a quick strike.
His first barrier to the end zone was 49er linebacker Brandon Moore, who barely grazed his leg and then a nose-diving Julian Peterson. From here it can be called literally the eluding of the three stooges.
In his bid to the end zone after shaking two would-be defenders he eluded cornerback Bruce Thornton and safeties Mike Adams and Ben Emanuel. He finally had a foot race with 49er cornerback Shawntae Spencer to the end zones front right corner for the touchdown of touchdowns to end this game.
"Everybody had a chance. I had one," Moore said. "We didn't do our jobs. That's a touchdown."
"The more people around, the merrier. That's what we're told to do, run the ball," Adams said. "I guess everybody wanted to make the tackle at the same time and were anxious. But shoot, he's got to come down."
If there ever was an athlete that the 49ers scouted as being a legitimate threat entering this football game, was wide receiver Anquan Boldin. Mike Nolan even indicated that he prepared the defense for this type of play and other that Boldin is capable of making happen.
"When you watch all his games, he's hard to bring down. We all know that as a defense," Adams said. "We've got to go in there and make that tackle. I missed a tackle myself. I was the last line of defense. I should have made that tackle."
It was borderline hysterical to see so many 49er uniforms hitting the ground as Anquan Boldin raced off 54-yards to a touchdown with so many chances to stop him. It later enraged me as it was replayed over and over again during post-game ceremonies.
"We know the ball's going to come out fast," Nolan said. "It's going to go to that receiver about 99 percent, that's what will happen. We had players around it and we didn't make the play."
"One of the difficult things I have with young players," Nolan added, "Is they don't understand the game of football as well as a veteran will."
Another play in this game that further highlights that perception is when late in the second quarter with 42 seconds left to play and a fourth and three situation, Kurt Warner reared back to throw a pass intended for wide receiver Anquan Boldin, and 49er safety Mike Adams intercepted the ball on his way out of bounds at the 49ers 15-yard line.
This play in effect destroyed our hope of getting the ball back and driving the ball from midfield to try and accomplish at least a potential field goal. As he stepped off the field near the sidelines he received some angry responses not only from fellow personnel but fans as well.
"Yeah, it's fourth down but, you know what, I should have thought about it," Adams said. "But I'm not going to lie to you and sugarcoat it. I wasn't thinking about nothing. I made a play. I wanted to make a play. When I got to the sidelines, some guys said I should have dropped it. But would you have asked me that question if I had returned it 50-yards or for a touchdown? You wouldn't have asked me that question."
"We're always one or two plays away every week," said defensive end Anthony Adams. "We just have to continue to fight, play as a team and execute."
I could not have said it better myself Anthony. For all it is worth, I see promise in Alex Smith with time as he learns on the job. I salute linebacker Derek Smith and his incredible tackling abilities. I also want to send a message of caution out to Bryant Young who went out with an MCL sprain and was expected to return in 3-6 weeks. He is already rehabbing and doing very well and is contemplating playing at Seattle. Please don't do it yet Bryant, as we don't want anything more serious to happen to you and we want you to keep your career with us intact.
I am not as concerned with the timeout that was wasted by Mike Nolan as I am with losing this game all together. Now I find myself like you: asking the question, should we play to win, or play to lose for the first round draft pick? I think it's something that always comes up, with a losing team's perspective to want to get better by being in a position to take the best possible athlete that will make an impact upon your football team.
It is rather simple, though, that we should always play to win and select someone in the draft later. If it is meant to be, so be it. Gradual improvement is the order of the season and despite the gloom and doom we must hold on to that and rejoice in a season that will bring about better seasons.
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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