49ers report card
QUARTERBACKS: Tim Rattay passed for 284 yards and a touchdown, but this was by far the worst game of his NFL career. Rattay's passes lacked their usual zip and accuracy from the start, but that didn't prevent him from completing 15 of his first 19 passes and leading the Niners to an early 17-0 lead. But, by his own admission, he tried to force throws to tight end Eric Johnson and that resulted in two interceptions when the Niners still were in command. After Carolina had drawn even in the fourth quarter, San Francisco's final three drives ended with two Rattay interceptions and a Rattay fumble. Five turnovers - three with the game on the line - trumps anything Rattay did that was positive. Grade: F RUNNING BACKS: Kevan Barlow had 60 yards and two touchdowns rushing at halftime. This is what he had to show for the second half: Five carries for minus-13 yards, a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty and a benching by coach Dennis Erickson. Barlow finished with just 47 yards on 21 carries and had the good fortune of being ruled down twice on plays where the ball was stripped away from him as he went down. Maurice Hicks had a nice 35-yard burst to pick up a first down on a second-and-26 play, but he missed a block on a blitz during which Rattay turned the ball over. There were several missed blocks by this unit as the game progressed. Barlow's two TDs and Hicks' fine showing on his first NFL carries (5.8 average on eight attempts) raises this grade probably higher than it should be. Grade: D WIDE RECEIVERS: Brandon Lloyd went high in the air to pull away a 30-yard pass in the end zone from Panthers' cornerback Chris Gamble, an up-for-grabs pass that looked like it might be intercepted. That was one of Lloyd's five receptions, and he had another all-out diving grab near the goal line to set up a touchdown. Cedrick Wilson also had five receptions for a career-high 101 yards, including a few long catches to keep drives moving, one of them a 39-yarder where he took the ball away from a defender on a fourth-and-19 play. The Niners didn't get any other receivers involved in the attack - Lloyd and Wilson were the only ones with receptions - but the wideouts were not the problem on this day. Grade: B TIGHT ENDS: Eric Johnson had six receptions for 71 yards to keep his hold on the NFC lead in receptions, but he had just one catch after halftime. He was able to find openings and beat coverage as usual, and he was open a few other times when Rattay couldn't get him the ball. Johnson and Walker were used often in double-tight end sets and the latter also worked his way open a few times, though Rattay couldn't get him the ball, either. Grade: B OFFENSIVE LINE: Everything looked great in the first half when this unit held its blocks and pushed back the Carolina line to produce some nice openings for the run game. It also gave Rattay time to deliver his passes, and all seemed well and promising for the Niners the rest of the afternoon. But the line fell apart in the second half and was abused by Carolina's front four and blitzing linebackers. Carolina end Julius Peppers had two sacks and Rattay was dumped three times in the second half and four overall. The Niners had just 33 yards rushing in the second half, even though they led by two touchdowns at halftime. Grade: D- DEFENSIVE LINE: This unit's job was to get pressure on Carolina quarterback Jake Delhomme, and it couldn't do it. Except for one sack by Bryant Young and Andre Carter in the final seconds of the first half, the Niners never got to Delhomme, allowing him to pick apart an overmatched secondary in the second half. John Engelberger had a 15-yard roughing-the-passer penalty that aided one of Carolina's three fourth-quarter scoring drives. This unit played the run well, but that aspect of Carolina's offense was not a factor in the game. But Carolina's passing sure was, and the line didn't come through with what it needed to do in that area. Newcomer Chris Cooper contributed three tackles, the most on this unit. Grade: D- LINEBACKERS: Flashy Jamie Winborn forced a fumble, knocked away a pass in coverage and led the 49ers with four tackles. Jeff Ulbrich and Derek Smith also helped shut down the run, but it really didn't matter much that the Panthers averaged just 3.2 yards on their 18 carries. The Niners needed more help from this unit in their passing defense - from blitz pressure and in coverage - and the final results indicate what the linebackers did contribute wasn't enough. Grade: C- SECONDARY: Undermanned in the secondary from the start, the Niners got a very respectable effort in the first half from a unit that started former practice-squadders Joselio Hanson and Rayshun Reed at cornerback and converted safety Dwaine Carpenter at nickel back. But in the second half, this unit was completely overmatched after the Panthers made adjustments. Carpenter, a hobbling Shawntae Spencer and safety Tony Parrish all were beaten for touchdowns by Carolina receiver Muhsin Muhammad, and Parrish also was beaten for a 37-yard reception by halfback Nick Goings. Reed and Hanson actually played respectably, but this unit as a whole looked helpless while the Panthers were taking away the game in the second half. After limiting Delhomme to 8-of-15 passing for 69 yards in the first half, the Niners allowed him to go 11-of-19 for 234 yards and three TDs after halftime. Grade: F SPECIAL TEAMS: Reed produced a fumble on the second half kickoff, and the coverage units were typically solid. Arnaz Battle had a nice 40-yard kickoff return into Carolina territory that the Niners failed to turn into points. Todd Peterson was true on both of his field-goal attempts, including a 46-yarder that tied the score entering the fourth quarter, but special teams did not play much of a factor in the game. Grade: B COACHING: The Niners had an excellent offensive game plan of establishing the run to control the clock and set up the passing game, a scheme the team executed pretty well while building a 17-3 halftime lead. They also did a good job of protecting their secondary in the first half, but once Carolina made adjustments, all else failed in that department after halftime. It's really difficult to blame the coaches for five turnovers, ridiculous penalties and a failure by their players to execute with the game on the line. To his credit, Dennis Erickson kept coaching hard even after the game appeared in hand with a 17-0 lead. Obviously, after what he has seen from the Niners this season, he knew that it wasn't. Grade: C OVERALL: The 49ers dominated the first half even more than their 17-3 halftime lead might suggest, and that counts for something. But not much. After giving away that lead in the third quarter, the Niners reverted again to horrible football - some of their worst of the season - during fourth-quarter crunch time. This flop at the finish came against a 1-7 opponent that was on the ropes early and seemed all too ready for a knockout blow. The 49ers couldn't deliver it. If the Niners couldn't win this game at home under these circumstances, it seriously makes you wonder if they will win again this season. If they keep playing at the end of games like they did in this one - they were outscored 34-10 in the second half - the answer appears to be pretty obvious. Grade: D-
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