Back at Paul Brown Stadium the snow that had fallen on the San Francisco 49ers just a week ago remained frozen in and around the stadium’s illustrious settings. Also what was left behind there was a comeback thriller that ended in a 41-38 defeat for the San Francisco 49ers mostly due to Kevan Barlow’s turnovers. Jeff Garcia and the entire offensive unit tried in vain to make-up for the deficit that came coming back each time Kevan coughed up the ball.

Kevan was even responsible for the Jeff Garcia fumble in that he was kept into protect him from an oncoming blitz that he failed to react to. Jeff took a second-quarter blind-sided hit by blitzing cornerback Terrell Roberts of El Cerrito High. Cincinnati Bengal linebacker Kevin Hardy returned that fumble 10-yards for the Benglal’s second touchdown. Others assume and even Jeff Garcia conceded that he may have held onto the football too long and took the hit anyway.

But more so than not Dennis Erickson looks at the running back assigned to protect Jeff as the one responsible. If I was to direct my opinion in on this one I would have to blame Kevan for the blown assignment. Great players must be held responsible for their assignments bottom line in my opinion.

Not taking away the fact that Kevan Barlow is not a good running back. But in order for him to be an elite running back as is his mentor in Garrison Hearst, he’ll have to be able to be more versatile and execute his assignments flawlessly if he is to make the big center stage time after time.

The loss at Cincinnati simulated what the San Francisco 49ers have done on the road all season and that is loose and loose again. Lack of discipline, execution and motivation seem to be the culprits in this virus that has taken hold of every player on the roster when they board a plane to go on the road.

Of course coaching also has to take responsibility for not always being hard enough to subject the players to the weather and the different environment they will be faced with on game day.

“Today we played hard, which had been lacking in other road games, Dr. John York said. “Take away the turnovers and this is a straight-forward win. We’ve got to get rid of the turnovers and penalties and be a disciplined football team.”

York also signaled to all the San Francisco 49er world that Dennis Erickson will be back in 2004 to resume the crusade in getting this franchise up off the ground. Erickson signed a five-year, $12.5 million dollar contract last year and has every intention of living out that contract even if year one was a collapse.

This was a game in which we shot ourselves over and over again as we lost three fumbles, including two by running back Kevan Barlow and committed seven penalties and dropped four passes. On top of all of that the San Francisco defense was unable to stop Cincinnati Bengal running back Rudi Johnson who ran for 174-yards.

Johnson was so effective against the 49er defense that he even had a 49-yard touchdown run on fourth-and-one in the third quarter. He also accounted for all but four yards of offense in a six-play, 69-yard drive in the waning moments to put the game away for the Cincinnati Bengals.

In this road catastrophe the Bengals averaged 6.1-yards per rush and had more than a six-minute advantage in time of possession. Cincinnati had 39 rushing yards at halftime and 186-yards over the final two quarters of play.

It was a clear indication of a team used to the elements and adaptive to what was all around them. The San Francisco 49ers saw little of those elements until game time because Dennis Erickson allowed them to stay within the warm confines of their illustrious hotel accommodations.

“Our offense played their hearts out, and we just didn’t hold up on our end consistently enough,” 49ers linebacker Julian Peterson said. “We had an opportunity to stop them and put it back in our offense’s hands for them to win the game, but we didn’t get it done.”

So to say the San Francisco 49ers have missed a post-season berth by their own accord and we’ll all have to wait and see what transpires next season. Is there still hope for this team to rise above the ashes and redeem itself after a harsh and disappointing season? Well of course there is because this is what the NFL is all about now.

Putting other teams in contention by paring down the level of talent on each and every franchise. We will see this happen again come free agency just around the corner for us as well.

“This hasn’t happened that often around here, but we’re here now and we’ll deal with it,” Erickson said of the team missing the postseason. “We have god leadership in that room and we have a lot of veterans who have been around. There are guys with a lot of pride. We are going to play hard and compete and there’s no question in my mind that we will.”

As voted by all his San Francisco 49er teammates linebacker Julian Peterson at just 25-years of age became the winner of the 2003 Len Eshmont Award. This is the 49ers most prestigious annual honor and is given to the player who best exemplifies the inspirational and courageous play of Len Eshmont, an original member of the 1946 49ers team.

Len Eshmont, who coached at Navy and Virginia following his career in San Francisco, died in 1957. The award was established that year. Julian Peterson is the first linebacker to win this award on the team since Keena Turner did so in 1984. He is also the second youngest player to win the honor. Safety Dave Baker claimed the award at the age of 23 in 1960.

“He’s obviously a great all-around talent and is setting the bar high at the linebacker position,” Turner said of Peterson. “What I love about him is his demeanor and the way he carries himself on the field and in the locker room. He’s always up, always keeping guys around him up. He’s a difference maker.”

Of all the past winners of this award I must say I concur with all the 49er players in Julian’s selection because he has been the difference maker in so many contests for the 49ers in this 2003 season. As of December 17th, he has 133 tackles, six sacks, three forced fumbles and a career high 12 passes defended, two interceptions and one fumble recovery on the season.

The San Francisco 49ers traveled again on the road this past Sunday at the new Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia. Here the San Francisco 49ers faced an opponent that is playoff bound and probably one of the best teams going from the National Football Conference.

It would be a formidable task to subdue the hot hands and feet of a Donovan McNabb and his elite array of formidable running backs. This left a proposition to the San Francisco defense to step up and play a better game then it had against the Cincinnati Bengals.

What is even more compelling is that the San Francisco 49ers defeated the red-hot Philadelphia Eagles on their home turf after a sensational nine-game winning streak. The 49ers were also seven-point underdogs in this game in that they had three starters out in the secondary.

Safety Tony Parrish intercepted Philadelphia’s Donovan McNabb on the first play in overtime, and two plays later, Todd Peterson kicked a 22-yard field goal that silenced the raucous Philadelphia crowd and gave the 49ers a 31-28 victory for their first road victory on this dark and gloomy season. It ended a 49er nine-game losing streak on the road dating back to last season.

It also signaled utter frustration to not only coaches but players as well as the 49ers showed the ability to compete and play against some of the best in the NFL today. Despite their 7-8 record the 49ers played a ferocious battle with the Eagles overcoming long odds and stepping up and taking control of an game destined to be another loss.

“I think that’s something that frustrates this team, that we are capable of playing great football if we all just show up on the same day,” quarterback Jeff Garcia said. It even signaled a huge turnaround for starting running back Kevan Barlow who went into this game with questions regarding his ability to secure the football in traffic and prevent fumbling like he did twice in Cincinnati.

Kevan Barlow carried a season-high 30 times, gaining 154-yards and scoring twice. Once on a 15-yard catch and run in the first quarter that gave the 49ers a 7-0 lead and a one-yard run in the fourth quarter for a 28-21 lead.

This was a huge positive for Kevan Barlow’s ego and status as the future starter on this team. Kevan came to the 49ers from the University of Pittsburgh with fumbling questions even then and the coaches have worked with him diligently on getting him to realize that securing the ball while in traffic is crucial to accomplishing victory.

Said Barlow: “We just wanted to go out there and show that we have a lot of fight in us, and we wanted to show that we weren’t giving up on the season. And that’s what we did.”

The San Francisco 49ers also achieved this victory without their star wide receiver in Terrell Owens in that he broke his collarbone after a first half reception, his only catch of the game after several drops. It was rookie Brandon Lloyd that was asked to step up and take the place of Terrell Owens and he did so with class.

After a two-yard gain by Kevan Barlow to the Philadelphia 33-yard line, Jeff Garcia dropped back and lofted the ball to Lloyd, who made an adjustment in midair to take it away from Eagles cornerback Lito Sheppard at the 10-yard line. Brandon Lloyd ran untouched to the end zone to tie the score at 14.

“He’s a very talented guy who can go up and (make the ) catch,” coach Dennis Erickson said of Lloyd. “He’ll get better and better all the time as he plays and as he gets in the weight room and gets bigger. He’s got a chance to be a pretty good player.”

Much has been made of Brandon Lloyd and it is likely that he’ll replace Terrell Owens in next year’s lineup as Owens attempts to land a huge contract that pays him enormous amounts of money to do what he has done all season long in being inconsistent. Lloyd in my opinion looks to be an ideal fit as he is very selfless and team oriented in that he celebrates victory as a teammate and not as an individual.

Overall Game Statistics

The San Francisco 49ers established the run right off the bat in this game as the offensive line battled at the line of scrimmage and created holes for running back Kevan Barlow. On 30 carries Kevan Barlow completed 154-yards and averaged 5.1-yards a carry. He had a long run of 17-yards and scored one touchdown as well. Jamal Robertson also carried four times for 39-yards averaging 9.8-yards per carry with a long run of 23-yards.

Jeff Garcia actually sprinted for more yards then did Donovan McNabb as he took off five times for 20-yards averaging 4.0-yards per carry. In all the San Francisco 49ers ran up 209 total yards in rushing a huge accomplishment for the 49er offensive line.

Jeff Garcia was 15-of-29 for 225-yards and was sacked three times for a loss of 17 total yards. He threw two touchdowns and had a long completion of 33-yards and had a quarterback rating of 100.5%.

In all Jeff looked great in almost every aspect of his game and was mobile in that he had to be with a defense that is famous for the blitz on consecutive plays. If Tim Rattay had been the starter in this particular game the ending to this game would’ve been much different in that he lacks ability to avoid the blitz and make plays on the run.

In the passing game it was tight end Jed Weaver that continues to define himself in place of the injured Eric Johnson. He had three receptions for 61-yards and averaged 20.3-yards a reception with a long one of 30-yards. Tai Streets also had three receptions for 46-yards averaging 15.3-yards a reception with a long one for 27-yards.

Kevan Barlow continues to show what he can do in the passing game by having three receptions for 33-yards averaging 11.0-yards a reception and one touchdown. Brandon Lloyd followed with two receptions for 33-yards and one touchdown as well in place of Terrell Owens. In all the passing game generated 225-yards in offense and really exposed some of the weaknesses that do exist in the Philadelphia Eagles secondary.

The punting by Bill LaFleur was horrendous as was his holding the ball on field goal attempts and bobbling the ball. He had four punts for 135-yards averaging 31.5-yards a punt one of them was a long eight-yarder. This is a guy that has to be replaced come next season or we will continue to compromise our special teams unit.

Both punt returns and kickoff returns were non-dramatic as we achieved absolutely nothing in every attempt. Cedrick Wilson had three returns for 58-yards averaging 19.3-yards a return. As an average the team had only 12.8-yards a return and did little to assist the team in winning this game period.

On defense Tony Parrish was the savior of this game with an overtime interception of two that sealed the fate of the Philadelphia Eagles. He finished the game with two interceptions and four tackles. Both Derek Smith and Mike Rumph had five tackles and Julian Peterson registering a sack along with Bryant Young , Chidi Ahanotu and Anthony Adams on an assist.

On total first down the 49ers had 22 to the Eagles 18 and had a third down efficiency rating of 43% compared to the Eagles 30%. In penalties the 49ers again still took the lead with eight for 70-yards but led in time of possession with 36:19 to 24:46 for the Eagles.

First Quarter Game Highlights

On the first play of the game Philadelphia quarterback Donovan McNabb from the San Francisco 40-yard line throws a pass to tight end James Thrash that is intercepted by 49er safety Tony Parrish and is returned 34-yards to the Philadelphia 48-yard line.

From here Jeff Garcia starts the drive that ends at the Philadelphia 13-yard line where Todd Peterson attempts a field goal with punter Bill LaFleur handling the snap which he bobbles and Peterson covers the ball at the Eagles 24-yard line for no gain. With 8:13 left to play the 49ers start from their 43-yard line and drive down to the Philadelphia 15-yard line where Jeff Garcia finds Kevan Barlow in the end zone for a touchdown to make it 7-0 49ers.

On the next drive by Philadelphia starting from their 26-yard line Donovan McNabb is sacked by 49er Chidi Ahanotu for a loss of 11-yards with 15 seconds left in the first quarter. This leads to the Eagles having to punt and is taken out to the 49er 27-yard line to start the second quarter.

Second Quarter Game Highlights

From the San Francisco 27-yard line Jeff Garcia rears back as he is sacked for a loss of eight yards and fumbles the ball. The ball is recovered by Philadelphia at the San Francisco 20-yard line where Donovan McNabb drives the team to the 7-yard line and then Duce Staley runs the ball in for a touchdown to make it 7-7 and a tie.

The next San Francisco drive is grounded after a false start penalty and then an intentional grounding penalty on Jeff Garcia. Philadelphia takes over at their 32-yard line where they drive to the 49er 48-yard line and McNabb hits Todd Pinkston for a touchdown but it is fumbled out of bounds in the end zone and called a touchback after a San Francisco challenge.

Unable to do anything on their next drive and a horrible punt by Bill LaFleur for eight yards, the Philadelphia Eagles take over at the 49er 40-yard line and drive to the one-yard line where again Duce Staley runs it in for a touchdown to make it 14-7 Philadelphia.

With 4:28 left to play in the half the 49ers start out at their 18-yard line under Jeff Garcia and drive to the Philadelphia 33-yard line where Jeff hits Brandon Lloyd for a touchdown and to tie the score 14-14. The first half ends with Terrell Owens fracturing his collarbone and being done for the season.

Third Quarter Game Highlights

On the first drive of the game San Francisco drives from their own 23-yard line but go three and out and punt to a waiting Brian Westbrook who breaks free of our punt coverage unit to achieve an 81-yard touchdown. This again puts the Philadelphia Eagles in the lead 21-14 and spells doom to an already inconsistent 49er special teams unit.

On the next San Francisco drive the 49ers start from their 23-yard line and drive all the way down to the Philadelphia 15-yard line where the drive stalls and Todd Peterson is brought in to kick a 33-yard field goal which he makes to cut the lead to 21-17 Eagles. The Philadelphia Eagles go three and out on the next series and the 49ers get the ball on their own 32-yard line and begin a long drive that lasts into the fourth quarter.

Fourth Quarter Game Highlights

The 49ers under Jeff Garcia manage to get to the Eagles seven-yard line where Todd Peterson is asked to make a 25-yard field goal that cuts the lead to 21-20 Eagles. On the next Eagles drive they are sidelined in part to Bryant Young’s sack on Donovan McNabb.

With the next series on the 49ers starting on their 37-yard line Jeff Garcia is also sacked but the drive survives to see life at the Eagles one-yard line where Kevan Barlow runs it in for a touchdown. The 49ers at this point opt to go for a two-point conversion and are successful with a pass play to wide receiver Brandon Lloyd, to make the score 28-21 49ers.

Philadelphia begins their next drive on their 35-yard line where Donovan McNabb is determined to even the score. He drives the Eagles all the way down to the 49er 19-yard line where he hits Todd Pinkston for a touchdown to make it 28-28 and a tie. San Francisco gets the ball with less than a minute to play and opts to run the clock out to begin overtime.

Overtime Game Highlights

Philadelphia wins the toss of the coin and begins their drive from their 21-yard line. From here Donovan McNabb attempts a throw to Freddie Mitchell that is intercepted by 49er safety Tony Parrish and returned for 29-yards. This sets up the San Francisco drive at the Eagles four-yard line and brings out Todd Peterson who kicks the winning field goal to make it 31-28 49ers for the win.

Overall Game Analysis

The San Francisco 49ers achieved a miracle finish in this road victory and sent a playoff team hurling for home field advantage and weary of the St. Louis Rams. Certainly we came into this game as seven-point underdogs but came away with the ultimate victory in a road game that ended our dismal plight on the road all season long.

Tony Parrish is the games big finisher as he was the one to capture yet another interception yet is not going to the Pro Bowl when he deserves to more than any other safety in the league. It is a tragedy at how unfair the Pro Bowl can be to certain situations, certainly this is a fair judgment in knowing how spectacular Tony Parrish has been all season long.

Jeff Garcia looked great and played exceptionally enough to win. He was able to be crafty and successful in making completions when he had to. Kevan Barlow’s 154-yards rushing and his two touchdowns helped make the offense multi-dimensional as it opened up opportunities for Brandon Lloyd and Jed Weaver. In all we had 417-yards in total offense against one of the best defenses in the NFL.

This was a game that saw the last playing time of Terrell Owens who’s season came to an end with a broken collarbone. He may never see the playing field again as a 49er and that has both pluses and negatives when you breakdown the tape of his vivid career as a 49er.

Kevan Barlow has made his case as the next starting running back and Jed Weaver has made a statement as a legitimate tight end next to Eric Johnson next year. Cornerback/Safety Dwaine Carpenter started this game in place of Ahmed Plummer and had a nice game in proving that he is also an off-the-street acquisition that may be an option next to an injured Zack Bronson and a Jason Webster.

We now face the last game of the season at home against the Seattle Seahawks. A fitting end would be to achieve .500 status for the season and I hope as all of you that we can achieve that and put a chill on their playoff dreams.

It is difficult to realize that this is our last hurrah for the season, but with it comes learning experiences that I hope will not only instill the players to become better but renew a coaching staff that is still in question with every 49er mind out there.