49ers had a first half to remember
January 01, 2003
By MATT MAIOCCO
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Highlights, lowlights and insights from the 49ers' 31-20 loss to the St. Louis Rams on Monday:
WHAT WENT RIGHT
FIRST HALF: The 49ers dominated the Rams in the first half, rolling up a 17-0 lead. Backup quarterback Tim Rattay threw touchdown passes on two of his first three drives, and the defense confounded the Rams, drawing hearty boos from the sellout crowd in St. Louis. Through a half, the 49ers held a 224-33 advantage in yardage. It was the most impressive 30 minutes of football for the 49ers this season.
OWENS STAYS HOME: Receiver Terrell Owens remained in the Bay Area, a safe place on this night. He continued to work out to get ready for the 49ers' first-round NFC playoff game Sunday against the New York Giants. Owens should be as close to 100 percent as he's been in two months. The 49ers also made it out of the game relatively healthy. The only setback was cornerback Jason Webster, who sustained a left ankle sprain and his status for Sunday's game is in question.
WHAT WENT WRONG
FIRST DRIVE: The 49ers put together the kind of drive that hasn't been seen around these parts in decades. They held the ball for 20 plays, covering 81 yards in an incredible 12 minutes, 7 seconds. So what's so bad about that, you ask? They settled for three points. When quarterback Jeff Garcia threw away a third-down pass in the end zone, the Rams' defense accomplished its mission of keeping the 49ers out of the end zone. It was also a frustrating way to end Garcia's only series of the game -- throwing the ball away under pressure when Kevan Barlow was open in the end zone.
FOURTH QUARTER: Their woes continue in the fourth quarter, as the 49ers managed to blow their third late-game double-digit lead this season. They were outscored 146-79 in the fourth quarter in the regular season. It would be nice to blame their problems on all the backups who will never see the field in the playoffs, but it was Garrison Hearst who fumbled twice and right tackle Scott Gragg who allowed two sacks. The defense surrendered 176 yards to the Rams in the fourth quarter.
KEEP AN EYE ON
HANGOVER EFFECT: The 49ers said they would rebound against New York after this bitter loss. Center Jeremy Newberry even made the bold statement, "We're going to kick (their butts)." It's a short week for the 49ers, so they can't let the negativity from a humiliating loss on "Monday Night Football" keep them down. By the way, Giants defensive end Michael Strahan responded to Newberry's statement, saying, "Good for him. Wait 'til Sunday."
RIGHT CORNER: If Webster can't play against the Giants, rookie Mike Rumph will get his second career start. He played his second outstanding game in a row.
Forget everything that Rumph has done. This is why the 49ers drafted him in the first round. They need production when the stakes are the highest.
THE MATCHUP: Niners linebacker Julian Peterson will line up over Giants rookie tight end Jeremy Shockey all game. It will be a battle of two exciting young players who earned their first trips to the Pro Bowl this season. Shockey wasn't much of a factor when the team's met in the season opener. Peterson has also put the clamps on Kansas City's Tony Gonzalez, who managed just one catch for 6 yards against him. But Shockey now has the experience of 16 NFL games.
LEADING THE WAY
OFFENSE: Quarterback Tim Rattay completed 14 of 21 passes for 138 yards and two touchdowns. However, he was sacked three times and couldn't muster any offense in the second half.
DEFENSE: Defensive end Andre Carter recorded a sack, giving him 12 for the season.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Kicker Jeff Chandler rebounded from a rough game to make both field-goal attempts.
It's the sudden-death part of the season for the 49ers, who play host to the New York Giants in a first-round NFC playoff game at Candlestick Park. Historically, a loss heading into the playoffs has not hurt the 49ers, who are 4-1 in playoff openers after ending the regular season with a loss. They won two of their five Super Bowls after losing their regular-season finale.
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