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All of a Sudden, A Season on the Brink

Oct 13, 2009 at 6:14 AM


Believe it or not, halfway through the second quarter, everything was fine.

We'd had some early jitters. Shaun Hill's first pass was tipped and picked, and Atlanta drove a short field for a score. Then, after another of our patented three-and-outs, the Falcons cut through our defense with frightening efficiency. They gobbled up 5, 8, 9, and 16 yards, inducing Mike Singletary to spend a timeout and conduct another of his "gather 'round, boys" pep talks. The TV cameras love these, and they do look good. And they work, too. In Arizona, some said it inspired our defense to save the game.

This time, it inspired our defense to give up a 31-yard touchdown pass.

Maybe this just isn't our day.

But then we answered, with Josh Morgan picking up 61 of the 78 yards that we drove for our first score. 14-7. Our defense held, and then we scored on a drive of 40, 18 of which came on another of Jimmy Raye's pass-plays for fourth and a foot. (Seriously, does this guy have a middle gear between prehistoric and almost crazy?) 14-10. Our defense recovered a fumble, and though we couldn't move the ball, we downed a punt at the Falcons' four. Two plays got them to the 10, setting up a huge third-down. Another stop, and we'd get the ball back, with great field-position and all the momentum in the world.

Like I said, halfway through the second quarter, everything was fine.

Over the next six minutes, though, we were simply destroyed. In what seemed like the blink of an eye, the Falcons definitively ended the game. And the turn was so sweeping, so dramatic, that it's not unfair to ask whether they ended our season as well.

This is how you describe a total collapse. On that third-and-four at the Atlanta 10, Matt Ryan throws a harmless ball to Roddy White. Tackle him there, and the Falcons will punt. Instead, Nate Clements takes a ridiculous stab at the ball, allowing White to spin around him and go 90 yards for a gift of a backbreaker. On the ensuing kickoff, the Falcons recover a "fumble" that was obviously caused by terra firma, but the Niners are out of timeouts and unable to challenge. (Fox's announcers spend a good five minutes lighting into Glen Coffee, whose missed assignment forced us to blow our second timeout; they leave alone Singletary's wholly ineffectual pep talk.) Our defense, still in shock and in no condition to be back on the field, promptly gives up a 33-yard run and a touchdown two plays later. Now, desperately needing to sustain a drive that ends in points, our offense comes up with yet another three-and-out, which takes all of 43 seconds. After a punt, and a personal foul for good measure, the Falcons take over at midfield against a defense that still doesn't know what hit it. They pick up yards in clumps of 12, 12, 10, 5, and 24 before they punch it in from the one.

At third and four, everything was fine. Six minutes later, the Niners' offense had picked up two yards, and the Falcons' offense had picked up three touchdowns. When halftime mercifully arrived, Atlanta had racked up 340 yards and set a franchise record for first-half points, a record that'll probably stand forever.

That, my friends, is a total collapse.

The second half only cemented the disgrace. Sure, the Falcons let up on the gas a little, giving our defense a reprieve. But on offense we went into catch-up mode, throwing on nearly every down and proving how poorly equipped we are to do so. Yeah, there's Hill's lack of a big-play arm, but behind our offensive line even Peyton Manning would be reduced to quivering goo. I think the verdict's in: three fifths of this line—including two very high draft-picks—just shouldn't be playing. So before you demand Hill's head on a platter, you might want to see how he does when he's not, as Singletary aptly put it, "running for his life the whole game."

Throw in Singletary's embarrassing breach of "coaching etiquette" (so much for the unflappable tower of strength), and Dre Bly's rank and utter stupidity (which Singletary disturbingly decided to ignore), and we've got what we swore was gone for good.

We knew we'd lose a game or two. We knew we'd struggle, here and there. What we swore was gone, though, was the humiliation. The dread of watching a team that was unprepared, unfocused, and unprofessional. The horror of seeing the fire go out at the first sign of trouble. Of watching our Niners just pack up and quit.

So it's no big deal that we lost to the Falcons, who are obviously good. What's put us suddenly on the brink is the way we lost, and what it says about Singletary. He didn't promise us the best team in the league, and of course he couldn't; Scot McCloughan hadn't done nearly a good enough job for that. What he did promise us, though, was a team that simply would never quit. A team with unshakable intensity, discipline, and guts. A team that simply would fight to the end.

Through our first four games, he kept his promise, and we saw what a difference it made. But on this bloody Sunday, he broke his promise, into thousands of pieces, and our future depends on whether he can put it back together.

As we head into the bye week, with the teeth of our schedule looming on the other side, we find ourselves at a dangerous crossroads. It's possible, and perhaps even likely, this horrible loss is just an aberration, an inexplicable pothole on the road to glory, much like a memorable 40-to-8 pasting we absorbed 15 years ago. But there's another possibility too. A bunch of us have wondered, how long can this go on? How long can Singletary, through sheer force of will, continue to spin this straw into gold? For a lot of us, the abiding fear is that he can only carry this roster so far. The fear is that eventually his spell will wear off, and that another strong start will devolve into another miserable season. The fear, quite simply, is that it's just a matter of time.

It's possible, and perhaps even likely, the time is now.
The views within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


9 Comments

  • Hawaiian Niner
    Fire Scot!!! Fire Jimmy Raye!!!! Call Eddie and brace yourselves my Niner Faithful. Baby Jed & Co are abusing the lifers again. Seriously, what a FRAUD! WTF???
    Oct 25, 2009 at 11:24 AM
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  • Dan
    49ers 22, Texans 3. You know we can do it too.
    Oct 23, 2009 at 12:40 PM
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  • ShaneO
    Jeff, no good stuff for us lately? there is a TON going on right now! i wanted to comment on a few things. i feel like i'm about 2 be realistic. I feel TERRIBLE about this sunday's game, i want us to win, i'll just say i won't be surprised if we get crushed. i don't believe in the 9ers-play-poorly-after-byes thing, every year is different. however it's a combo of our O-line and D backfield. We are still doing this rotating O-line thing. it's HORRIBLE. o-line is not like d-line, u don't rotate to keep guys fresh. u need guys to get used to each other. look at the G-men. no superstars just 5 guys that play like one. u don't get that by switching guys in and out. then moving Snyder, not good! the guy says he doesn't like G! now we are switching him in and out...for a guy that also sucks? and then Hou's offensive attack is hot rite now. and we are going with either Roman (god help us) or lewis, who idc what he says, 3 head shots in a month and you're thinking about it. you're gonna be a step slow. it's only human. that's life threatening stuff. on top of that u got a guy on ur team whose career just ended due to the same injury u just got 3 times in a month. it will be on his mind. this could get ugly!
    Oct 22, 2009 at 9:10 AM
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    Response: I'm sorry I left you in the lurch, Shane; I committed myself to taking the bye week off, but I'm grateful to know you missed me. I'm also sorry to hear that you're becoming less like your usual optimistic self, i.e., more like me. (I wouldn't wish that on anyone!) As for your concerns, I know that a rotation on the O-line isn't ideal, but as we agreed below, Singletary needed to do SOMETHING, and I'm willing to wait and see how this works. I'm with you, though, on the (probable) loss of an effective Lewis; with Roman in there, we could be in very big trouble. But there'll be plenty of opportunity to hash all this out in the wake of Sunday's game. As usual, I'll do my hashing on Tuesday. Thanks again for reading!
  • Marc
    Wow, you should be a motivational speaker, with all that optimism.
    Oct 14, 2009 at 2:03 PM
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    Response: Do I detect sarcasm?
  • DieHard
    Very important to mention that it was our favorite player Mark Roman who was to blame for the 90 yard run by Roddy White. SURPRISE! He took an angle that I just don't understand. If you watch it, it's just astonishing. Shaun Hill is a really good backup QB in my opinion. He can come in and manage a game when your playmaking QB gets hurt and you need someone not to screw things up. He won't win you many games though. He can't get the ball consistently to the outside. I used to think it was his strength that he took what the defense was giving him, but now I see that the dumpoffs are his crutch. He can't hit a receiver unless they are wide open, and even the long catch and run by Morgan (wide open) would have been short of the first down if the defender had made the tackle. That drive would have ended in a punt if not for Morgan making something out of nothing. I don't know if Smith could play better or not, but I do know that from watching both of these QB's play, it is clear that Smith looks to get the ball down field and sometimes ignores the dumpoff, while Hill seems to take the dumpoff too quickly. Given Hill's lack of arm strength, Smith can probably adjust better than Hill.
    Oct 14, 2009 at 10:25 AM
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  • undercenter
    The solution to the offense is simple, when there is no fear of a passing attack then they can just tee off and come with reckless abandon. Now if Alex Smith was the quarterback everyone would blame Alex. Now we know different don't we. Shaun Hill sucks and so does Alex. If you can't throw the ball then you can't play with the big boys. We need a quarterback and I don't see one in college to help. Maybe Nate Davis might and I say might be a solution but we can't count on that. This is why I am dumbfounded by the drafting and signing of Crabtree. His skills won't be recognized as we don't have anyone to throw him the ball. You can blame the line for all this mess but until we get a quarterback that can play football not just manage the game we will continue to suck. Fantasy land - trade both first round picks to the Bears for Cutler.
    Oct 13, 2009 at 1:55 PM
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  • Dan
    Ever have one of those days? It has to be someone's fault the 49ers defense got picked apart like that. Our offense didn't cause that havoc. Look at the score. I blame the entire defense for that one, coaches included. Someone should have had a game plan for the Falcons. Almost every play someone was wide open. The Falcons stopped just short of a press conference announcing they were throwing the ball to Roddy White. It shouldn't have been that difficult for our defense to stay with them. I see a lot of times after a team blows out some other unfortunate struggling team, they seem to just stop playing. I thought the 49ers were better than that. Atlanta played a solid game. They refused to give up the ball as we should have expected, and it won them the game - and then some. As for the offense, we all know they could use some help. In Shaun Hill's defense, even some of the best quarterbacks have those types of games. I think not giving up includes not giving up AFTER this type of loss, so I won't count it as a broken promise just yet. Not unless I see this type of breakdown again sometime in the near future. I doubt we will from the kind of heart I've seen in the leaders of this team.
    Oct 13, 2009 at 12:59 PM
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  • ShaneO
    Hey Jeff, it's your optimistic buddy ShaneO, great piece as always. i DO agree with the running for his life comments by Sing. it has become painfully obvious that we have the worst line in football, not good for a power running team! it's not an excuse, they are just terrible. however, i'm strangely not that hurt by this loss. until yesterday i was much more upset w/ bly. the comment about having fun baffled me. i thought maybe it was just the bar i was in cuz i wasn't having ANY fun on sun. i wanted his head by 5pm mon. but anyway i think back to the 94 SB team. The game against the eagles, it was a 40–8 home loss. after the loss many 49er fans wanted Seifert fired. the next week the 9ers opened up against Det down 14-0. Now i will concede this is not a 10th of that team and we are not bound for the SB but lopsided losses definitely mess with our heads, and imagine if we came out down 14-0 to Hou? Sing would be on the hot seat. it's just today's NFL. i encourage everyone to stay strong, lotta season left. But what do we do at O-line. what are ur feelings on wragge and wallace at G's? we used a 4th rounder on wallace and he has no spot! and honestly can it get worse? i don't believe in the snyder to G move.
    Oct 13, 2009 at 12:28 PM
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    Response: I'm with you, Shane. As much as it'd hurt to bench still more of McCloughan's high picks, the product on the field could only improve with Wragge and Wallace at guard.
  • Jersey9er
    Well I agree with most but don't agree with Sing's runnin for his life words. Yeah he was flushed out of the pocket a lot, but everytime someone talks about the qb not producing, he makes an excuse, like a parent does when they know their child fucked up but they try to reason to take some of the blame off. There are tons of other teams out there with a bad o-line and they still make plays. Sunday there were many opportunities to go down field. He threw behind Davis at least 5 times, overthrew when he went long, and even when they let up on defense he still threw to the underneath man. A good offense can keep you in the game even if the defense is fuckin up. A productive offense isn't an offense that can only produce when leading or in charge of the game. You said it yourself with this article that we don't have that comeback ability. A lot of people dreaded this type of game, and I bet many other teams will be watchin Sunday's game as the way to take advantage of our lack of abilities in certain areas. So I don't put it all on Hill cuz the entire team played bad, but take out those 2 gore runs and we would have lost that game as well.
    Oct 13, 2009 at 6:35 AM
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