49ers Clubhouse 

From Good, to Bad, to Ugly:
Letting a Win Slip Away

October 21, 2002

by Jeff Shaffer
Clubhouse Staff Writer

The New Orleans Saints were widely favored to win this game, although the game was seen as a test to reveal which team was a real contender and which was a pretender in the NFC. For three quarters the Niners seemed to be staking a convincing claim as the contender and posting and upset victory. But then each teams true nature seemed revealed in the 4th quarter when the Saints seized control of the game - scoring 22 points to take the win.

Through the first three quarters, the 49ers offense looked like it had returned to its old form of dominance. The running game was clicking and the passing game was spreading the ball around. The Niners were only forced to punt once! BUT, the offense was masking a weak performance by the defense. The Saints were stopped and forced to punt once.

If the 49ers defense didn't have to play on 3rd down, it would have appeared pretty dominate. But as has been the problem the past few years, teams have been successful against the soft Niners defense on 3rd down, particularly 3rd and long. The Saints converted 10 of 14 3rd downs.

A look at the official numbers doesn't look so out of balance, approximately 1/3 (143 yards) of the Saints total yards (422 yards) came on 3rd downs. But a closer look makes the numbers look gross: A. If you deduct the Saints 1st down yardage on their last two series in the fourth quarter (when they went 16, 19, 12, and 25 yards) against a clearly tired 49ers defense, and B. Credit the Saints for 3rd down yardage gained by penalty (7 yards), then

The Saints gained about 46% of their yardage on third down. Aaron Brooks threw for 8 of 11 completions and 117 yards on 3rd down alone.

The Good:
1. Niners' offense through the first three quarters.
2. Niners' "red-zone" defense (inside the 30) forced New Orleans to settle for three field goals and one turnover.
3. Niners' defense usually containing McAllister and sacking Brooks 3 times.

The Bad:
1. Special teams coverage allowing kick-off returns of 38 and 51 yards.
2. Soft pass coverage and defensive breakdowns allowing big running plays.

The Ugly:
1. TWO fourth quarter turnovers after a week of praise by the media for the Niners penchant for protecting the ball. Barlow's fumble was costly, but the replay showed that he had a good grip on the ball but the defensive lineman got a perfect big ol' paw in there to strip it loose. Garcia's throw was less forgivable - he had made that throw into tight coverage what seemed like several times in the game when the cornerback anticipated the throw and intercepted it.
2. Third down defense as noted above.

As unbelievable as it might sound, the 49ers (4-2) will face the Cardinals (4-2) next week in a showdown for the NFC West lead. The 49ers schedule hits a tough stretch with the Raiders, Chiefs, Chargers, and Eagles coming up. And a look at the schedules show that with the Rams resurging, the 49ers could very well be tied at 8-8 with the Rams for the NFC West at the end of the season. Once again, it looks to boil down to the 49ers defense being able to stop the spread pass attack that has given it fits for the last few seasons - something that appears still unfixed after this game.

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