Monday, September 22, 2014

Trouble And Panic

Last season, the 49ers started their season with a resounding victory, followed by a pair of absurdly frustrating losses that left them at 1-2 with all sorts of questions surrounding where the team was going. They followed that up by winning 11 of their final 13 games. This season has gotten off to a similar start; as the 49ers lost their second consecutive game in Arizona yesterday, as once again they suffered through a second half meltdown and could only watch as the Cardinals came back on them to win 23-14.

Simply by the luck of the schedule, the 49ers have happened to be on TV in New York each of the first three games this year (and thanks to the Giants being scheduled for a Thursday night game, they will make it 4 for 4 next week), so once again, I got to witness first hand just how this game fell apart for San Francisco.

Where in Week 2 against the Bears, Colin Kaepernick simply came unglued in the second half, throwing a pair of severely damaging interceptions among his 4 turnovers overall, Kaepernick rebounded well. He started the game on a roll, completing his first 11 passes en route to leading the 49ers on a pair of lengthy Touchdown drives, one of which was capped by a pass to Michael Crabtree, and the other a run by Carlos Hyde, in which Hyde absolutely plowed through a defender on his way into the End Zone. At this point, with 5 minutes to play in the 2nd Quarter, the 49ers led 14-6 and everything appeared to be going swimmingly.

But then the second half happened and everything basically turned to mush. The 49ers have scored but 3 second half points thus far this season, while allowing 52. This didn't matter much when they led Dallas 28-3 at Halftime, but this loomed large last week and again on Sunday, when the Cardinals, behind backup Quarterback Drew Stanton and a series of clutch catches from Michael Floyd and Rookie Receiver John Brown, came back to score 17 unanswered points.

Or was it that the 49ers, who were nailed for 16 penalties against the Bears, once again self-destructed in a series of yellow flags that either killed their own drives or extended Arizona's?

You be the judge. After scoring a Touchdown to cut the deficit to 14-13, Arizona forced San Francisco to Punt and took over after another fine Andy Lee effort at their own 34-yard line. On the second play of the drive, Stanton took off and scrambled, diving to a stop at the Arizona 45-yard line, where he was then hit by Dan Skuta. Skuta, who had already lowered his shoulder in order to make a tackle, couldn't stop his momentum and although he ended up hitting a sliding Stanton in the shoulder, rather than the head, Skuta was flagged for unnecessary roughness, handing the Cardinals 15 yards. On the following play, the 49ers blitzed and Patrick Willis ended up getting a good shot on Stanton as he released a pass that ended up being incomplete. But again, despite Willis neither hitting Stanton with his helmet nor hitting Stanton in the head, Willis earned a flag for roughing the passer, handing the Cardinals another 15 yards. Not surprisingly, after being handed 30 free yards, the Cardinals went on to score another Touchdown and take the lead.

The 49ers did respond with a fine drive, and were in position to perhaps score a Touchdown of their own and regain the lead. But after Kaepernick hit Anquan Boldin for 6 yards down to the Arizona 6 yard line, Boldin was subsequently flagged for head-butting a Cardinals defender. This was more a case of Boldin being Boldin, since he's generally know for talking a lot on the field, but it cost the 49ers another 15 yards and ultimately led to a Phil Dawson Field Goal attempt that was blocked. The 49ers didn't threaten again.

After the game, Boldin in particular expressed his frustration with the officiating, which has played a heavy role in these last two 49ers losses, sure, but that's not an excuse for an offense that has scored 3 second half points in 3 games, particularly when you consider that they've scored 59 points in the first half of their games. It makes no sense, and it makes even less sense when you consider that Kaepernick, after his disaster of a performance in Week 2, was nearly flawless in this game, finishing 29 for 37 with 245 yards and a Touchdown. In fact, the 49ers didn't turn the ball over at all, and forced one of their own when Michael Wilhoite forced Larry Fitzgerald to fumble about halfway through the 4th Quarter with the game still in reach. But when it was needed most, the 49ers could move the ball no further than their own 10 yard line, including a damaging sack on Kaepernick, and they were forced to punt the ball away.

There's no good explanation for it all except to say that the 49ers aren't playing very well right now. But, again, they weren't playing very well after 3 games last year either and we know how that ended up. All you can do right now is try to regroup—Vernon Davis, generally a key cog in the 49ers lineup, missed the game with an ankle injury—get healthier and hope that next Sunday's matchup against the Eagles, who currently are sitting pretty at 3-0, goes a little better. This will be on TV here, although it happens to coincide with the Mets final game of the Season, so one may take precedence over the other.

No comments: