Breaking down the game

Analyzing and categorizing the 49ers' 20-17 overtime loss Sunday to the San Diego Chargers:

QUARTERBACKS

Once he adjusted to the pressure and different defensive schemes the Chargers were throwing at him, Jeff Garcia once again was magnificent, moving around in the pocket and keeping drives alive by throwing on the run. After starting the game just 4 of 14 through the air, Garcia finished 25 of 43 for a season-high 337 yards, and he put the ball perfectly over the San Diego defense for two touchdown passes to Terrell Owens. He also had some nice scrambles (26 yards rushing), and put the Niners in position to win by making plays to keep San Francisco moving on its only possession of overtime. Bottom line: Should have been a winning effort from Niners' Pro Bowl QB.

RUNNING BACKS

Garrison Hearst and Kevan Barlow occasionally found the going rough against the second-ranked rushing defense in the league, but they kept pounding at it and ultimately came away with a productive effort. Hearst had 66 yards on 12 carries and Barlow finished with 49 on 13, with both players breaking away for some key runs. Fullback Fred Beasley was awesome as a blocker, leveling linebacker Donnie Edwards on a short-yardage play and sending him out of the game. Bottom line: Running game gained 141 yards and averaged 4.7 yards per carry against one of NFL's elite rushing defenses.

RECEIVERS

Terrell Owens was at his big-play best, catching touchdown passes of 32 and 76 yards from Jeff Garcia, putting a nifty move on a safety to turn the latter into one of his signature big scoring plays. He finished with seven catches for 171 yards, but wasn't even the team's leading receiver. That distinction belonged to Tai Streets, who had eight receptions for 78 yards. J.J. Stokes also came through with some big catches, finishing with three for 44 yards, and Cedrick Wilson and tight end Justin Swift each fought for extra yardage to turn their lone catches into first downs. Bottom line: A great day by receiving unit that abused San Diego's secondary.

OFFENSIVE LINE

There were problems here against San Diego's aggressive, blitzing defense, particularly early after left tackle Derrick Deese went out with an ankle injury. The Chargers were all over Jeff Garcia early and there wasn't much room in the running game. But, despite some penalties, this unit got much stronger when it settled down as the game progressed. Matt Willig had a false start and a facemask penalty, but the Niners ultimately extended both those drives. Ron Stone had a holding penalty. Bottom line: Unit ultimately held its own against one of best defensive front sevens in football.

DEFENSIVE LINE

This unit was great stuffing San Diego's run game for the most part, but it never sacked San Diego quarterback Drew Brees, and that ended up costing the Niners. Several times the Niners got close to Brees during key sequences, only to see him buy enough time to make a play. Chike Okeafor had the best day here, making four tackles and also providing some good pressures. He was the only member of this unit with more than two tackles. Bottom line: Niners needed more from D-line to finish off the Chargers.

LINEBACKERS

A mixed bag here. Derek Smith had nine tackles and also made some fine plays in coverage, but he also was out of position a few times, allowing the Chargers to scamper for first downs and/or extra yardage. Jeff Ulbrich was solid with six tackles and rangy Julian Peterson had seven tackles and played well again in open space, but this unit didn't always get where it needed to be in key sequences. Bottom line: Made some plays, allowed some plays.

 

DEFENSIVE BACKS

Mike Rumph cost the 49ers again with an interference call in the end zone that allowed San Diego to eventually force overtime. That wasn't the only time he was beaten in the game, which is becoming a weekly ritual. Ahmed Plummer made some great plays in coverage - he batted away two passes - but he also was beaten on a few receptions, as was every member of this unit. The safeties allowed Curtis Conway to get deep for a 47-yard reception, the longest play allowed by the Niners this season. Unit played well on run support, with Jason Webster finishing with nine tackles, safety Tony Parrish eight and Plummer and safety Ronnie Heard seven each. Bottom line: Unit had a lot of opportunities to make plays with the Chargers throwing 50 passes. It didn't make enough of them.

SPECIAL TEAMS

How can the 49ers ever have confidence in Jose Cortez again? He almost cost them a game two weeks ago against the Raiders by missing an easy field goal. This time, he did cost them a game. He obviously can't handle pressure kicks, and now he has missed four field-goal attempts in the last three games. Jimmy Williams continues to show true ability as a returner and had a 36-yard punt return. Tim Dwight didn't do much returning punts, but the Chargers did break a few decent returns on kickoffs. Bottom line: This time, the Niners couldn't recover from a killer Cortez miss.

COACHING

The Niners made some nice offensive adjustments to assume command after struggling early, but then their play-calling seemed to get conservative when a victory appeared well in hand. The Niners also mismanaged the clock at the end of regulation and called some strange plays after reaching the San Diego 23-yard line in overtime. The defensive strategy challenged San Diego to pass, which would have been great if the Niners could


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