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At the end of the game, "the only stat that matters" said it all: the 49ers lost yet again, this time by a score of 29-17. The score made the game seem closer than it actually was though, as the 49ers managed to lose nearly every measurable matchup in the game. The 49ers gave up six sacks; the Giants gave up none. The 49ers held the ball for 25:30; the Giants held it for 34:30. The 49ers turned the ball over three times; the Giants turned it over twice. The 49ers were just 2 of 10 on third down. The 49ers were penalized 13 times for 134 yards, which is over 10 times as many yards as RB Frank Gore managed in his 11 carries on the day. A hopeless team lost a hopeless game.
Defensively, the 49ers played better than expected. The team managed to hold the Giants to 276 total yards, even though they averaged 419 yards per game heading into Sunday's contest. Even so, critical errors on key plays led to points for the Giants. The Giants' first touchdown, a 26-yard run by Brandon Jacobs, should have been stopped for a loss. Isaac Sopoaga had outstanding penetration on the play, but was rushing with his head down, which kept him from seeing the cutback by Jacobs, effectively blew contain to the left side of the field, and left a cornerback as the lone defender on the edge. The heart of the defense surrendered the Giants' second touchdown, a 2-yard run by Jacobs. Though the punishing runner was held to 69 yards on the ground, he managed to average 4 yards per carry, and struck gold on his two most important carries of the game. The 49ers defense looked solid for most of the game, but the fact remains that this team is still unable to consistently generate pressure without blitzing regularly. Dominant defenses find ways to get the quarterback, generate turnovers, and generally do not surrender 20+ points per game.
Offensively, the day started out pretty well for the 49ers, with the offense moving the ball well against a stout Giants defense. The most exciting play of the day came from rookie wideout Josh Morgan, who absolutely abused Aaron Ross on a 30-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter. But as the game wore on, the veneer of the offense began to crack, and what started as a manageable game for the 49ers became another colossal 4th quarter meltdown. Yet again, the offensive line failed to provide adequate protection for the quarterback...but this week, the line also failed miserably on run blocking as well. It seemed that the team was reluctant to lean on their greatest offensive asset...and when they did, RB Frank Gore had nowhere to go. Guards Tony Wragge and Adam Snyder were beaten off the ball on almost every snap...but the worst performer by far was tackle Barry Sims. For the second straight week, he was outplayed (this time by Justin Tuck) for the majority of the game...with the most embarrassing play coming on a critical first down in the 4th quarter, which resulted in a safety.
The play of starting quarterback J.T O'Sullivan left a lot to be desired as well. His fumbles were horrid to watch...but not nearly as bad as his two momentum killing interceptions. While he has shown more decisiveness than Alex Smith, it seems that O'Sullivan's ability to read defenses is regressing. Both of his interceptions were thrown on plays where an available receiving option was wide open. It appears that the 49ers have found out what they have in J.T O'Sullivan...a determined player with miles of heart and limited ability. Productive offenses do not turn the ball over three times per game, do not kill drives with stupid mistakes, find balance between the run and the pass, and find ways to get the ball in the end zone. If this game is any indication, the 49ers have a long way to go before anyone regards them as a consistent offensive threat.
Most disturbing about Sunday's performance is what it indicates about the team in general: a total lack of discipline. Foolish decisions with the ball, stupid personal fouls, dropped passes and inexcusable mental lapses are not the hallmark of a top tier NFL franchise. These fundamental mistakes are a reflection of coaching. They are a reflection of the team's character. It is time for every person on this team, from the top down, to look at himself objectively, and ask, "What can I do to help my team win?" The answers are not difficult. Secure the ball. Do not retaliate when hit late. Do not hit players after the whistle. Do not jump offside. Do not force the ball into double coverage. Own your gap. Contain, contain, contain. Take what the defense gives you. Block with authority. Hit hard, wrap up, and tackle well. Play with discipline and intensity. Coaches at all levels teach such things, and in the NFL they are vital to success. The 49ers are a team with a solid talent base that must play mistake free football in order to win games. Until both players and coaches begin approaching games that way, the team will be just good enough to lose.