Not good enough yet

Dec 28, 2006 at 4:11 AM

All of the dreams and hopes of the 49er faithful were erased last Sunday inside Monster Park with the loss to the Arizona Cardinals 26-20. It was the fourth straight defeat the 49ers have suffered against an opponent widely and easily manhandled by others throughout the league.

For some reason though Dennis Green’s Arizona Cardinals looked more like the playoff contender than we did with precise balance between the effective running game that reeled off 123 total yards and a passing attack that registered 267 more yards to seal our fate.

With a victory against the Arizona Cardinals thought to be one that would be achievable, the 49ers were poised to be in the perfect position to challenge the Seattle Seahawks for the National Football Conference’s Western Division. To think that we even were a thought in anyone’s mind of being a playoff contender was like candy to a child behind a glass windowpane.

Everything about this game as I watched it was catastrophic in so many ways. In this game the Arizona Cardinals executed drives like a seasoned veteran club bent on destroying a destiny that had made itself so available to us.

Everyone knew from the fans standing in the rows inside Monster Park to the thousands that watched through the airwaves that prayed for remote possibilities we had a chance to define ourselves.

That definition came in a humiliating defeat as the Arizona Cardinals under two quarterbacks and a talented trio of wide receivers stomped those aspirations into the turf last Sunday. Rookie quarterback Matt Leinart was 9-for-13 with 162 yards and one touchdown against us. His longest passing play being a 57-yard bomb that made your head spin as he shredded our sickly secondary.

Having getting injured though right before halftime because of a vicious Roderick Green sack and dislocating his shoulder, veteran Super Bowl MVP Kurt Warner came in and went 9-for-13 as well with 105 yards passing and helped motivate the victory to its conclusion.

Our offense started off with a blazing thrill show with Maurice Hicks taking Neil Rackers kick to our 32-yard line. From here Alex Smith fed the ball to Frank Gore and Arnaz Battle to advance to the Cardinals 30-yard line where he was sacked to end the drive that should have yielded a touchdown.

Instead 49er kicker Joe Nedney successfully hit a 49-yard field goal for us to take the only lead in the game 3-0. The Arizona Cardinals became the boogey man of all our collective fears following this score by answering the call to score 20 unanswered points of their own.

Right away Matt Leinart answered by hitting talented Larry Fitzgerald with a 57-yard bomb and taking the ball from their 28-yard line to our seven-yard line for a Neil Rackers field goal to make it 3-3.

The San Francisco 49ers under Alex Smith never made a game out of this in the first half because Alex suffered four sacks for a loss of 16-yards to a hungry Cardinal defense bent on stopping Frank Gore.

It did that successfully as Frank Gore was limited to 11 carries for 51 total yards averaging 4.6 yards a carry. However he was successful down in the red zone when we did make it for two touchdowns and one long dash for 15-yards.

The effective nullification of Frank Gore of course made Alex Smith the other option we know has had his share of tribulations. Alex Smith went 18-of-29 for 190 total yards and one interception. He never threw a touchdown against the Arizona Cardinal defense and was pressured and sacked on a consistent basis throughout the game.

The offensive line a usual stalwart on this team showed cracks of vulnerability as left tackle Jonas Jennings left the game due to injury and center Tony Wragge continued to fill in for veteran Eric Heitmann.

Right tackle Kwame Harris continues to be the weak link in this line on a consistent basis as I watched his inadequate and awkward ability to block and protect Alex Smith from imminent danger time and time again. Adam Snyder came in and filled the void left by Jonas Jennings and in my opinion deserves to be the starter at right tackle following this turbulent season.

The Arizona Cardinals struck again on a second drive in the first quarter on good field position at their own 36-yard line. From there they marched down to our five-yard line with assistance on a personal foul on Manny Lawson for unnecessary roughness on a takedown that I thought was questionable.

Marcel Shipp crashed in easily for the touchdown to make it 10-3 Cardinals. From here Arizona would never punt the ball in the first half and would control time of possession because of our inability to sustain drives on third down. In fact we only converted 2-of-9 third down opportunities for a pathetic 22% compared to Arizona’s 8-for-16 at 50%.

As the second quarter peaked Matt Leinart again drove the Cardinals from their 26-yard line down to our six-yard line where he connected with Larry Fitzgerald for a touchdown to make it 17-3 Arizona. Poor tackling was again a noticeable occurrence on the field when it involved our very soft secondary.

Both Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin displayed great physical dominance over the very maligned and weak secondary that was left helpless by a non-existent pass rush outside of Roderick Green. If anything is blatantly apparent in this game and many more we need to draft and or acquire a number of talents that will apply that much needed pressure in the future.

On a second drive in the second quarter Arizona drove from their 46-yard line because of a facemask penalty on Brian Jennings to our 21-yard line where Neil Rackers hit a field goal to make it 20-3 Cardinals. Alex Smith answered with a drive assisted with some Arizona penalties of their own to end the first half on a Joe Nedney field goal to make it 20-6 Arizona.

One thing that was very clear to the 49er passing game was the absence of Antonio Bryant despite the pleasant catches recorded by tight end Vernon Davis. His suspension for four games for his DUI arrest has cost the 49ers dearly in more ways than one as that will carry over into next season as well.

“Whether he’s been productive in the game or not, he has an impact out there, he can make big plays, he gets the attention of the defense.” Quarterback Alex Smith said of Bryant. “A lot of it goes unsaid, and even he gets frustrated about it. But even if he’s not making plays, he opens up things for guys.”

Bryan Gilmore the third tier wide receiver in our arsenal started in Bryant’s place of course and never ever caught a pass in this game. In fact he saw just one pass thrown his way, late in the second quarter, which was effectively knocked away fro him near the goal line.

“It was perfect timing, man, “ Gilmore said. “He hit me in the back and made my head snap. When that happens you can’t really focus on the ball. It was a great ball by Alex. He put it right there and I thought I had a touchdown. But he hit me perfect.”

Having your top deep threat in a receiver out for four weeks allows others to step-up but Antonio’s absence couldn’t have come at a worst time where we were trying to advance to make a playoff appearance more likely to happen.

Tight end Vernon Davis continues to be the complete package we drafted last year and is defining himself more and more as the season progresses. He had four receptions for 91 total yards in this game, including a 29-yard grab that had him slammed by defensive back Robert Griffith that was called for a personal foul.

“I think I stepped up,” Davis said, “But it would’ve been good having Antonio out there, especially when you have a guy that can make plays.”

“Those guys were keying in on me. They were all over the place. They had a guy on top of me, and then the safety would come over. It was kind of tough getting open, but I made it happen.”

The San Francisco 49ers did make something happen in the second half with a fumble recovery on a punt that Maurice Hicks came away with on the Cardinal 46-yard line where we drove to the two-yard line and Frank Gore crashed it in to make it 20-13 Cardinals.

Neil Rackers answered at the start of the fourth quarter though to make it 23-13 Cardinals that was absolutely questionable when you look at the replay of that kick as it sailed over the uprights. Again it was a situation where the officiating has been a thorn in our collective rear-ends for God only knows how long this season.

At the start of the fourth after an amazing kick return by Maurice Hicks for 64 total yards down to the Arizona 34-yard line Alex Smith threw an interception intended for Frank Gore that had the pass off the tips of his fingers.

And then again on their second possession from our 17-yard line Alex Smith threw to Arnaz Battle whom had the ball jabbed out from his grasp fumbling and recovered by Arizona. From the 49er 14-yard line Neil Rackers hit a field goal to make it 26-13 Arizona.

On yet another good kick return from Maurice Hicks to our 42-yard line, Alex Smith drove the team down to the Cardinal one-yard line where Frank Gore added our last score to make it 26-20 Cardinals. Arizona never gave us another opportunity to secure the ball with five minutes left to play because our defense couldn’t stop them on third down.

“We wanted to control the ball and keep Gore off the field as much as possible,” Leinart said. “He gives them a real threat offensively, so it was important for us to jump out to the lead and build on it like we did.”

“I would say that a year ago, my vision was that we were a team that hoped to win,” Nolan said. “We won four games. I think that this year we were a team that began to believe that they could win. We’ve won six games. I believe that the next step for us is to expect to win.” “We’re not there yet.”

Not good enough is my opinion. We have so many holes to fill and a maturing process that is still in its developmental stages. We need to understand that mistakes on the field cost games and that execution on third downs has to happen in order to sustain drives. Our defense is in need of a complete overhaul, one I am hopeful will happen in the off-season as a top priority.

Of course I am extremely disappointed that we didn’t defy all odds and make the playoffs anyways. But how far would we have gone anyway? Probably would’ve been knocked out in the first round, but it would’ve signaled the league that we had already arrived.

Well not yet anyways. Not good enough. Yours and mine truly are not ready yet as it has been said so eloquently from the best. We can only hope that we play the spoiler for those that have spoiled something dear to us, because retribution just feels so nice.
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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