49ers report card
QUARTERBACKS: The ultimate mixed bag. Tim Rattay got off to a terrible start, left the game with an injured shoulder, then came back strong to lead two fourth-quarter touchdown drives. Ken Dorsey replaced Rattay and got the offense moving toward two field goals to keep Niners in the game before leaving himself with an injured throwing shoulder. The final combined numbers of the two QBs weren't bad - 27 of 46 for 286 yards and two touchdowns. But Rattay was short on a couple of consequential passes, his game-swaying interception was a killer and he couldn't get the ball to a wide-open Brandon Lloyd on a potential game-tying two-point conversion. Grade: C- RUNNING BACKS: There wasn't much room to run up front, but Kevan Barlow made the most of the few holes he found. Terry Jackson was solid as a change-of-pace back in place of Barlow. Jasen Isom looked a little lost as the starting fullback. Barlow's first-play fumble, ultimately, shifted the momentum to Atlanta and the Niners never got it back until it was too late. Grade: C- RECEIVERS: Kudos to Cedrick Wilson, who made a lot of tough grabs among his seven receptions for 94 yards, including extending his body in the air and absorbing a crushing hit - and holding onto the ball - on a fourth-down pass that kept alive San Francisco's final touchdown drive. Curtis Conway helped out with a few nice catches, but Brandon Lloyd had a tough time getting open down the field, averaging just 7.3 yards on his four receptions. He also mistimed his leap on a fade pass in the end zone that could have been a touchdown. Rattay was intercepted on the next play. Grade: B- TIGHT ENDS: Eric Johnson was the game's leading receiver with eight receptions for 86 yards, including a 16-yard touchdown grab in the game's final minute. Aaron Walker couldn't hold onto a potential touchdown catch in the end zone, though it would have been a tough grab. That play hurt, though, when the Falcons got an interception two plays later. The blocking didn't do much to help the running game. Johnson was flagged twice for 10-yard penalties for holding and offensive pass interference. Grade: C+ OFFENSIVE LINE: Not a good start in the debut of the revamped line. The Niners struggled to protect both Rattay and Dorsey and the run blocking was just not there on any kind of consistent basis. Kwame Harris and Kyle Kosier both were beaten badly for sacks. Harris and Newberry both had false starts. Harris was flagged for holding, but it was declined. Grade: D- DEFENSIVE LINE: Well, well, well. After a shoddy preseason, the defensive lined stepped up and was actually formidable against the run, limiting the Atlanta backfield to 79 yards on 27 carries, a 2.9 average. There was some decent pressure, too, on Atlanta quarterback Michael Vick, although the Niners let him get away a few times when he appeared trapped behind the line. Grade: B+ LINEBACKERS: Julian Peterson was a demon with five tackles, two sacks, two forced fumbles and a deflected pass. The other linebackers also played well against both the run and pass with Jeff Ulbrich recording an interception, Jamie Winborn getting a sack and a deflected pass and Derek Smith recording a game-high 11 tackles. The only blemish on this grade is a few missed tackles, including a crucial one by Smith that allowed Warrick Dunn to scoot into the end zone on a 9-yard run for Atlanta's final touchdown. Grade: A- SECONDARY: Take away a few plays, and this was a very strong performance by the San Francisco secondary, which was without starting cornerback Mike Rumph after he left with a groin injury midway through the first quarter. Rookie Shawntae Spencer played very well in his place and cornerbacks Ahmed Plummer and Jimmy Williams also had good games. The secondary combined to knock away four passes and contributed greatly to Atlanta converting just once on 11 third-down attempts. But a few plays really hurt. Safety Tony Parrish whiffed on an open-field tackle that allowed tight end Alge Crumpler to scoot into the end zone on a 15-yard play for Atlanta's first touchdown, Plummer missed a tackle on Atlanta's final touchdown and receptions of 21 and 20 yards by Peerless Price led to the Falcons' second touchdown and a 14-0 lead. Grade: B SPECIAL TEAMS: A nice start to the season by the specialty units. The coverage units didn't yield much with Arnaz Battle leading the way with three tackles. Battle couldn't shake loose on any kick or punt returns, however. Rookie safety Keith Lewis blocked a punt deep in Atlanta territory. Rookie punter Andy Lee continues to progress and did a good job managing the howling winds at Candlestick Park. Lee also did a fine job managing two uncharacteristically high snaps by long-snapper Brian Jennings. Grade: B+ COACHING: Coaches made some nice adjustments at halftime and did a good job with some substitutions that made a difference as the game progressed. The Niners had the right idea as they out-gained Atlanta 359-227. It just came down to execution, and the players didn't execute when it counted. One primary gripe: Trailing 14-6 with 10 minutes remaining and at the Atlanta 3-yard line with a first down, why not try a few runs with Kevan Barlow instead of three consecutive passes? The last of those was intercepted and returned 85 yards to set up Atlanta's final touchdown. Grade: B OVERALL: The sum of the Niners' individual parts just does not seem to add up to this galling loss. The Niners looked terrible in the first half, but by the end of the game they were stuffing the Falcons and moving through them at will to get in a position to tie. But major breakdowns and mistakes at key moments cost them dearly, and it shows how much a few plays can affect an outcome. This was a game the Niners needed to win and should have won, but they're staring at an 0-1 start instead. Grade: C-
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