49ers report card

The Niners graded out well in several areas after their 30-27 loss Sunday in New Orleans, except, of course, where it really mattered.

QUARTERBACKS: Ken Dorsey started 0 of 5 in the air, didn't complete his first pass until the second quarter and some of his early throws fluttered horribly as they twisted toward their destination. But, as has been his style, he got better and stronger as the game progressed, and by the end of it Dorsey was leading the 49ers downfield and putting them in a position to win. In fact, he did that a couple of times. After the slow start, he finished 18 of 27 for 205 yards in what, for his part, should have been a winning starting debut. Grade: B-

RUNNING BACKS: Kevan Barlow got untracked with 114 yards on 20 carries, including a 60-yard burst to set up one score and a great 10-yard cutback run for one of his two touchdowns. Terry Jackson also ran with authority, and it appeared Jamal Robertson was going to be a hero with his late-game running after Barlow was forced to sit out with a rib contusion. Instead, Robertson was the goat after his fumble cost the Niners the game. Fred Beasley returned at fullback and his blocking made a big difference. Take away Robertson's fumble, and this was an excellent day by this unit. But you can't take it away, and it lowers the grade tremendously. Grade: C+

WIDE RECEIVERS: Hello, Curtis Conway. Starting for Cedrick Wilson, a late scratch because of a hamstring injury, Conway looked by far to be the best receiver the 49ers had on the field. He caught a team-high eight receptions for 112 yards, and had some vital grabs to keep drives either alive or moving. It was a breakout performance by the old pro that could earn him a larger role in San Francisco's passing game. The Niners needed it, too, because Brandon Lloyd's 7-yard catch was the only other reception by a San Francisco receiver. Lloyd's pass interference at the end of the game was huge, but it clearly was a bogus call. Grade: C+

TIGHT ENDS: Eric Johnson had a typically productive day with five receptions for 60 yards, including a 25-yard catch. He coughed up a fumble after making a reception in San Francisco territory, but the Saints couldn't capitalize. Grade: B-

OFFENSIVE LINE: Once again, this unit corrected its problems after a poor start and became effective as the game progressed. It was a valiant effort to do so, too, because the line was without Pro Bowl center Jeremy Newberry and, later, left tackle Kwame Harris when he was forced to the bench with an ankle injury. That forced some shuffling along the line, yet it held up well in pass protection. After struggling on the ground in their opener, the Niners had no such problems this time as the line wore down the Saints and contributed greatly to San Francisco's 180 rushing yards. Grade: B

DEFENSIVE LINE: Another superb effort by a unit that was beleaguered entering the season for its inability to stop the run. Bryant Young's hit on Deuce McAllister forced the star New Orleans halfback out of the game to stay after the Saints' first series, and the Niners also recovered the fumble on that play. The Saints finished with just 46 rushing yards on 24 carries, a paltry 1.9 average. Starting ends Otis Leverette and John Engelberger both produced sacks and the pass rush was consistently decent as Young and Anthony Adams played well inside. Tackle Tony Brown also tipped a pass in the air on New Orleans' last-gasp rally in the final minutes. That ball fell right into Engelberger's hands, yet he let it - and, ultimately, the game - slip right through his fingers. Since that could have clinched the victory, it became a significant gaffe when the 49ers went on to lose. Grade: B

LINEBACKERS: Julian Peterson had a sack and was all over the field again with a team-high eight tackles. Derek Smith had seven tackles and recovered a fumble, and Jeff Ulbrich also was active. This unit did an excellent job against the run and also making sure New Orleans quarterback Aaron Brooks couldn't shake loose when he got outside the pocket. Halfback Aaron Stecker averaged just 3.2 yards on his six receptions coming out of the backfield. Peterson, however, lost coverage on Jerome Pathon and allowed him to slip free for a 37-yard touchdown reception out of the slot, though he may have been expecting help deep from a safety. Grade: B

SECONDARY: It was an up-and-down day for this unit and, ultimately, mostly down. Cornerback Ahmed Plummer knocked away three passes, but the overall performance slumped from there, and Plummer was caught watching Donte Stallworth cut over the middle for the winning touchdown catch. Coaches said a safety was supposed to be there, but he wasn't. That was the case often on this day as the Saints found some huge holes in the San Francisco secondary, particularly when it counted on their final drive. Stallworth, Joe Horn and Jerome Pathon combined for 18 receptions for 260 yards. This unit was responsible for most of that damage. Grade: D+

SPECIAL TEAMS: Andy Lee continued his slow but solid progress as a dependable punter. Jamal Robertson averaged 26.1 yards on seven kickoff returns, including a 37-yarder. The coverage units kept dangerous New Orleans returner Michale Lewis under wraps. Todd Peterson drilled routine field goals of 30 and 33 yards. The big knock on these units was Peterson's short kickoffs. Sure, the Niners wanted to kick away from Lewis, but Peterson had a series of ridiculously short kickoffs, which allowed the Saints to start their 13 drives, on average, at the New Orleans 39-yard line. Grade: B

COACHING: Made some fine adjustments again as the game progressed, actually taking control of the contest by the fourth quarter until consequential mistakes thwarted the effort once again. But it raises the question: Why aren't the Niners more prepared from the start? You also have to wonder why the Niners sat around on defense and let Brooks pick them apart from the shotgun on New Orleans' final series. It's hindsight, to be sure, but bringing a little more heat on the blitz might have produced a better result, particularly considering how the Niners had previously shut down Brooks and the New Orleans offense throughout the second half. Grade: C

OVERALL: The Niners played better than in their opener and, once again, the sum of their individual parts should have added up to a victory. Dorsey displayed promise, the running game clicked, and the defense had another solid effort. But the Niners once again made the killer mistakes that turned a potentially inspiring win into a disheartening loss. They've lost two games now by a total of five points, but they're 0-2 nonetheless, and this was a game they really should have had. Consider the improved play a moral victory if you will, but it isn't exactly the same as a 1-1 record. Grade: C


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