Falling down face first in the dirt

Sep 24, 2003 at 12:00 AM

If you thought the loss at the Edward Jones Stadium was a bitter pill to swallow and you had head fits every time you saw Cedrick Wilson on the replays from that game, just wait and think about the loss we had right here at home. This has got to be the worst game I ever have seen from our offense in a very long time, barring the controversial call at the goal line with Fred Beasley taking it over the goal line from over the top this offense stunk.

Laying the blame is not easy to do on any account but let me tell you this, it was a series of plays and mishaps that put this team in jeopardy early and carried over to the fourth quarter onslaught by the Cleveland Browns. Just when we thought losing was behind us from the overtime loss we suffered in St. Louis before, in comes an 0-2 team with limited talent and kicks us while we are literally down in the dirt.

From our St. Louis loss was the expulsion of Jeff Chandler as our starting kicker and kick return specialist Arland Bruce. Jeff has struggled ever since the season began and showed tell tale signs late in the season last season after replacing Jose Cortez as the starter. Of his kicks last year Chandler was 4 for 4 from less than 40 yards but misfired on half of his attempts from more than 40 yards.

Jeff went into training camp as the incumbent starter with minimal competition and was granted those rights by the front office with hopes that their 2002 fourth round draft pick would mature and come through. He went on to miss and extra point conversion in this season's opener and a 43-yard field goal try against the St. Louis Rams. His kickoffs have also been nothing short of disappointing as he muffed the ensuing kickoff against the Rams in the waning minutes of regulation in that game.

He was supposed to squib kick the ball deep into Rams territory. Instead the ball struck a St. Louis player at midfield and was corralled by the 49ers. But the Rams, giving them a shot at winning the game in regulation, could just as easily have recovered this loose ball. Finally the decision that was thought to be coming sooner came with Jeff being asked to leave.

What was once renewed faith in the beginning of the season soon turned rotten as games came down to every crucial point and kickoffs were allowing the opponent to find themselves with better than average filed position. Special teams needed a compliment and they received that with acquiring Owen Pochman a Brigham Young University star that kicked a school-record 56-yard field goal.

"After visiting with the coaches we decided that we needed to make a change at kicker. It was a difficult decision, but Jeff has been struggling with his consistency and kickoff depth," Terry Donahue said. "We do wish Jeff the best. Owen Pochman has a big upside and will bring a strong leg to the organization. He lacks experience, but we're hoping we can upgrade and become more consistent in the kicking game."

This rock hard-legged athlete entered the NFL as a seventh round selection of the New England Patriots in 2001. Since that time he has spent time with the Green Bay Packers, New York Giants and the St. Louis Rams. He won the position as the starter for the New York Giants in 2002 but missed the season because of knee surgery. Now he has a golden opportunity to redeem himself as a starting kicker and he did that in high fashion by kicking four field goals for the 12 total points that the San Francisco 49ers mustered in this last contest with the Cleveland Browns.

Owen Pochman was one of the very few positives that came out of this horrific loss that at one time we were 12-0. He is very well known from college for his overall leg strength and had very solid kickoffs that went unaffected through the swirling winds that take up residence in Candlestick Park. He made field goals of 38, 44, 46 and 36 yards away proving that a variety can be consistent.

What was supposedly viewed, as blow out victory became deep trench warfare where the Cleveland defense was able to shut down the 49ers in almost every facet of the game and hold our well-oiled offense to simply kicking field goals and never finding the end zone.

"I love that I had some opportunities to get my feet wet and prove myself to my teammates," Pochman said Sunday after the 49ers 13-12 loss to the Cleveland Browns. "But at the same time, I would love if one of my field goals could be replaced with a touchdown. It's kind of unfortunate that it came down to a field goal, field goal, field goal."

However small the errors may appear on paper they are enormous when it comes to winning field position and winning games. The San Francisco 49er coaching staff began to lose faith in Jeff Chandler's abilities to come through in the clutch. It was almost like crossing your fingers twice and gritting your teeth every time he was in a position to make a determination on the scoreboard. In the first two games of this season, he made six of seven field goal attempts and seven of eight extra points.

However his longest field goal was for just 35 total yards, he missed that Sunday against the St. Louis Rams from 43 yards out. Consistency is something that Chandler has always struggled with since he was drafted and brought to training camp to compete with then starting kicker Jose Cortez. Many of those competitions came out in a dead heat between the two with Chandler finally edging him out 10 games into the regular season last year.

With last Sunday's loss against the Cleveland Browns in front of a shocked home crowd of loud and vocal 49er fans, came questions as to who and why we lost that game. The first of course was none other than Terrell Owens. The Cleveland Browns embarrassed after losing to the Baltimore Ravens the week before where Jamal Lewis ran for 295 yards against the Brown defense, set out to redeem themselves against a top caliber opponent.

Five times the San Francisco offense penetrated the Browns 30-yard line but failed to score a touchdown. One of the main culprits in that loss was the lack of protection attributed to quarterback Jeff Garcia as he was nearly always running for his life in order to make a play. Jeff sustained just two sacks but he was under enormous pressure almost every drive as the Brown defense stepped up and walloped the anemic and injury riddled offensive line.

"It's beyond frustration," Owens said. "Everyone knows that this is the West Coast offense, and it's all about timing. It starts with the protection. If we can't get any protection to get the ball downfield, we're going to be in this situation all year long."

Terrell was quick to note that all the players were responsible in this loss and didn't want it to sound like the offensive line was totally to blame. But at the same time he kept referring to the incredible pressure Jeff was under throughout the game, which clouded Jeff's ability to make proper reads and to scramble for his life in trying to achieve short yardages for first downs.

"I'm running wide open, and Jeff can't get me the ball," he said. "There were two or three times where I beat the guy like a drum, but it doesn't matter if you don't have time." "If you watch other teams, their quarterbacks can read the newspaper back there. For whatever reason Jeff was under stress. If I was the quarterback and I was taking hits like that, you have to stand up and say something."

Utter frustration was apparent as you hear Terrell Owens ramble these statements out. It was a game that should've been an easy victory but maybe just maybe we took the Cleveland Browns too lightly going into this contest. Something must be said for the 49er defense that kept the Browns out of the end zone right up till the fourth quarter. But just like baseball the other side needs to provide some run support in which the 49er offense failed to do time and time again.

"My number hasn't been called," the receiver said. "I'm 6-foot-3, and Tai Streets is 6-3. He's tall for nothing. We have plays in the red zone for nothing. It's all about 'want to.' Tai and myself and Cedrick Wilson, we want the ball. But if my number isn't called and the right play isn't called, it won't happen."

Terrell Owens takes a direct bead on offensive coordinator Greg Knapp a leftover from the Steve Mariucci era. His finger pointing prompts some interesting thoughts and makes you wonder if he's really that far off base with some of these comments. Is Greg Knapp's play calling really questionable? And did he exclude Terrell Owens and the other wide receivers when calling any of the plays near the Browns goal line?

"I don't blame him," said Coach Dennis Erickson, whose team fell to 1-2 on the same day that division rival Seattle Seahawks improved to 3-0. "We're trying to get him the football, and we're not doing it. And there are times that he is open."

Terrell Owens had eight receptions in this game for 90 total yards but no touchdowns. The fact is that the 49ers had their running game effectively nullified by the Cleveland Brown defense which made passing a necessity even more, yet the opportunities were blown as the Brown defense got into Jeff's face time and time again.

Said Garcia: "That's nothing new, Terrell Owens is a very emotional player. He plays with a lot of energy, and he wants to have opportunities to make a difference in the game. He's one of the best out there, and when you don't give him opportunities, I'm sure that's frustrating for him. We need to find ways to get balls into his hands."

And then when you look at the running game of Garrison Hearst and Kevan Barlow they were both effectively dealt with by a Cleveland defense that held them both to a total of 32 yards combined. With just one week ago giving up 295 total yards you would've thought that the softness to their underbelly would've been to just run on them with the quality backs at our beck and call.

"That's uncalled for," said Barlow, who had seven carries for 14-yards. "That's not what we do here. We run the ball. We've been in the top three (in the league) the last three years."

Garrison Hearst didn't fair much better against the Brown defense as he had only nine carries for 18 total yards and Jeff Garcia carried five balls for just 40 total yards. And if injury wasn't added to insult this was the return of former President Carmen Policy to Candlestick where he said that the 49ers were playing in the league's most wretched relic in Candlestick Park.

"This may be the worst facility in the NFL at this time," Policy said before the game. "A franchise like the 49ers deserves better than this."

I must conclude that I agree with Mr. Policy as well as I am sure all 49er fans do when we talk about the current stadium situation we have been faced with for too many years. In an economy that is nothing short of terrible in California, the ineptness of the York/DeBartolo ownership speaks volumes about where this case is going to go and what needs to be done to make any sort of progress on it.

"We stopped the run, and that was the first thing we wanted to accomplish," Browns defensive tackle Gerard Warren said. "We wanted to make them one-dimensional and force them to pass. Another priority was keeping Garcia under pressure and inside the pocket. We tried to wrap him up and squeeze him like a snake would."

And that they did by limiting the 49ers to 75 total yards rushing with 40 of those yards coming from a quarterback that was running for his life. Certainly not having left tackle Derrick Deese and left guard Eric Heitmann in the game due to high ankle sprains was a factor in the protection schemes covering Jeff Garcia, we cannot certainly dispute that as Kwame Harris and Kyle Kosier played in their respective places.

What about blame on the defense? Can you honestly blame a defense that only gave up 13 points to an opponent? In this case it's hard to do, but blame falls squarely on defensive coordinator Jim Mora Jr.

He gave up a 17-play, 91-yard game winning touchdown drive to the Browns in the closing minutes of regulation. The trap was set by the Browns and Mora fell for it. He turned conservative and he stopped attacking like he had been doing throughout the game. The waves of blitzes all of a sudden stopped and he ordered zone coverage that became so soft that gave up multiple short passes in defense of the longer ones.

It was Cleveland Brown quarterback Kelly Holcomb that tore that apart. He completed his first 11 passes on the drive, only one of them longer than nine yards! On that drive he was 12-of-14 for 96 total yards and an 11-yard touchdown pass to back-up wide receiver Andre Davis. Look at what Holcomb was before this drive in that he was 13-of-24 for 126 total yards with one touchdown and one interception. This is a classic example of being ultra-conservative, something we thought we were losing in acquiring Dennis Erickson.

However remnants from the Steve Mariucci remain and so do their ideologies and principles on play calling. Dennis Erickson must consider that he be more active in both roles as he witnesses the breakdowns on the field and observes the ineffectiveness of the team to score and prevent scoring. Erickson needs to probe into this particular game and come up with solutions as to how to prevent this from happening again.

Aggressiveness has to be paramount when playing in this league. The bar for winning commands it almost as teams are more and more balanced every season. Erickson may have to resort to the radical role of calling the plays himself and keeping Mora on a tight leash as well.

Less pressure on Holcomb resulted in more pressure on the 49er soft underbelly in the secondary. That secondary entered the game missing starting cornerback Jason Webster and nickel back Rashad Holman. Needless to say Mike Rumph was picked on throughout the game and was torched time and time again. Without a pass rush of significant power though not all the blame can be laid on Rumph as he was ordered to play zone compromising precious yardage.

Overall Statistics

Jeff Garcia was 21-of-35 for 198 total yards with one interception and no touchdowns. He had a quarterback rating of 63.8% far below what it should've been under the right circumstances. He also rushed for 40 total yards, as Garrison Hearst and Kevan Barlow were only able to garner 32 total yards of offense. On the receiving end Terrell Owens had eight receptions for 90 total yards and Tai Streets had three for 44 total yards. None of our receivers ever came close to the end zone though.

Julian Peterson was able to make an interception off from Kelly Holcomb and Bill LaFleur punted four times for 186 total yards averaging 46.8-yards a punt. Jimmy Williams on punt returns had two for 25 total yards and Cedrick Wilson on kick returns had three averaging 18.7 yards per carry.

The Cleveland Browns had 20 first downs to our 15 and had a third down efficiency rating of 64% compared to our 33%. Red zone efficiency was of course 100% for Cleveland and 0% for the 49ers. Penalties were again a negative for San Francisco as we had eight for 88 total yards, this again has to stop or games will continue to be compromised over stupid mistakes that are preventable with sound execution.

First Quarter Highlights

With 6:35 left in this quarter fullback Fred Beasley on his second attempt from the Cleveland 1-yard line attempts to jump up and over the Cleveland defensive horde and fails according to officials on the field. Dennis Erickson challenges the call but fails to overturn it for a touchdown that I believe broke the plain.

With 1:49 left to play on a punt by LaFleur, Cleveland fumbles the ball with 49er safety Dwayne Carpenter recovering the ball. With just six seconds left to play Jeff Garcia is sacked and the ball is fumbled but recovered by right tackle Scott Gragg. The score remains 0-0 after the first quarter.

Second Quarter Highlights

Down on the Cleveland 12-yard line Jeff Garcia is sacked for a loss of eight total yards forcing the 49ers to attempt a 38-yard field goal by Owen Pochman that is successful, making the score 3-0 49ers. With just four seconds left to play in the half the 49ers drive down to the Cleveland 26-yard line where they kick a field goal of 44-yards making the score 6-0 49ers

Third Quarter Highlights

With 9:18 left in this quarter the 49ers manage to get to the Browns 28-yard line where Owen Pochman delivers a 46-yard field goal making the score 9-0 49ers. It was in this quarter that the 49ers showed some promise with time possession but the Cleveland defense held firm only relinquishing a final drive towards the end that put San Francisco on the Cleveland 18-yard line.

Fourth Quarter Highlights

From the Cleveland 18-yard line Pochman delivers a 36-yard field goal making it 12-0 49ers. On the next drive though Kelly Holcomb drives the Browns down to the San Francisco 2-yard line assisted by penalties on Anthony Adams for roughing the passer and Mike Rumph for defensive pass interference. Holcomb hits Andre Davis in the end zone for the touchdown making it 12-7 49ers.

With 7:35 left in the quarter Holcomb's pass is intercepted by 49er linebacker Julian Peterson. But the 49ers are unable to convert any points from this interception. After a long Cleveland drive with just 34 seconds left to play from the 49er 11-yard line Holcomb found Andre Davis again for a touchdown making it 13-12 Browns. With 24 seconds left to play and on their own 19-yard line Jeff Garcia was powerless to do anything after throwing incomplete passes to Terrell Owens.

Overall Analysis

There are definite concerns with the play calling in this game and someone needs to be held accountable. Dennis Erickson cannot sit by and be passive after this game he needs to be more directly involved regardless of whose shoes he steps on. We have bumps and bruises on the offensive line they are tired and battered from injuries and first round pick Kwame Harris is still taking his lumps in protecting Jeff Garcia. We need both Derrick Deese and Eric Heitmann back at 100% healthiness.

The inability to get either Terrell Owens or Tai Streets the ball is also in question but as has been mentioned before Jeff was under constant pressure on many occasions in trying to do so. The inability to create a running game was also something that has always been a staple of the 49er offensive line. Obviously the left side is weakened incredibly with starters missing there and thus created a lack of routes for our backs to exploit. We need to re-establish a running game that is equal to none to be successful in this league.

Stay aggressive and don't back off defensively is also highly recommended. Jim Mora was retained as to his experience and his ability to make the 49er defense more efficient but his calls come into question when you think zone at the wrong time.

Dennis needs to take a hold of the reins and run this team, we are not favored this week against a mighty looking Minnesota offense that has put them at 3-0 as are we not favored against our division rival in the Seattle Seahawks who are also 3-0. It doesn't get any easier folks so if we are to avoid a roller coaster season of possible disappointments we must execute and execute effectively.
The opinions 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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