There's no more room for moral victories, and you shouldn't expect San Francisco 49ers coach Mike Singletary to utter those words. He won't.
The 49ers lost Sunday. They shouldn't have. They should have come away with a victory in Atlanta, especially given they fact they were beating the Falcons until the final two seconds of the game.
A 43-yard field goal by Matt Bryant gave the Falcons a 16-14 decision over a 49ers team that is now 0-4 after enduring a dysfunctional week that resulted in one firing (offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye) and one abandonment (safety Michael Lewis, who has asked to be released).
Ultimately, the game came down to a very big play by 49ers cornerback Nate Clements followed by a very dumb play by … Clements. This is just how awful things are going.
And this is how it happened: With the Falcons moving on a late fourth-quarter drive, Clements intercepted a Matt Ryan pass at the Atlanta 49-yard line that should have secured the victory. But his spectacular return was interrupted by wide receiver Roddy White, who forced the ball out of Clements' grasp at the Atlanta 10. The Falcons recovered and marched from their own 8 to San Francisco's 25 to set up Bryant's winning field goal.
In football, if you don't protect the ball, bad things almost assuredly will happen. Clements' interception should have resulted in a field goal by the Niners. Instead, it was converted into a field goal by the Falcons. Game over.
So what does a winless team do now? How do the 49ers recover from this game?
"As much as it hurts right now, I'm excited for our guys, excited for our coaching staff," Singletary said afterward. "Nothing but positives can come out of this. We've got to go back to work. We can't cry about it."
Hmm. Maybe that sounds like he was calling this game a moral victory. Then again, maybe that's all he has left.
Here are some other developments worth noting:
-- New offensive coordinator Mike Johnson showed a few new looks and spread the ball around in his first game (he called plays from the coaches' booth). Michael Crabtree had five catches (one fewer than his season total), and tight end Vernon Davis was used early, catching an 11-yard pass from Alex Smith and diving into the end zone. Check this stat: In 19 games, Jimmy Raye's offenses didn't score a touchdown on their opening series; Johnson already is 1 for 1.
-- Smith led the 49ers to a 7-0 lead and completed his first eight passes of the game, but that was it for the offense. Their next seven possessions ended in five punts and two interceptions. Smith was 21 of 32 passing, but his two interceptions were converted into Atlanta field goals. "You've got to go out there and execute," he said of his performance. "Two bad decisions ended up costing us." In four games, the Niners' offense has scored four TDs.
-- Rookie safety Taylor Mays got his first start after veteran Michael Lewis quit the team. Told that Mays would be eased into the defense and he would be asked to mentor him, Lewis opted out and asked for his release. Interestingly, Mays made the play of the game on a blocked punt by teammate Dominique Zeigler in the first quarter. Mays caught the ball in the air at the back of the Falcons end zone and kept both toes inbound for a touchdown. Mays also had a team-high nine tackles.
-- As usual, running back Frank Gore was the workhorse. He had 77 yards rushing on 21 carries and seven catches for 60 yards. On the 49ers' 15-play drive in the fourth quarter that ended when Smith was penalized for intentional grounding (taking them out of field-goal range), Gore had seven touches – five runs for 11 yards, two catches for 19 yards.
-- The defense had an encouraging day, holding the Falcons to one touchdown and sacking QB Matt Ryan three times. Shawntae Spencer and Clements had interceptions, but we all know how Clements' pick ended.
-- The Niners, among the league's worst third-down teams, were 6 for 12 against the Falcons and converted three consecutive third downs late in the game, although the drive ended on Smith's penalty.
-- More changes appear to be taking place. In addition to Mays' start (ahead of Reggie Smith, it's worth noting), NaVorro Bowman relieved Takeo Spikes at inside linebacker, and Adam Snyder replaced Chilo Rachal at right guard. You can expect Snyder to remain the starter.