BREAKING DOWN THE GAME

QUARTERBACKS On the day he qualified for NFL career rankings and became the No. 3-rated passer in league history, Jeff Garcia had a frustrating afternoon that was not as good as his 27 completions in 36 attempts might suggest. Garcia was off on several of his throws ...

and was forced to check down to secondary receivers as Denver took away deeper routes with effective zone coverages. Garcia's 205 yards passing was not a lot to show for 27 completions. Garcia tried to force a deep pass to Tai Streets in single coverage and paid for it with an interception that was a big blow to San Francisco's comeback hopes. He also lost a fumble on a botched snap, typically taking the blame for it afterward. Bottom line: Garcia has seen better days, but he wasn't what was wrong with the offense.

 

 RUNNING BACKS

 

Garrison Hearst just does not hit the hole like he did last year and finished with just five yards rushing on five carries. It's a different story with Kevan Barlow, who hits the hole hard and slips through it with agility. He had a 31-yard burst among his 47 yards on seven carries, but once again the Niners never could establish their running game, averaging 3.6 yards on their 20 rushes and gaining just 71 yards. Take away Barlow's big run, and it's just 40 yards and 2.0 per carry. The running backs did combine for 10 receptions, but they went for just 57 yards. Bottom line: Where has one of the NFL's premier rushing attacks gone?

 

 RECEIVERS

 

Terrell Owens dropped two passes, and his five completions gained just 38 yards. His eight-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown was a beauty, but it's obvious now that opposing defenses are ready for him. J.J. Stokes caught everything that came his way – and some of them were tough grabs – but he also had minimal production (just 28 yards) on his four receptions. Tight end Eric Johnson was the receiving star with seven receptions for 69 yards as the Broncos left the middle of the field open. Tai Streets had his first catch of the year, but he is becoming almost a non-factor in the offense. Bottom line: The Broncos smothered the Niners' receivers. San Francisco needs to find a way to combat that – and fast.

 

 

OFFENSIVE LINE

 

The pass blocking was decent, and the line was good at picking up Denver's blitzing schemes. But there was little room for the running game as the line was beaten to the punch by a fast, powerful and aggressive Denver defense. Scott Gragg had a holding penalty that doomed a drive. It still looks as though guards Ron Stone and Dave Fiore are adapting to their new surroundings – Stone with a new team, and Fiore at a new position. Bottom line: A mediocre day when better was needed to win.

 

DEFENSIVE LINE

 

The Niners received some nice inside push early from Bryant Young and Dana Stubblefield, but by the end of the afternoon the Broncos were slicing through some huge holes up front. But those holes aren't always supposed to be filled by this unit. The pass rush was sporadic, but Andre Carter and Chike Okeafor both showed determination on their sacks, and both created some havoc at times. This unit was strong early and faded with the rest of the defense down the stretch. Bottom line: Couldn't finish what started as a strong effort.

 

 

LINEBACKERS

 

Julian Peterson had one of his better games, dropping Brian Griese for a sack and flying around the field to make a game-high eight tackles – seven of them unassisted. But the rest of the unit struggled. Jamie Winborn had six tackles but missed some assignments. Derek Smith had just two tackles and continued to struggle in coverage, where he just can't stay with the quicker backs. This unit looked bad on Denver's final 99-yard touchdown drive. Bottom line: The Broncos rushed for 201 yards, and this unit gets much of the blame.

 

 

 DEFENSIVE BACKS

 

Zack Bronson had a crunching hit on Ed McCaffrey to force a fumble and end a Denver threat deep in Niners territory. But his absence hurt after he had to leave the game in the third quarter with a shoulder stringer. In Bronson's place, Ronnie Heard was flagged for a 39-yard penalty on a ball that easily would have been batted away if Heard had been in better position. Jason Webster (seven tackles) was improved over the week before, but opponents continue to go after him and complete passes. Tony Parrish had six tackles, knocked down a pass and recovered a fumble, but he also missed a couple of tackles. Bottom line: Unit wasn't bad, but Heard's penalty was a killer.

 

SPECIAL TEAMS

 

Jamie Winborn and Frank Strong each had 15-yard penalties on kick coverage units. Both times, the Broncos used those penalties to advance a scoring drive. Jimmy Williams fumbled both a kickoff and a punt, and the Niners are fortunate he was able to recover both of them. The bounces will not continue to go that way if Williams keeps putting the ball on the ground. Williams averaged only16.3 yards on four kickoff returns. The coverage units were again solid. Bottom line: The Niners might want to develop a contingency plan for Williams. Now.

 

COACHING

 

The Niners were out-coached by the Broncos. It's that simple. Denver's defense knew what was coming and was ready for it. The Niners never did adjust. Sure, penalties and mistakes helped doomed San Francisco, but the Niners need to find more creative ways to get the ball to their offensive weapons and also get it down the field on a more consistent basis. Bottom line: Offense needs to be opened, or things could start closing in on the Niners in a hurry.


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