Game rewind: Colts 28, 49ers 3
THE HERO Third-year veteran Cato June, the weak-side linebacker in Indianapolis' 4-3 defense, came up with two huge interceptions that put the Colts in command and kept them there. He returned his first pick 24 yards for a touchdown when Indianapolis was clinging to a 7-0 lead midway through the second period. His second pick came at the Indianapolis 29-yard line midway through the third quarter just as it seemed the 49ers might make a game of it. June also had four tackles. THE GOAT Niners coach Mike Nolan deserves this designation since it was his decision to start rookie Alex Smith at quarterback when it was relatively clear the rookie wasn't ready yet to move the San Francisco offense. Nolan said this week that he thought Smith gave the 49ers their best chance to win, but instead, Smith's five turnovers took away any chance of victory on a day when the San Francisco defense surprisingly kept the Niners in the game through three quarters. Veteran Tim Rattay would have given the Niners a better chance to make things happen through the air on offense on a day when their running game worked superbly. But Nolan went with Smith instead and, in retrospect, it was the wrong decision and contributed heavily to the lopsided result. KEY STAT Smith's four interceptions were the most ever thrown by a San Francisco rookie quarterback in his first start. Steve Spurrier (1967) and Jim Druckenmiller (1997) each threw three interceptions in their first NFL starts. THE TURNING POINT The 49ers appeared back in the game and at least ready to make a contest of it early in the third period after Joe Nedney's 30-yard field goal brought San Francisco within 14-3. On the next play from scrimmage after an onside kickoff by the 49ers failed, quarterback Peyton Manning looked for his favorite receiver, Marvin Harrison, down the right sideline and was intercepted in the end zone by cornerback Bruce Thornton. The 49ers then drove from their own 20 to the Indianapolis 37, where they faced a third-and-7 play. But Smith forced a pass into coverage that was intercepted by June, ending the threat and any hopes of San Francisco getting back in the game. June returned the pick 15 yards to the Indianapolis 44, and the Colts proceeded to drive 56 yards in 12 plays for a touchdown that put them ahead 21-3. THE BIG PLAY The 49ers, trailing just 7-0 midway through the second quarter, stopped the Indianapolis offense on a three-and-out and forced the Colts to punt for the first time in the game. The Niners got the ball back at their own 17-yard line, but two plays produced only three yards, setting up a third-and-7 play from the 20. With receiver Brandon Lloyd split wide to the right and rookie Fred Amey in the slot, Smith dropped back to pass and looked for Lloyd on the quick slant. But Indianapolis linebacker June got in the way. June came up and chucked Amey off the line, then drifted right into Smith's passing lane. Smith fired the football right into June's hands, and the linebacker had nothing but open field in front of him, returning the interception 24 yards for a touchdown that put the Colts in complete command with a 14-0 lead. STANDOUT PERFORMER Seventh-year Indianapolis running back Edgerrin James kept churning for yardage on the ground all afternoon and was a fine complement to the Colts' explosive passing game. James rushed for a game-high 105 yards on 21 carries, carrying a couple of 49ers into the end zone on a four-yard touchdown run on the first play of the fourth quarter that turned the game into a rout at 21-3. James ripped off a 33-yard gain among his several fine runs, and also caught four passes for 42 yards – numbers that would have made him San Francisco's leading receiver in both categories. BY THE NUMBERS 0: Touchdown passes involving Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning and receiver Marvin Harrison, keeping them tied with 49ers legends Steve Young and Jerry Rice for the NFL record of 85 touchdowns between a quarterback/receiver duo 0.0: Quarterback rating for Alex Smith in second quarter 1: Quarterback sacks by 49ers' outside linebacker Andre Carter, the only sack allowed by the Indianapolis offense in five games this season 1.6: Average gain per passing play by the 49ers 2: Onside kickoff recoveries by Niners' special teams captain Terry Jackson in five games this season 3: Receptions by 49ers' tailback Kevan Barlow, the only San Francisco player to finish the afternoon with more than one catch 4.4: Quarterback rating for Smith at halftime 6.1: Average gain by Colts on each of their 60 offensive plays 8.5: Quarterback rating for Smith at end of game 10: Offensive drives by 49ers that ended with either a punt or turnover 21: Efficiency percentage by 49ers on third down, when San Francisco converted just three of 14 opportunities 44: Net yards passing by the 49ers 60: Efficiency percentage by Colts on third down, when Indianapolis converted on six of 10 opportunities 63: Rushing yards by Colts' tailback Edgerrin James in first quarter 70: Total yards of offense by 49ers in first half 75: Red zone efficiency percentage by Colts, who scored touchdowns on three of their four trips inside San Francisco's 20-yard line 99: Rushing yards by Barlow, on 18 carries, the most gained by a San Francisco running back in game so far this season 133: Rushing yards by the 49ers, besting their previous season high of 124 two weeks ago against Dallas 160: Points allowed by the 49ers in five games this season 177: Total yards of offense by the 49ers, the third time in four weeks San Francisco's offense has been limited to that many yards or fewer 266: Minutes into 2005 season before Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning was sacked for the first time this year, by the Niners' Andre Carter with 3:21 remaining in the second quarter. 365: Total yards gained by Indianapolis offense 2,259: Yards allowed by 49ers' defense in five games this season FAST FACTS --- The Colts now hold a 23-18 lead in the all-time series between the two teams. It was Indianapolis' first victory over the 49ers since 1995 and just the Colts' second in their last nine games against San Francisco. --- Smith became the first 49ers rookie to start a game at quarterback since 1997 when injuries to Steve Young and Jeff Brohm forced first-round pick Jim Druckenmiller into action against the St. Louis Rams in Week 2 of that season. Druckenmiller completed 10 of 28 passes for 102 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions in a 15-12 victory. He never started another game in the NFL. --- The 49ers were without three cornerbacks on their 53-man roster. Ahmed Plummer, Willie Middlebrooks and rookie Derrick Johnson all were inactive for the game due to injuries. --- Second-year player Bruce Thornton, playing in his third NFL game, made his first professional start in place of those three players at left cornerback. Thornton had two tackles and recorded one of San Francisco's two interceptions. --- Niners kicker Joe Nedney was successful on his his second onside kickoff of the season. Nedney also was successful in the season opener against St. Louis. Nedney is now 5 of 12 in his career on onside kickoffs. --- Niners linebacker Derek Smith had the third interception of his career and second since joining the 49ers in 2001. His last interception came during the year in a December game against Philadelphia. --- Niners linebacker Jeff Ulbrich suffered a tear in his right bicep early in the game, but returned to action and produced a game-high 10 tackles.
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