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Everything seemed so surreal that once again Mike Singletary's 2009 San Francisco 49ers were about to close the door on the monstrosity we know the Minnesota Vikings are inside the Metrodome at Minneapolis. The 49er defense took the field with just 1:29 left to play in regulation leading the Vikings 24-20 after a miserable offensive drive that went three and out with three straight running plays by 49er Glen Coffee against one of the stoutest defensive lines in the league that had held us to 58 total rushing yards.
Instead of playing to secure a first down on third and six from the Minnesota 49-yard line, Singletary and offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye played the conservative black card again and simply ran Coffee into a wall of utter purple humanity. Once again the 49er defense was forced to carry the team right up on their very backs again in order to secure victory in the finality of it all. Not nearly enough faith was given to Shaun Hill to drop back and make that coveted first down like he had done earlier in the fourth quarter with a series of passes that gave us the actual lead with a second Vernon Davis touchdown.
The frustrating reality of this game was Minnesota Viking quarterback Brett Favre coming out like the ghost of Christmas past and delivering a 32-yard strike to wide receiver Greg Lewis who barely got his foot down in bounds with just two seconds left to spare to defeat the 49ers 27-24 and go 3-0. It wasn't the 49er defense that lost this game in my opinion; it was the utter mediocrity of our offense not turning one third down conversion in 11 attempts and a conservatism that is being related to former 49er offensive coordinator Jim Hostler.
Brett Favre has been the consummate pro in knowing how to defeat the San Francisco 49ers. He has done it many times during his career as a long-standing Green Bay Packer. In his very first home game with his third new team he delivered a knock-out punch that sent shock waves as he lay on his stomach and watched the pass sail uninhibited throughout the entire Minnesota Metrodome. The San Francisco 49er defensive unit harassed Brett all day long with constant and consistent pressure as he was even sacked twice for a loss of 18 total yards and a quarterback rating of 78.3.
They even held the best running back in the NFL at bay in Adrian Peterson to 19 carries for 85 total yards and 94 yards total in rushing period for the Minnesota Vikings. It was harrowing watching the collective efforts of the defensive unit as a whole contain Adrian and force Brett into making an interception under intense pressure. Mark Roman and Aubrayo Franklin were credited with sacks on Brett as Patrick Willis led the team with 10 total tackles along with Manny Lawson that played inspired defense. However once again our defense didn't rest, it was forced to go back out on the field repeatedly because of the offense's failure to convert one third down in 11 attempts.
The Minnesota Viking defensive front manhandled our struggling offensive line, in that the penetration was sharp and intense in snuffing out the run and forcing Shaun Hill to throw the ball prematurely on several occasions resulting in a fumble and interception because his timing and protection eroded away quickly in front of him. The mammoth sized purple people eaters feasted on our inadequate offensive linemen to the tune of turning the tide to help set-up the Brett Favre miracle finish.
Despite everything the 49er defense played with an intensity anyone can be proud of. Defensive lineman Ray McDonald made that extra push on a field goal attempt by Minnesota as the first half was drawing to a close. He got just enough to put up his hands and block it causing it to fall to the ground in which 49er cornerback Nate Clements instinctively scooped it up and ran 59 yards into the end zone to make it 14-13 49ers at halftime.
This was again one of many heroic plays executed by our very own opportunistic defense that has been carrying the weight of the team for far too long now. Although defensive coordinator Greg Manusky is all smiles he has to be wondering what his counterpart in Jimmy Raye is doing to help alleviate the time his unit is out on the field because they are unable to convert on third down after third down.
I won't go so far as not to recognize the two Vernon Davis's touchdown grabs that were simply riveting and off the chart as they were made in great double coverage that had him focused on cradling a ball destined to be knocked out by the Viking defensive backfield, but he held on and made them pay the ultimate price for their light coverage on him. Needless to say for a guy that I was stunned to think was named as one of the team's captains following a 2008 where he was kicked off the field by Mike Singletary himself, Vernon was all about the team this time, not at all about what he had just executed in two critical touchdowns that changed the complexity of the game.
In 2008 Vernon has gone on record as believing that the game was all about him and what he could do as an elite athletic prospect to help score needed points on an offense mired in mediocrity. Mike Singletary is credited by Vernon as changing that mindset to one of doing what is best for the team and for the team only, not at all about glamorizing oneself to others for the mere entertainment of it. Vernon played as if he had never dropped as many passes as he is known for, the ball seemed to cement itself within his grasp with each forced throw Shaun Hill released from his palm.
The game was not kind to San Francisco 49er running back Frank Gore as on his first carry of the game he was knocked out due to a high ankle sprain that sidelined him the entire game and three more to come. Back-up Glen Coffee was only able to manufacture 16-yards on nine carries within the first half. He finished with just 54-yards on 25 total carries and a 2.2-yard per average. Coffee went on the record as believing he wasn't as mentally ready as he needed to be when his name was called and vowed to carry the weight from here on out following this late second disaster.
Other injuries that were noticeable along the offensive line were left tackle Joe Staley on a leg whip and left guard David Baas on a left ankle sprain that saw Barry Sims and Tony Wragge come in as fill inn's with little to no effect on their ability to convert any sort of third down. Again this line cannot continue to be beaten at the line of scrimmage despite crowd noise and occasional injury, it has to mesh and mold cohesively to meet the pressing agenda of a productive rushing attack and protection for Hill who is playing better while standing up inside the pocket. Leverage was not obtained with the consistent penetration seen with a purple haze right out of a Jimi Hendrix song engulfing the backside of the pigeon-holed offensive left side.
Risk must be considered on third downs instead of being adamant about sticking with a run game curled back on its collective toes repeatedly from one drive to the next. Allow Shaun Hill the opportunity to shine when he has been called upon to do so before. With successes culminated with the two Vernon Davis's touchdowns one would think it would've been a no-brain conception to make that first down late in the fourth quarter and allow an already exhausted defense time to relish a victory courtesy of the offense for once.
The dark days of the Mike Nolan era cannot continue to harbor like a shadow in Mike Singletary's mind. He has done so much already that one can hang their hat on for this franchise. He can take the next step by being a risk taker when the timing is demanding it and praise the one above for the faith he had in going for it. May this revelation come to pass in Mike's next intuition and may he be exalted for his convictions both as a father, husband and head coach Amen.
Sources of Information: Mercury News.com, SF Gate.com, Inside Bay Area.com, NFL.com and my own personal analysis and opinion.