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Kicked right up in the side of the head

Oct 29, 2003 at 12:00 AM

The San Francisco 49ers never had time to savor their third victory of the season against the Super Bowl Champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Little did they realize that the same crucial points that could’ve cost them the game in 3-Com Park would come back and bite them straight up in Tempe Arizona.

The jubilation of beating a top flight caliber team such as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had not even worn off yet with most 49er fans before they realized that it was a euphoria that was never to last that long.

The positives that were generated from our victory at home against the Buccaneers cannot be overestimated because it compelled a dying team to resurrect itself at the most crucial moment of the season. Players and coaches felt the warmth from the fans and from their hard work with the players paying sincere dividends as we dissected the country’s best team in football.

“We’re 3-4. That’s what we are,” Erickson said. “If we have any hope of making the playoffs, there’s no room for error, and they know that. Everyone is equal. Who knows what can happen from week to week? Who would have thought we could have run the football with that much success against (Tampa)?”

Added Carter: “Even though we’re on Cloud Nine, we have to stay on that level. This week against Arizona, their backs are against the wall, and we have to remember it’s a division opponent, and it’s at their house.”

Avoiding a letdown was what the memos said in our minds as fans and as players after our victory against Tampa Bay. Most had a sense that vulnerability was prevalent should the celebration of this victory get blown up too much. The Arizona Cardinals although much maligned in the league are a tough opponent in the desolate wilderness of Tempe, Arizona. They had beaten the Green Bay Packers fresh off from a victory over the Detroit Lions 31-6 only to lose 20-13 to the Cardinals.

Right after the aftermath in 3-Com park the notice of concern again fell on the shoulders of kicker Owen Pochman as he missed on three of his four field goal attempts in that game and one week prior to this missed an extra point in a one-point loss to the Seattle Seahawks. In other words Pochman was already simmering inside the team’s pressure cooker when he took the field at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Arizona.

The missed field goals and the extra point loss against the Seattle Seahawks should’ve served enough warning that something had to be done about this guy. Inexpensive was the order of the 49er ownership after firing a fourth round draft pick in Jeff Chandler for being just plain inconsistent.

But not to fire a kicker that was looked upon as being more accurate and powerful and to cost a tie in a nationally televised game and then to jeopardize the win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was in effect in my mind simply enough.

Enough evidence had materialized in my opinion on Owen Pochman after these two games that it warranted us for checking out and practicing possible replacements. The 49ers did do the right thing in working out three kickers in Danny Boyd, Steve McLaughlin and Todd Peterson at their Santa Clara training complex.

But why did we wait so long? Why haven’t the San Francisco 49ers put a high emphasis on paying a quality kicker to deliver points in a league where every single point is big? This is a mystery that is beyond me though in the form that Dr. John York is still too cheap to sign a veteran kicker that is reliable and consistent.

Special teams has always taken a low profile with this organization, but when more and more games are being decided by them almost every week, you have to take a hard long look at this unit.

Something the 49ers haven’t done for far too long. True Dennis Erickson has paid far more attention to this unit than has Steve Mariucci or even George Seifert, but the knack on this team for the longest time has been poor quality kicks and very average at best on punting and even holding the football.

The extra point conversion that failed in the Seattle Seahawk game was attributed to punter Bill LaFleur not holding the football correctly or getting it down fast enough so that Owen Pochman had a level kick on the ball. LaFleur has struggled in getting a rhythm established because Pochman is a left footed kicker that requires the holder to establish balance on a side that the holder is not familiar with.

Even in the Tampa Bay contest with Owen Pochman failing on one field goal after another Dennis Erickson felt compelled to go for it on fourth-and-1 from the Tampa Bay 1-yard line because he failed to have enough confidence in Owen Pochman to attempt a 38-yard field goal. An attempt that if made would’ve given the 49ers a 17-point lead.

Just after the Tampa Bay victory management knew that we had a potential game killer on our roster in Owen Pochman. Why else would they have invited three kickers to training camp in Santa Clara if they didn’t have some worries as to their ability to convert points? It is in my opinion that Jeff Chandler was let go for even less than this.

Would have Jeff Chandler been able to make these failed extra points and field goals? No one can honestly say but I’m very sure that at the very least we would’ve made the extra point conversion.

“Owen’s kicking this week and we’re confident he’s going to come out of it,” general manager Terry Donahue said. “Obviously last week he had a rough outing. But you’ve got to keep in mind he’s a young player, just like (rookie left tackle) Kwame Harris, who had a couple rough games but played against a Pro Bowler (Tampa Bay defensive end Simeon Rice) and we were delighted.”

Owen brushed off the misses as but a mere nuisance in my opinion and really showed to me his immaturity as an athlete that feels that the world owes him something. He sought advice from an old friend in former 49er kicker Jeff Wilkins on a lot of things, a kicker that all of us would die to have back within our fold today.

Rather Pochman took the misses with any degree of seriousness is sketchy in my book, he displays a personality that is far from what you expect in a kicker that is struggling with control.

“It is the nature of the business. That’s how I got my job. It is how people lose jobs. You have to perform and if you don’t perform they replace you,” Pochman said. “That is how you make your living. So, I accepted that a while ago and you deal with the consequences and move on. I can’t change how the game went. All I can do is get ready to contribute in the game against Arizona.”

Kickers and Punters live and die by the foot that they kick the ball with. So many times we never give our kickers and punters the just credit that they deserve in tallying up points for us on any given Sunday. It is the misses and the botches and blocks that we remember the most because we all feel that this part of the game should be automatic and costless.

However it is becoming increasingly more vital that you have a kicker that can deliver the points on any given Sunday so that you can remain in a game that is close to the vest and provides you with opportunities to win.

Owen Pochman cost us another game. It was the game that was supposed to have put us back in the driver’s seat and staring once again at success and the post-season. It was never to be though because Owen Pochman kicked his way right out of the 49er roster this past Sunday and delivered a major blow to any hopes the 49ers had of springing back quickly into the race for the division.

Pochman with 2:25 left to play in regulation against the Arizona Cardinals failed to convert a 35-yard field goal that would’ve broken a 13-13 tie that should’ve never gotten to that point in the first place. The game went into overtime and the Cardinals won the toss and great field position because Pochman kicked the ball out of bounds and enabled the Cardinals to start at their own 40-yard line to start their winning drive.

Did we lose the game solely on Owen Pochman’s inability to kick? The answer is No, but can you think of any better instance that could’ve given us the opportunities presented to us to shut the door on them then Owen Pochman?

He had the ability to decide this game and he failed at it in more ways than one. He mentally and emotionally drained the inner fight out of our entire team on that field that Sunday in Sun Devil Stadium.

The sun and the humidity never came close to the heated frustration that every coach and every player had on the sideline and in the locker rooms that day, It was a day of reckoning that he created in all of our minds as to why we are staring from the cellar in our very own division.

“It really takes the identity (from the Tampa Bay game) and throws it out the window,” said quarterback Jeff Garcia, whose 13-0f-24, 153-yard, no touchdown afternoon was briefly interrupted by the obligatory high ankle sprain. “This forces us to start from ground zero all over again. Actually, I think we’re in the negative when you consider our record.”

The San Francisco 49ers looked pathetic in this contest against the 1-5 Arizona Cardinals. We lost this game in overtime 16-13 and we will eat this one for a long time to come based solely on the dynamics and many blown opportunities we had at our disposal to win this game.

Overall Game Statistics

Jeff Garcia was our leading rusher in this game can you believe that? After a stellar performance of 212 rushing yards last Sunday against the Tampa Bay defense we couldn’t run on this Cardinal defense if we had wanted to. We achieved 106 total yards on the ground against their defense and 44-yards of that came from our quarterback who sustained a high ankle sprain because of his heroics along with countless other ailments.

The Arizona defense held us to 15 first downs compared to 18 of their own and we went 7-for-14 on third downs for a 50% success rate. They also managed to force three fumbles on our offense with one from Kevan Barlow being a costly one. Pressure on Jeff Garcia was prevalent throughout the game as the Cardinals were fresh from a week of rest due to their bye week.

Jeff was sacked twice by a never-ending blitz package that gave him many different looks and their defense showed no mercy in applying devastating hits on both Jeff Garcia and both of our running backs in Garrison Hearst and Kevan Barlow. Garrison Hearst had 14 carries for 43-yards averaging 3.1-yards per carry and Kevan Barlow had nine carries for 19-yards averaging 2.1-yards per carry.

In passing Terrell Owens had six receptions for 53-yards and a controversial touchdown taken away from him in the corner of the end zone that was challenged and reversed in Arizona’s favor showing his feet were not in bounds.

Kevan Barlow had the second best day with four receptions for 26-yards and Tai Streets was rather ineffective with two receptions for 21-yards. In all we generated 155 total yards passing far below what is needed or even expected against a Cardinal secondary that is seemingly inferior to our high-powered offense.

In al the San Francisco 49er offense looked sluggish and nothing like itself with same personnel a week before for some unknown reason. On their only two touchdowns in the game Jeff Garcia ran 21-yards for the first touchdown to cap their opening possession, taking advantage of a gaping hole in the Arizona secondary.

It was here that Owen Pochman botched the extra point conversion because holder Bill LaFleur fumbled the snap and was unable to get the ball properly positioned for the kick. The second touchdown was a real treat. It came on two plays after Arizona safety Adrian Wilson was ejected for kicking 49er tight end Jed Weaver.

This put the 49ers in the red zone of the Arizona Cardinals and Jeff Garcia scrambled after seeing no one open for the end zone. On his way to the goal line Jeff was met by a crashing of defensive linemen and their helmets that sent the ball fumbling airborne but popped right into 49er left tackle Kwame Harris’s hands in the end zone for the score.

But the 49ers blew this game on more than just Owen Pochman. The Arizona Cardinals now (2-5) out lasted the 49ers in total offense for 314-yards to 255-yards, largely behind their running game with Marcel Shipp who rushed for a staggering 165-yards on the 49er defense. The Cardinals also dominated and dictated the game overall having their offense on the field longer than ours.

They beat us in time of possession with 38 minutes compared to 27 minutes for us. They also forced a turnover that helped up a score in stripping the ball from Kevan Barlow. The two sacks and relentless pressure on Jeff Garcia coupled with his high ankle sprain and two sacks led to even more success for the Arizona Cardinals.

The futility that I witnessed with the 49ers is that they weren’t able to establish any kind of running game and were forced to seek costlier options. The Arizona Cardinals made us truly one dimensional in this game and forced enormous pressure on our quarterback to come up with something.

Of course the missed extra point and the other two field goal attempts speak volumes about the frustration of this game. If Owen Pochman had delivered we probably would’ve won this game no questions about it, yet the team as a whole failed on many fronts and we must be realistic in holding ourselves accountable as well.

Owen Pochman deserves to be fired and let go; there is no question because he has contributed greatly to our demise and our 3-5 overall record. Had his kicks all been successful we wouldn’t even be having this discussion to begin with. We would be at .500 or better and looking like the 49ers we all expected better from under Dennis Erickson.

The San Francisco defense failed at the same time to stop the run. Marcel Shipp ran wild all day on our front four and into the secondary. 165-yards worth of offense on his part by himself and with Jeff Blake scrambling they accounted for 221 yards in just rushing offense. This is very uncharacteristic of our defense that has been rock solid in run defense for a long time not allowing a 100-yard rusher up until now.

First Quarter Highlights

On San Francisco’s first drive from the Arizona 45-yard line due to a personal foul penalty, Jeff Garcia ran the ball into the end zone from 21-yards out for a touchdown. Jeff then attempts a two-point conversion to Jed Weaver but the attempt fails. The San Francisco 49ers lead 6-0.

Arizona begins their drive from their own 30-yard line with running back Marcel Shipp getting the bulk of the carries and being aided by a roughing the passer penalty on 49er linebacker Jamie Winborn. The Cardinals under Jeff Blake reach the one-yard line of San Francisco where he runs it in for a touchdown. This makes the score 7-6 Cardinals.

Second Quarter Highlights

San Francisco begins a drive late in the first from their 22-yard line under Jeff Garcia marching all the way down to the Cardinal 27-yard line where Garcia hits Terrell Owens for a controversial touchdown in the corner of the end zone. The Arizona Cardinals challenge the initial call of a touchdown and it is reversed in their favor. Terrell Owens is called out of bounds therefore nullifying the score.

Owen Pochman is then brought out to attempt a 45-yard field goal and he hits it wide right making the 49er sideline uneasy after hoping that their kicking troubles would somehow improve over the span of a week.

Arizona receives the ball with 14:48 left in the half and begins their next drive from their 35-yard line and reach the 49er 42-yard line when Jeff Blake attempts a pass to Bryan Gilmore that is intercepted by 49er safety Ronnie Heard. However the 49ers fail to turn any points on this turnover going three and out very quickly.

With 5:16 left in the half on a San Francisco possession Jeff Garcia is sacked for a two-yard loss killing their third drive of the quarter. The Arizona Cardinals resume control of the ball at their 30-yard line and drive the ball again under Marcel Shipp down to the 49er 35-yard line where they attempt a 53-yard field goal that proves to be successful.

The Arizona Cardinals increase their lead to 10-6 and dominate time of possession in this quarter with 10:01 to 4:59. The San Francisco defense is seemingly exhausted at this point, due to the failure of the offense to control the clock.

Third Quarter Highlights

On San Francisco’s opening drive in the second half they come out with Tim Rattay at quarterback due to a high ankle sprain that Jeff Garcia suffers. The drive is very unimpressive as they go three and out very quickly.

The Cardinals get the ball back on their 43-yard line due to a bad punt by 49er Bill La Fleur. Jeff Blake drives his team down to the 49er 23-yard line where they attempt a 41-yard field goal that goes wide right.

Tim Rattay takes over on the next 49er drive from their own 31-yard line and again goes three and out rather quickly raising doubts about the abilities of our back up quarterback. On Bill Lafleur’s punt it is blocked allowing the Cardinals to start on the 49er 11-yard line with a first down. Jeff Blake and Marcel Shipp make it down to the two-yard line where they attempt a 20-yard field goal that is good making the score 13-6 Cardinals.

The quarter remains uneventful for the 49ers right up until their last drive from their nine-yard line, and marching down to their 38-yard line when running back Kevan Barlow with 38 seconds left in the quarter fumbles the ball and it is recovered by Arizona.

Fourth Quarter Highlights

Arizona begins their drive from the San Francisco 39-yard line late in the third quarter on the Barlow fumble. Again the Cardinals use Marcel Shipp as the workhorse and reach the 49er 19-yard line and they attempt a 37-yard field goal that goes wide right.

With 12:26 left to play in the game San Francisco resumes a drive under banged up Jeff Garcia a warrior till the end. They start at their own 27-yard line and drive all the way down to the Arizona four-yard line with the assistance of two personal foul penalties on the Cardinals.

From here Jeff Garcia attempts to run the ball into the end zone but takes a vicious hit sending the ball out of his arms and into the air but falling into left tackle Kwame Harris’s hands in the end zone for the touchdown.

Owen Pochman actually makes the extra point conversion and the San Francisco 49ers actually tie the score 13-13 making this game an actual game again under the duress of so many blown opportunities so far.

With 5:40 left to play in the game the 49ers begin their game killing drive from the Arizona 48-yard line and reach the Cardinal 16-yard line where Owen Pochman attempts a 35-yard field goal with 3:11 left to play in regulation and it goes wide right. Every player and coach on the 49er sideline gasp in frustration as Owen Pochman returns to the sideline.

The Arizona Cardinals resume a drive of their own with 2:25 left to play, they drive the ball all the way down to the 49er 32-yard line where they attempt a 50-yard field goal that ends up short and is no good sending the game into overtime.

Overtime Highlights

The Arizona Cardinals win the toss and receive the ball, So Owen Pochman kicks the ball 69-yards to the Arizona one-yard line and it goes out of bounds. This allows the Cardinals to start at their own 40-yard line. With Marcel Shipp providing the brawn the Cardinals drive the ball all the way to the 49er 22-yard line where they attempt a 39-yard field goal that ends the game 16-13 Arizona Cardinals.

Overall Game Analysis

Clearly we lost this game due to many blown opportunities and failed to sustain offensive drives that looked so automatic at home against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Rather it was the heat or jet lag or just plain lack of execution the San Francisco 49ers have a lot to look at from this game.

The offensive line did not click the way it should’ve in this game and had trouble with the blitz and creating seams for Garrison Hearst and Kevan Barlow. In fact a real running game never really materialized allowing the Arizona Cardinals to win time of possession with 165-yards of rushing under Marcel Shipp.

The San Francisco defense failed to stop Marcel Shipp but at the same time was out on the field too much and did manufacture an interception and just one sack.

A double covered Terrell Owens limited his successes and no one else really defined themselves in taking the heat off from him throughout the entire game. Jed Weaver is certainly not the tight end that Eric Johnson was and it is beginning to show now more than ever. The failure to control the clock and run the ball were in my opinion real symptoms of weakness that would come back and nip us.

Failed field goals and poor kicking overall were major players in this defeat as well and are well documented throughout this game and others under Owen Pochman. Finding a replacement is essential and one that is reliable rather than cost effective is mandatory. However it may be too little too late as the season is in real jeopardy now of being a bust all together.

It is most pressing that this offense finds its identity and establishes a rhythm that we can count on for the long haul. Inconsistency and injuries have been the main brokers in our failure here. Getting Jeff Garcia healthy and establishing a running game to help set up the passing game are again keys.

Fans are exhausted from being on the rebound; they want sustained victories that merit substance. The San Francisco 49ers have far more problems than we imagined and it will take a great deal of hard work to overcome most of them. Life just isn’t the same as a 49er fan and facing your friends isn’t either when you are 3-5.

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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