After a big win against the St. Louis Rams last week, the San Francisco 49ers were probably busting at the seams with confidence. The team fell back to Earth on Sunday afternoon with an embarrassing 45-10 defeat at the hands of the Atlanta Falcons. The team played uncharacteristically bad in all aspects of the game. The mental mistakes were abundant and the 49ers was unable to execute the most basic of fundamentals.
Everything went wrong for San Francisco. The offense could not get a running game going. This was something they wanted to try to exploit seeing the Atlanta run defense as a weakness. In fact, their rushing leader was quarterback Shaun Hill with 53 yards. I suppose that is fitting given that he could not get anything going through the air. Hill completed less than 40% of his passes for 198 yards, no touchdowns and one interception.
The receivers were not helping Hill much either. They could not get consistent separation. And when they did, they did not have the speed to create big plays.
The defense, the 49ers unit that had carried this team up until this point, was a non-factor. Up until this game, the 49ers defense was among one of the most physical and most respected in the league. Hopefully their performance on Sunday was a fluke and not confirmation that they may have in fact been overrated. They could not stop the rush as running backs Michael Turner and Jerious Norwood combined for 141 yards.
Against the pass, the 49ers defense helped second year quarterback Matt Ryan have a career day with 329 yards and two touchdowns. Wide receiver Roddy White pulled in 210 of those yards for two touchdowns. The pass rush was non-existent as Ryan had all day to throw, was never sacked, and probably never really bothered at all by the defense.
Mental mistakes were abundant in this game
In the first quarter, with the Falcons driving, 49ers head coach Mike Singletary calls a timeout to gather his team together and try to motivate them. It was not just the defense, but the entire team. The defense then returned to the field to the applause of the crowd. On the very next play, Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan hits receiver Roddy White, who burned defensive back Dashon Goldson as he ran into the endzone for six.
Also in the first quarter, Shaun Hill hits receiver Josh Morgan for a short pass who then breaks a tackle and runs 61 yards only to get tripped up at the Atlanta 2. Running back Glen Coffee was not paying attention and thought Morgan had scored. Therefore, he was not ready to head back onto the field assuming the special teams were headed out. San Francisco was forced to call a timeout so Coffee could get back out there. While Coffee did score three plays later to help bring the 49ers within seven, this mental hiccup would come back to haunt the them later.
Because of a low play clock, the 49ers are forced to use their final timeout of the half.
In the second quarter, Matt Ryan hits Roddy White for a modest gain, but instead of tackling him, defensive back Nate Clements lets White escape and he stampers off for a 90 yard touchdown.
On the very next play, tight end Delanie Walker fumbles the ball and it is recovered by the Falcons. However, replay showed that the ground actually caused the fumble. A perfect time to challenge, right? Oh wait, the 49ers are out of timeouts. If only Glen Coffee had been paying attention on that earlier play. The Falcons go on to score again and now lead 28 to 10 with 5:40 left in the half.
In the third quarter, defensive back Dre Bly, who has won over fans up until this point, grabbed onto an interception from Matt Ryan with a clear shot to the endzone. On his way, he decided to showboat a bit with a Deion-like dance and allowed Roddy White to catch up to him and punch the ball out. Atlanta recovered the fumble. When asked about the showboating after the game, Bly responded by saying, "I'm going to be me. That's who I've been my whole life, that's who I was in college. I have fun. Dre's gonna be Dre."
What's next for the 49ers?
So what does this loss mean for the 49ers? After all, the team is still just one miracle Brett Favre pass away from being 4-1, right? They are undefeated in division play and the Atlanta Falcons are a very good football team. Shaun Hill is still 7-1 at home. On the other hand, their upcoming road trip after the bye is not an easy one. They will travel to Houston to play a Texans team that is better than their record would indicate. Then they will travel to Indianapolis to face the always dangerous Colts before returning home to face the Tennessee Titans. If this team does not reacquire their identity, they could easily be 3-4 before coming back to San Francisco.
As with any blowout loss, fans are quick to overreact and are calling for offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye's head. They are also going as far as suggesting Hill be benched in favor of Alex Smith. I am actually somewhat shocked that the 49ers did not give Smith some playing time in the fourth quarter with the game well out of reach. After all, it is unlikely he would have done any more damage. I would even have been willing to see a little of Nate Davis out there. Hill did not need to be in the game anymore. There was no benefit to keeping him in at that point.
Was this game a fluke? Are the 49ers contenders or are they just pretenders? Are they the feisty group that we saw during the first four weeks or are they the pitiful excuse for a team that we saw against the Falcons? We'll get that answer on October 25 in Houston.
Around the NFL
How about those Denver Broncos? Many predicted them to be one of the worst teams in the league this year. They were 4-0 going into their game against the Patriots but still criticized by many saying that they had not played anyone yet. What was the first thing I heard from broadcasters after their overtime win against the Patriots? Questions on whether the Broncos were that good or the Patriots defense was that bad. Are you serious? They beat the Patriots and you are still questioning them? The Broncos may be for real ladies and gentlemen.
The Colts are currently up on the Tennessee Titans. It really does not matter what happens to the Colts in the offseason, does it? As long as you have Peyton Manning on your team, you have a shot to go far.
Look who is leading the AFC North. The Cincinnati Bengals are 4-1 and are one miracle play away from being undefeated.
The New York Giants had a bye this week and improved to 5-0. Yeah, you read that correctly.
While I am a 49ers fan, there are two other players in the NFL that I just love to watch. One is the previously mentioned Peyton Manning. The other is Drew Brees. For the longest time, he was the most underrated player in the NFL. He consistently puts up big numbers and is a natural leader. You also can't question his passion for the game. Have you ever seen him leading the pregame team cheers? I really wish the 49ers had gotten him. His Saints are undefeated and will face the New York Giants next week. That should be a good one.
The Dallas Cowboys just do not look that good this year. An overtime win against the still winless Chiefs? A win is a win, but c'mon.
49ers fans are probably saddened by the Carolina Panthers' first win of the season this week against the Washington Redskins. The 49ers after all have the Panthers first round pick in the 2010 NFL Draft. The worse they do, the better.