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The Ending we all saw coming

Jan 2, 2004 at 12:00 AM

The Seattle Seahawks new long time rivals of the San Francisco 49ers officially ended their season with a 24-17 triumph in Candlestick Park nonetheless. Of all the games that the 49ers lost especially while on the road barring the only win in Philadelphia, this was a game the 49ers felt confident that they could win at home. Being spoilers to the Seattle Seahawks playoff hopes is something that would’ve soothed the open wounds of not being in the postseason as well.

San Francisco 49er fans all over the world have expressed their disillusionment with new head coach Dennis Erickson and with the owners of Denise DeBartolo and Dr. John York. Nothing has really changed and it doesn’t seem it ever will as the ownership of this team continues to neglect the very foundation of what this franchise was built on. It was built on winning and character and fundamental respect through great players and coaches performing on and off the field.

Team consultant Bill Walsh was the architect of this great revolution that put the San Francisco 49ers in the limelight of professional football forever. It was this man that in conjunction with Eddie DeBartolo that made this franchise one of the most coveted franchises in football history.

From obscurity to playoffs and to the Super Bowl repeatedly the 49ers obtained glory and a championship image that all wanted to play in. This championship flavor carried over with George Seifert and even Steve Mariucci.

In came the transition of Eddie’s sister and husband and the erosion began with the ouster of Steve Mariucci over philosophical differences as it is termed and the desperate last minute hiring of an outcast in Dennis Erickson.

So much of the season has been a roller coaster of inconsistency and injuries. So much of the season has boiled down to questionable play calling and head coaching involvement. So much of the season we witnessed players that were once elite fall into mediocrity. So much of this season did we have fears that were prevalent and witnessed them come true.

So was the last game of the season where we had a chance to end the season at (8-8) a hallmark record that would’ve put us at .500. It all fell apart much the same way the entire season has right before our eyes. More heartbreak seems to be on the way as we hear the statements come out of the front office that the belt in spending will only continue to tighten.

Remarkable free agents will be lost after this season as the San Francisco 49ers enter yet another salary cap nightmare as they did back in 1999. The list goes on and on. Players that fell beyond the realm of the elite and didn’t perform to our standards need to be identified and released. Coaches that didn’t get the mandate together and watched their units make mistake after mistake should also be held accountable.

The loss to the Seattle Seahawks left us at (7-9) on the 2003 season and left a stale taste in every 49er fan around the world as they watched their season end. The win helped Seattle jump into the playoffs by a slim margin as they improved their record to (10-6).

The win at Candlestick came on the arm of Seattle Seahawk quarterback Matt Hasselback and the Seattle ferocity on run defense. He completed 24-of-37 passes for 315-yards and two touchdowns to help lift his team despite even being intercepted twice. The Seattle Seahawks defensive line took control at the line of scrimmage and dominated by stuffing our running game, which on 22 carries generated just 59 rushing yards.

What also helped was that Jeff Garcia was not his usual self in this game as he went on a hot streak in December only to fall apart with inconsistency in the last game of the season. Jeff finished 22-of-38 for 248-yards with two touchdowns, one interception and a quarterback rating of 84.1%.

For you starting quarterback to struggle so much in a season filled with negative complexities and injuries is exhausting mentally to fathom. It is even more stressful to see him finally get it together after a win in Philadelphia and then see him go down that same old road again.

“To not go out there and play the game that we expected ourselves to play, and for me not to play the way I know I can play, it is frustrating. It’s disappointing to end the season on this note,” Garcia said. “We are a better team than what we showed today, and the game is about opportunities and taking advantages of opportunities. We had some great opportunities tonight that we didn’t take advantage of. So, that is the disappointing part to not really show our best or our true colors tonight. Unfortunately, we struggle again in a close loss.”

So many of the other veterans signaled their discontent about this loss and the entire season that was supposed to have so much promise in it. Players hung their heads and randomly cleaned out their lockers after the game. Many believed it would be their last time in a San Francisco 49er uniform and disappeared rather quickly.

“Some of the younger players are learning about the 49er tradition, learning that this is unacceptable,” Derrick Deese said after the season-ending loss to the Seattle Seahawks. “If even we were 8-8, that’s not acceptable. We’re better then that, And I think this team knows it. We just got some unlucky breaks.”

In response to the coaching involvement on Dennis Erickson’s part the truth will be told sooner rather than later in my opinion. Did he involve himself enough in every single game this year? The answer to that in my opinion is no way. So much of what Dennis promised and said he would implement never really happened. And as far as the discipline it never really existed as well as penalties continues to mar the team on a weekly basis.

“I probably will be involved with the offense next year, much more than I was this year, without question,” Erickson said. “I will even get involved a bit defensively as I get to know it.”

“When your 7-9, none of us has done our best job that we can do,” added Erickson, who went 7-9 once and 8-8 three times as a Seattle Seahawks coach from 1995-98. “We worked our rear-ends off. Next year I will be much, more involved in all aspects of this football team than when I was coming in.”

Overall Game Statistics

Jeff Garcia was not his usual self by any means overthrown passes at times and even under-thrown ones at that. He went 22-of-38 for 248-yards with two touchdowns, one interception and a quarterback rating of 84.1%. He had a long reception of 44-yards but was also sacked three times for a loss of 17-yards.

In the running game we hit a solid wall with Kevan Barlow again starting for an injured Garrison Hearst he had 14 carries for 40-yards averaging only 2.9-yards per carry. Jeff was second with two carries for 15-yards and all together we only generated 59-yards in our rushing attack. Kevan Barlow did lead in receptions though with six for 38-yards, followed by Cedrick Wilson with five for 50-yards and a touchdown.

Tight end Jed weaver came away with four receptions for 58-yards and a touchdown and Brandon Lloyd had three receptions for 63-yards. In all the passing game generated 248-yards worth of offense.

Special teams again were not at all that special with limited punt and kickoff returns of little value and a failed field goal by Todd Peterson before the half. Defensively the 49ers could not stop the bleeding in the secondary as Matt Hasselback for the Seattle Seahawks picked away at a young secondary for 315-yards and two touchdowns.

49er cornerback Jason Webster and linebacker Jeff Ulbrich, who also recorded the team’s only sack, recorded interceptions. Safety Tony Parrish led the team in tackles at 10, followed by Derek Smith and Dwaine Carpenter with nine tackles each.

The Seattle Seahawks had 25 first downs to our 14 and a third down efficiency of 46% compared to our 29%. Penalties were dead even at six apiece and red zone efficiency we fared a little better. We did lose time of possession though with 28:09 to their 31:51.

This was a must win for the Seattle Seahawks to make the playoffs and they did due to lost opportunities and poor mechanics by Jeff Garcia and a defense with no pass rush and ability to shut down the passing game of Matt Hasselback.

First Quarter Game Highlights

No score is recorded in this quarter as both teams struggle to move the ball. Jeff Garcia is sacked and Ahmed Plummer is called for defensive pass interference at the end of the first quarter on a Seattle Seahawk drive to the San Francisco 38-yard line.

Second Quarter Game Highlights

On the pas interference call the Seattle Seahawks reach the 49er 31-yard where they attempt a 49-yard field goal, which goes wide, left for no score. Jeff Garcia begins the 49er drive on the 40-yard line and drives the team down to the Seattle 18-yard line where he hits tight end Jed Weaver in the end zone for a touchdown to make it 7-0 49ers.

On Seattle’s second drive of the quarter from their 29-yard line Matt Hasselback fires to Bobby Engram when linebacker Jeff Ulbrich who returns it 10-yards to the Seattle 19-yard line intercepts him. From here Jeff Garcia drives them to the Seattle 14-yard line where he hits Cedrick Wilson for a touchdown to make it 14-0 49ers.

The Seattle Seahawks frustrated start out at their 27-yard line and come out firing with a penalty to 49er linebacker Derek Smith for a facemask assisting them. They drive the ball all the way down to the 49er 31-yard line where Hasselback finds Anthony Bannister for a 31-yard touchdown to make it 14-7 49ers.

With the ball back in San Francisco’s hands they go three and out and punt the ball, but Seattle fumbles the ball and it is recovered by the 49ers putting them at the Seattle 40-yard line. Jeff Garcia goes back to pass to Tai Streets and is intercepted by M. Trufant and the ball is again in Seattle’s possession at the Seattle 32-yard line.

From here they drive to the 49er three-yard line where Seattle Seahawk running back Shaun Alexander runs it in for a touchdown to make it 14-14 with help on a penalty to Mike Rumph for illegal contact.

San Francisco takes over at their 36-yard line and begin an impressive drive to the Seattle Seahawk 12-yard line after miscues in a fumble by Cedrick Wilson that is recovered and unnecessary roughness on Seattle’s Reggie Tongue.

The 49ers die at the 12-yard line due to offensive pass interference on Tai Streets and attempt a 29-yard field goal which Todd Peterson misses hitting the right upright. The score stays tied at halftime 14-14.

Third Quarter Game Highlights

Coming out tied the San Francisco 49ers remained optimistic that they could still dominate this game and from the 49er 30-yard line they began their drive. The 49ers under Jeff Garcia reached the Seattle Seahawk 20-yard line where they were called on a penalty for delay of game. The 49ers are forced to kick a 38-yard field goal to make it 17-14 49ers.

On Seattle’s second drive of the quarter from their 43-yard line they drive down to the 49ers 30-yard line where he hits Koren Robinson for a touchdown that is challenged but not overturned. The Seattle Seahawks cut holes in our sails with a 21-17 lead. The 49ers end the quarter on a drive that is utter frustration and Jeff Garcia again getting sacked forcing them to punt the ball.

Fourth Quarter Game Highlights

On the Seattle Seahawk’s second drive of the quarter at their own 49-yard line Matt Hasselback reaches the 49er 40-yard line where he throws a pass to Koren Robinson that is intercepted by 49er Jason Webster and returned 17-yards. The 49ers are unable to do anything after the turnover and the Seahawks start their next drive from their 15-yard line.

From here the Seattle Seahawks play clock control and manage the clock well as they drive all the way to the 49er 15-yard line on Shaun Alexander’s durable legs. From here they kick a 33-yard field goal that makes it 24-17 Seattle Seahawks and remains that despite the 49ers getting the ball back with 1:56 left to play as Jeff Garcia is again sacked. The 2003 season ends for the San Francisco 49ers as Seattle Seahawk quarterback Matt Hasselback kneels to run out the clock.

Overall Game Analysis

There is no doubt that we could’ve won this game simply be executing better and applying a pass rush that would keep Matt Hasselback off rhythm. We were unable to force a running game on the Seattle Seahawks. Our offensive line was manhandled at the line of scrimmage, and was unable to create lanes for Kevan Barlow to maximize our offensive production. Nor was the offensive line effective in protecting Jeff Garcia as he was sacked three times.

Jeff Garcia was clearly not himself as well in that his throws were way off target and he was clearly frustrated with the pressure that contained him in the pocket far too often. The coaching staff has to take accountability for the breakdown on the offense and the inability to put Matt Hasselback on his heels and on his back. The Seattle Seahawks under Mike Holmgren clearly had goals set when they came into Candlestick and his familiarity with the West Coast offense assisted them in the victory.

This was a game that clearly identified the need for a breakaway wide receiver for the 49ers. Brandon Lloyd did have a spectacular catch and was a factor. But a Terrell Owens probably would’ve made this game more interesting with his presence known and his ability to make a play that turned up points at the right time.

Can we win without Terrell Owens? Of course we can. But it is evident that we will suffer should he not be resigned and until a playmaker stands up and takes his place. Brandon Lloyd could be that athlete but he is still very untested and very inexperienced in the game up until this point.

We may have to withstand a lot of rookie growing pains in the next few years should we lose experienced free agents in Terrell Owens and Tai Streets. It will be interesting to see where we will wind up in the passing options come next season. Of all the spots that have been a positive Jed Weaver has made his name known with his playmaking abilities. He has certainly earned his way in getting a roster spot in my opinion next to Eric Johnson for next year.

There is so much to consider who and what is to blame for our 2003 season. The facts are right in front of us if we all tear apart the season and look at it game by game. Somehow we must find a way to survive and to look forward despite our agitation and frustration. Should we allow Dennis Erickson a grace period and see what he can do next year? I guess we’ll have to seeing that Dr. John York has given him his blessing.

The time to win though was probably this year considering the 14 free agents that are up for free agency. We will be a different looking team next year and most likely a younger one at that.

San Francisco 49er fans are impatient and we like to see results right away. However under this ownership and this administration we are being forced to take the wait and see approach much more often. Money is scarce and benefits are limited. Dr. John York will count the change after every transaction and you can take that one to the bank.

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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