49ers report card

Handing out grades to the 49ers for their performance in a 31-14 loss to the Carolina Panthers, breaking down the positives, negatives and bottom line in every area of the team.

Positives: Trent Dilfer made nice throws over the middle to hit Arnaz Battle with a 20-yard touchdown pass and Delanie Walker with a 21-yard scoring toss within a three-minute span of the third quarter.
Negatives: Dilfer's four interceptions matched a career high and they prevented the 49ers from getting back in the game when they had a had a shot. One of them was returned 67 yards for a touchdown by Richard Marshall on a pass that was thrown right into Marshall's hands. Dilfer also seemed to not be on the same page with his receivers, who often went one way while Dilfer threw another. Dilfer completed only 14 of his 29 passes.
Bottom line: After some promising performances in recent weeks when Dilfer took control of the offense, he clearly took a step back here.

RUNNING BACKS -- Grade: C-plus
Positives: Frank Gore displayed burst, took on defenders and clearly looks like he's returning to his form of last season. He averaged 4.8 yards while picking up a hard-earned 58 yards rushing. Gore also had five receptions for 53 yards.
Negatives: Gore only got 12 carrries, a product of the 49ers falling behind early once again and abandoning their game plan to get him the ball on the ground. An end-around call to reciever Arnaz Battle on third-and-1 in Carolina territory was a disaster and resulted in a fumble that led to the Panthers' first score. The blitz pickup here wasn't always good.
Bottom line: The run game was there; the 49ers just weren't in a position to use it.

Positives: Battle snared four receptions and recorded his team-leading fourth touchdown catch of the season.
Negatives: The game began with a third-down drop by Darrell Jackson on the third play from scrimmage. The receiver unit finished with just six receptions and never seemed to get in rhythm with Dilfer.
Bottom line: Another day of limited production by underachieving unit.

TIGHT ENDS -- Grade: C
Positives: Walker recorded the first touchdown reception of his career and continued to show he can beat coverage when isolated on defenders. Vernon Davis' lone catch went for a 19-yard gain.
Negatives: Davis was underused again in the passing game and spent too much time blocking in those situations. He also slipped on a route that resulted in a Dilfer interception.
Bottom line: Sure, San Francisco struggled in pass protection, but negating Davis' threat as a playmaker to use him as a blocker was not the answer.

Positives: The right side of guard David Baas and tackle Joe Staley cleared some nice space a few times in the run game.
Negatives: This unit struggled mightily in pass protection against a defense that entered the game with the fewest sacks in the NFL. Left tackle Adam Snyder, in particular, had a rough day on the edge, and this unit practically was defenseless against the blitz as the Panthers rolled up a season-high six sacks. They had just 10 in their first 11 games.
Bottom line: Snyder's definitely not the answer at left tackle, and this unit continued its season-long struggles.

DEFENSIVE LINE -- Grade: C-minus
Positives: Ends Bryant Young and Marques Douglas were tough on the 3-4 edges and held their ground while making a few plays. Isaac Sopoaga made his presence know in the middle a few times and also recorded a sack.
Negatives: The Panthers rushed for 166 yards, the second-most allowed by the 49ers in a game this season, and that kind of thing always starts up front. This unit had some trouble disengaging from Carolina blockers.
Bottom line: Unit provided little pressure on passing downs, so needed to be much better than it was against the run.

LINEBACKERS -- Grade: C-plus
Positives: Hello? It's Patrick Willis as usual. The rookie phenom had 18 official tackles for the second week in a row, and once again he was all over the field. Derek Smith and Tully Banta-Cain also got their noses in on some plays and combined for 11 tackles while Banta-Cain recorded a sack.
Negatives: As active as this unit was, it also was making plays too far down the field and Carolina backs were able to break into the second level far too many times. There were also some problems in coverage, where Carolina tight ends caught two touchdowns with this unit responsible for at least one of them. The pressure from the edges once again was weak. And where was Parys Haralson? Carolina ran 72 offensive plays, yet Haralson's name did not appear on the statistics sheet after the game.
Bottom line: Willis once again was the rage, but overall this unit could have played better - and needed to for the 49ers to win.

Positives: Cornerback Nate Clements and safety Michael Lewis both had interceptions, with Clements' coming deep in San Francisco territory and Lewis' leading to San Francisco's first touchdown. Both players made some plays in coverage and, as usual, came up strong against the run. The entire secondary generally did a good job against Carolina quarterback Vinny Testaverde and Co., and besides a 29-yard reception, kept dangerous Steve Smith in check.
Negatives: There were a few breakdowns in coverage, particularly on Carolina's first score when a third-string rookie tight end roamed free in the end zone.
Bottom line: Another respectable, turnover-producing effort, and think what this unit might do if it has a pass rush in front of it.

SPECIAL TEAMS -- Grade: D-plus
Positives: Andy Lee was the usual Andy Lee, blasting away for a 48.2-yard average on five punts with an astounding 46.2 net with three of his kicks downed inside the 20. Nate Clements provided a spark with 41-yard punt return that set up San Francisco's second touchdown. The coverage units once again were solid. Maurice Hicks had a 41-yard kickoff return.
Negatives: There was one huge gaffe here, and it brings down the entire grade considerably. With the 49ers riding a surge of momentum and poised to get back in the game, returner Michael Lewis muffed a punt that was recovered by Carolina and quickly turned into a touchdown that pushed the Panthers' lead back to double digits. It was the pivotal play of the game. Lewis averaged 1.3 yards on his three returns with a long of 2.
Bottom line: Take away Lewis' game-swaying gaffe, and it's another solid effort by these units. But you can't take it away.

COACHING -- Grade: C-minus
Positives: Mike Nolan got in the face of his team after it fell behind 17-0 and that seemed to provide a spark. For once, the 49ers made some nice halftime adjustments and came out strong to begin the third quarter. The defensive game plan, again, was solid.
Negatives: Ultimately, coaches didn't do a good enough job getting the team ready to play and build on the momentum of last week's thriller in Arizona. Nolan had an opportunity to go for it on fourth-and-2 at the Arizona 42 but settled for a 30-yard punt and net gain of 25 yards. After a promising performance in Arizona, Jim Hostler's offensive game plan once again sagged, and he didn't get the ball enough into the hands of either Gore or Davis. A reverse call on third-and-short once again blew up in the 49ers' faces.
Bottom line: The 49ers should have been better prepared against a vulnerable opponent, but it's difficult to hold coaches responsible for six turnovers and poor execution as San Francisco was mathematically eliminated from playoff contention with a quarter of the season still remaining.

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