Preseason is a fatality

Sep 8, 2004 at 12:00 AM

Coming out of the Chicago Bear game the San Francisco 49ers stood at (0-2) and was now staring at a game inside the Metrodome against the Minnesota Vikings. Although the losses were tough to bear meaningful performances were registered and viable observations made on the part of the coaching staff of the San Francisco 49ers.

Even more encouraging was the news that long-time holdout premier linebacker extraordinaire Julian Peterson signed the one-year tender, of $6.1 million after a 27-day holdout at the suggestion of his preposterous agents in the Poston brothers.

Peterson's return has long been awaited and encouraged by the 49er coaching staff, especially defensive coordinator Willy Robinson who has been working on brand new defensive schemes and some different formations that will target the strength of the defense in its very own linebacker corps.

"It's all love like I never left," said linebacker Julian Peterson when asked about the welcome he got from his 49er teammates. "It's like I went on a long vacation."

Julian deep inside has wanted to comeback to the training facility at Santa Clara but has followed the orders of his agents in hopes of landing a more blockbuster of a contract that would make him a rich fat cat so to speak. Teammates have been pressing him privately and even keeping him up to date on all the happenings inside and outside of training camp.

"When they were out here practicing, I was driving by at the top of the hill honking my horn," he said. "That was me."

Right now Peterson must learn the intricate terminology of Willy Robinson's new defensive schematics and practice playing in an alignment that uses three down linemen and four linebackers, as he implemented as a coach back with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

"I've mentioned numerous times that the longer he's here, the more things we can do defensively and the more impact he can have against Atlanta," Erickson said one Wednesday. "That's the bottom line with all of this, to get ready for Sept. 12."

The San Francisco 49ers encountered a Minnesota buzz saw when they entered the Metrodome in Minneapolis Minnesota on the evening of August 27, 2004. In the first half the 49er defense was virtually shredded from one end to the other by a Viking offense orchestrated by quarterback Daunte Culpepper as he completed 19-of-26 passes for 200-yards and two touchdowns in the first half.

The only real positives for the 49ers were the return of offensive center Jeremy Newberry and starting quarterback Tim Rattay to the lineup. Rattay's first appearance of the preseason though was marred as he went three and out on his first series and never was able to shake the cobwebs that hung from his inactivity. He finished the night completing 7-of-10 passes for just 51-yards.

Tim Rattay took the hit as a starting quarterback ought to when he blamed his offense and himself for not being up to par as he should be. He also showed clear frustration at the nagging injury questions that put him in this vulnerable situation. Yet Dennis Erickson saw something totally different and commented that it was collective team effort that lost the game not just his starting quarterback and the offense.

"My arm felt fine and it's close to being 100%," Rattay said. "I'm just disappointed we didn't put any points on the board. We just didn't do that and it really hurts the defense. We need to be better on offense and it starts with me."

Preseason Game #3 San Francisco 49ers at the Minnesota Vikings (Loss 23-10)

Winners: The return of offensive center Jeremy Newberry and quarterback Tim Rattay were more than welcome signs. These two are virtual centerpieces for a 49er offense that has really undergone a complete facelift and a half. It will be up to these two leaders to instill the doctrines of old and discipline into an offense marred with inexperience.

"It's nice to get back out there and play a little," said Newberry, who also had off-season ankle surgery. "I'm feeling pretty good. My knee is still bugging me a little. It's nice not having the ankle nagging at me. Once I get it warmed up the knee feels good."

Running back Jamal Robertson shined on a 40-yard run and a six-yard burst into the end zone to score. And kicker Kirk Yliniemi booted a 44-yard field goal to challenge veteran Todd Peterson.

"Obviously, (Yliniemi) is kicking the ball extremely well," said Erickson, who coached Yliniemi at Oregon State. "Todd is a veteran kicker, obviously. We are only going to keep one kicker. Kirk has come in and done a nice job."

Cornerback Jimmy Williams had a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and a pass defended in his outing as he was one of the very few that had a good night. Quarterback Cody Pickett looked impressive on a 12-play, 52-yard scoring drive that was one of the few 49er highlights during the game.

Losers: Cornerback Ahmed Plummer played poorly getting beat on a touchdown pass to Kelly Campbell. Punter Andy Groom lost ground to Andy Lee by getting out-punted with Lee averaging 39.4 to Groom's 31.3. The entire 49er defense that gave up over 500- total yards of offense to the Vikings overall and the 49er offense for it's inability to secure the ball and score points.

First Quarter Highlights: On a great kick return the ball is set up for the Vikings at the 49er 47-yard line where Daunte Culpepper drives his offense down to the 49er 17 -yard line and hits Nate Burleson for a touchdown making it 7-0 Vikings. 49ers go three and out under the rustiness of Tim Rattay and the Vikings get the ball on their 38-yard line where they drive down again to the 49er 26-yard line and Culpepper hits Kelly Campbell for another quick touchdown to make it 13-0 Vikings after extra point is no good.

Again the 49ers go three and out and Minnesota drives from their 17-yard line down to the 49er 18-yard line when Culpepper hits Randy Moss and is hit by 49er Jimmy Williams and he fumbles, in which Jimmy recovers the fumble.

Second Quarter Highlights: On the Minnesota 35-yard line Culpepper drives the Vikings down to the 49er 17-yard line where a field goal is made to make it 16-0 Vikings. On the next 49er drive under Tim Rattay the drive is killed after looking promising by a sack to Rattay and offensive holding on right guard Kyle Kosier. No scoring is done all the way till halftime as the 49ers go in down 16-0.

Third Quarter Highlights: First 49er drive killed by offensive holding on left guard Eric Heitmann, but the Vikings turn it over and the 49ers get good field position on the Minnesota 46-yard line when running back Jamal Robertson breaks a 40-yard run to the six-yard line where he brings it in for a touchdown to make it 16-7 Vikings.

Fourth Quarter Highlights: A drive by the 49ers that begins in the third quarter runs into the fourth under new quarterback Cody Pickett. They start at their won 22-yard line and reach the Minnesota 26-yard line after a Pickett pass to tight end Aaron Walker is nullified for a touchdown due to offensive holding. From here kicker Kirk Yliniemi hits a 44-yard field goal to make it 16-10 Vikings.

On the Minnesota 40-yard line Gus Frerotte drives the Vikings down to the 49er 24-yard line where the ball is run in for a 24-yard touchdown to make it the final score of 23-10 Vikings.

Statistics: Minnesota's offense controlled this game from the very start with 28 first downs to 11 for the 49ers and converted 50% of its third downs to 17% for the 49ers. The Vikings rolled up 543 total yards of offense on the 49ers to 167-yards for the 49ers.

The Vikings shredded our run defense for 220-yards and 323-yards in passing. Despite having fewer penalties than the Vikings, the Vikings won time of possession by a landslide 38:00 to 22:00 for the 49ers thereby defeating us 23-10.

Soon after this game decisions and cuts were made to the San Francisco roster with quarterback Brandon Doman losing out to rookie Cody Pickett in the process. Other notable players cut were punter Andy Groom and running back Jason Wright. Still another major setback right before the preseason finale against the San Diego Chargers was the back injury to rookie defensive lineman Isaac Sapoaga.

Sapoaga is headed to the Injured Reserve List after being out most of training camp and was counted on heavily to shore up a thin and underweight defensive front. This has forced the 49ers to scramble and find any free agent defensive linemen that might be still available out there.

"He has a fractured vertebra, that just needs time to rest," Donahue said. "I can't tell you that he has been placed on IR today, but at some point he will be placed on Injured Reserve."

Preseason Game #4 San Diego Chargers at San Francisco 49ers (Loss 31-15)

Being home for this game was a Godsend after losing two in a row on the road at Chicago and Minnesota. The San Francisco 49ers were beginning to see just how inexperienced and thin they were on both offense and defense after these last two contests.

Winners: Quarterback Tim Rattay who completed 7-of-8 passes for 101-yards and one touchdown, which was by all NFL standards a perfect outing for the starting quarterback, and he showed a precision about him that penetrated the rust he has had as of late.

"I think we needed to finish off on a high note offensively," Rattay said. "I think we had some good drives going there and just didn't finish them."

Quarterback Ken Dorsey who threw three touchdowns passes but all three were brought back because of penalties. Wide Receiver Rashaun Woods who finally started and had three catches for 33-yards. Wide Receiver Brandon Lloyd who made a leaping 35-yard touchdown pass from Tim Rattay.

Losers: Running back Maurice Hicks who fumble at the goal line on the final play of the game. The entire 49er defense that gave up 198-yards rushing to the Chargers and the 49er offense that had potentially three touchdowns but were negated due to idiotic penalties.

"You can never look at it like, "It's just the preseason," 49ers linebacker Jeff Ulbrich said following the 49ers 31-15 loss in the exhibition finale against the San Diego Chargers. "We take pride in what we do here, and we didn't do it like we need to."

First Quarter Highlights: San Francisco starts the drive but is cut short on a Jeremy Newberry penalty for offensive holding. San Diego starts out at their 2-yard line thanks to a wonderful Andy Lee punt and on second down fumble the ball that is recovered by 49er cornerback Mike Rumph.

From the Charger 37-yard line Tim Rattay directs a drive to the Charger 27-yard line but is sacked and fumbles the ball away. The Chargers under Drew Brees from the 49er 47-yard line drive down to the 4-yard line and run in the touchdown to make it 7-0 Chargers.

Tim Rattay begins our next drive from the 28-yard line and drives down to the Charger 41-yard line where he lobs a wonderful pass to wide receiver Brandon Lloyd who brings it in for a touchdown, but the extra point is no good making it 7-6 Chargers.

Second Quarter Highlights: Drew Brees starts out on the Charger 28-yard line and drives the team to the 49er 35-yard line where he connects with Eric Parker for a 35-yard touchdown to make it 14-6 San Diego.

On the next 49er drive from our 43-yard line Ken Dorsey hands off to running back Maurice Hicks who is hit behind the line of scrimmage and fumbles the ball and is recovered by the Chargers.

The Chargers now on our 26-yard line get down top the 21-yard line where they kick a 39-yard field goal to make it 17-6 Chargers. The 49ers get the ball back on their 24-yard line where Ken Dorsey begins his work and drives down to the Charger 27-yard line when he hits Rashaun Woods with a 27-yard touchdown but it is nullified due to illegal shifting.

Again Dorsey from the 21-yard line hits wide receiver Arnaz Battle for a touchdown but again it is nullified for a penalty on offensive holding. And last but not least Dorsey again from the 12-yard line hits tight end Aaron Walker for a touchdown but it is nullified for tripping.

In all Ken Dorsey manages to get the ball down to the 1-yard line where we kick a field goal to make it 17-9 San Diego. On the Chargers next drive from our there 26-yard line San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers throws an interception to Jimmy Williams, which sets us up at the Charger 2-yard line. From here running back Jamal Robertson runs in the touchdown, but a two-point conversion fails making it 17-15 Chargers.

Third Quarter Highlights: Under Philip Rivers at their own 20-yard line the Chargers drive down to the 2-yard line where they run in another touchdown to make it 24-15 Chargers. This drive eats the clock so much that the 49ers get one drive that fails on incomplete passes by Ken Dorsey.

Fourth Quarter Highlights: Philip Rivers starts out at his own 7-yard line and drives to the 8-yard line and is forced to punt the ball, which is fumbles, by 49er Arnaz Battle in which the Chargers recover on the 49er 23-yard line.

From here they drive to our 4-yard line where Rivers hits Kevin Dyson for a touchdown to make it 31-15 Chargers. From here this would be the final score after two more 49er drives that the last one was again killed on penalties.

Statistics: On first downs the 49ers has 23-21 for the Chargers but the Chargers converted 50% of their third downs compared to 33% for the 49ers. The 49er defense allowed 198 total yards in rushing by the Charger backfield. The 49ers out passed the Chargers 319 to 145 but missed two extra point attempts as well.

Penalties killed a spirited Ken Dorsey offensive series where the turn of the tide could have been reversed. The San Diego Chargers won time of possession by 32:35 to 27:25 for the 49ers. This left the 49ers winless on the preseason and raised concerns and fears of so much more worse to come.

San Francisco has a lot of evaluating to do after this preseason season. Granted we have injured players that aren't contributing but at the same time we realize depth is thin in many spots where salary cap trauma has passed through. Facing the Atlanta Falcons under Mike Vick will be a major task at hand for this defense that is near the bottom statistically for the preseason.

It is my profound hope that Dennis Erickson and his assistants will find the right winning formula to beat the Atlanta Falcons although the whole world believes otherwise. We are a young and inexperienced team, one that probably won't make it to the playoffs but one that will surprise and confound many a team. I am excited for this season and wish all of you a great NFL season and God Bless our 49ers!
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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