Fade at the finish
A dropped pass. A missed blocking assignment. A fumbled snap. And, with the game on the line in the final minutes, a killer turnover. Sound like the 2004 49ers? It should, and it's the reason the Niners limp into their bye week with a 1-5 record after they allowed the Jets to rally in the second half for a 22-14 victory that gave New York the first 5-0 start in franchise history. It could have been different for the 49ers. But that has been the story of their season so far. "It boils down to the same thing," Niners coach Dennis Erickson said. "We're not making plays when we need to make plays. You have to make plays when you have a chance to win." And to be sure, the Niners had chances to win this game. They had chance after chance after chance. But after rolling to 247 yards of offense in the first half against a strong New York defense, the Niners were blanked on the scoreboard in the second half, punting after each of their first four possessions after halftime and ending the game with an interception and fumble on their final two drives. It was the interception that was the killer. With the Jets leading 15-14 late in the game, the San Francisco defense stiffened and forced a punt. The Niners got the back the ball with 1:44 remaining at the New York 35-yard line needing just a field goal to pull out a win that would have been well-deserved. Instead, quarterback Tim Rattay - who had been brilliant most of the game - made his only big mistake, and it cost the Niners any hope of another fourth-quarter comeback. Rattay tossed an interception right into the hands of New York linebacker Jonathan Vilma, setting up Curtis Martin's second touchdown run that settled the issue with 32 seconds to play. "We were really putting it together today, both offensively and defensively," said Niners defensive lineman Tony Brown, part of a defensive charge that limited the Jets to just a Doug Brien 43-yard field goal in the first half. "And then we just let it slip away at the end." Actually, the Niners let it slip away the entire second half as the Jets came out after halftime and began establishing their offense with a nice mixture of Martin runs and Chad Pennington passes. Martin finished with 111 yards rushing and Pennington completed 20 of 30 passes for 222 yards. The Jets assembled two long scoring drives on their first two possessions after halftime, going 91 yards on 11 plays to climb within 14-9 and then taking their first lead of the game with 11:41 to play after a 70-yard march. But the Niners, who had moved the ball so steadily to build a 14-0 lead midway through the second period, still had plenty of time - and chances - to take back the game. But then the mistakes began adding up, just like they always have for this team in 2004. On the next possession, after the Niners had moved to their own 44, left tackle Kwame Harris failed to slow down Jets end John Abraham, who charged past him for a sack to end the drive. The Niners were forced to punt. After the San Francisco defense forced a three-and-out, Rattay moved the Niners smartly to the New York 27 and had the Jets set up for a fall on a second-and-8 play. The Niners called for a reverse handoff to receiver Arnaz Battle, and the play appeared to have the New York defense fooled. "It would have been a big play," Erickson said. "From what people said upstairs, it might have been a touchdown." But Battle simply dropped the ball. By the time he was able to land on it, he had lost eight yards on the play and knocked the Niners out of field goal range. They punted after Rattay's incomplete pass on the next play, with Andy Lee sailing the kick into the end zone for a net of 15 yards. "We practice that play all the time," Erickson said of the aborted handoff. "(Battle)'s the guy that we do it with. But you've got to execute it. We practice it all the time. You have to execute it when the pressure is on." The final blow came minutes later on Rattay's interception after the 49ers had forced another New York punt. Rattay deserved a better ending. He had a 130.5 quarterback rating at halftime after completing 11 of 16 passes for 193 yards, including a 33-yard touchdown strike to a wide-open Lloyd to begin the scoring. He also connected with Battle for a 65-yard gain - the Niners' longest offensive play of the season - that set up Kevan Barlow's two-yard scoring run and a stunning two-touchdown lead that had the Jets reeling. Rattay finished 18 of 28 for 286 yards and Barlow had 79 yards on 21 carries. Lloyd had career-high totals of six receptions for 93 yards. But once again, all it did was leave the 49ers coming up short without a victory to show for those nice numbers. "We jump out, play great on offense, play great on defense, play very aggressive," Erickson lamented. "And then we come back and can't make any plays. It's very disappointing, because we played well enough to win."
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