Lost in the disappointment of another defeat for the San Francisco 49ers was Mike Johnson's solid debut as the replacement offensive coordinator after taking over for Jimmy Raye who was fired on Monday. What overshadows Johnson's debut were the mistakes by Alex Smith that cost the 49ers points.
The three mistakes were an interception on a jump pass as the 49ers were driving right before the end of the first half. His second mistake came later in the game as Smith didn't realize the safety for the Atlanta Falcons didn't remain with Vernon Davis and stepped in front of Smith's pass for an interception. Yet, the biggest mistake of the game was when Frank Gore missed his block and with Smith trying to at least get an incomplete pass to keep the 49ers in field goal range attempted to make a throw, but since the ball didn't get past the line of scrimmage it was intentional grounding and took the 49ers out of field goal range.
Even if Smith takes a sack in that situation the 49ers were still going to punt the football because the sack would have left the 49ers out of field goal range. It's the negative plays by Smith that will be remembered even though he played better than Matt Ryan.
Each quarterback had two interceptions thrown and a touchdown pass and each one also had an intentional grounding call. Unfortunately for the 49ers when Ryan was called for the intentional grounding it did not knock the Falcons out of field goal range.
Yet, the biggest difference between Raye and Johnson were noticed immediately. Instead of feeding the ball just to Frank Gore he got all the weapons the 49ers have offensively involved. The first drive for the 49ers went for five minutes and 46 seconds and in all it was 10 plays for 88 yards.
Here's how the playcalling went, Gore got the first touch of the game a one yard run. Moran Norris caught a ball out of the backfield for an eight yard gain, Michael Crabtree caught a 14 yard pass, Gore got the next two plays that went for nine yards.
With the 49ers facing a third and one with Raye calling the plays it would have meant a run for Gore, but with Johnson it was a playaction pass that Smith tried hitting Delanie Walker down the field, the Falcons defender on the play didn't look for the ball and interfered with Walker. So, the 49ers got a 34 yard penalty on the play.
A wide receiver screen to Crabtree went for two yards, a pass to Gore went for four yards, another pass to Gore went for three yards, which at first glance looked like Gore got the first down, but was inches shorts. A quarterback sneak by Smith on fourth and one which the 49ers barely got kept the drive alive.
Very next play Smith found Davis on a tight end screen and he went 12 yards for a touchdown, although the play had to be reviewed to get the call right. 49ers led 7-0 at that point and Johnson was looking great as the playcaller.
Even better for the 49ers was that the next series by the Falcons was a three and out. Thanks to a block in the back penalty on the kickoff it looked like the 49ers were going to have excellent field position.
But, on a great play by the special teams the punt was blocked and Taylor Mays made a heck of a play to get both feet in bounds catching the blocked punt for a touchdown. So, it was a great start for the 49ers after only one offensive possessions the 49ers led 14-0.
With that though it meant that the Falcons got the ball right back and the Falcons are known for the call control style offense employed by head coach Mike Smith. The Falcons went right back and marched down the field scoring their only touchdown of the game, the drive took six minutes and 10 seconds.
It wasn't until about two minutes until the second quarter that the 49ers had their second offensive possession of the first half. What hurt the 49ers was a false start on first down and no one blocking Curtis Lofton on second down who recorded a sack. It left the 49ers backed up, but Smith was able to find Gore who gave the 49ers some breathing room with a 12-yard pick-up, which was still well short of the first down.
Second possession did not go as well as the first, but again some mistakes on the offensive line didn't help the drive either.
The next possession for the 49ers came after an interception by Shawntae Spencer, so the 49ers were still ahead 14-7. This drive looked a lot better than the second drive of the game. As Gore had a 13 yard carry, Smith threw an incomplete pass, Smith then found Crabtree for 15 yards, Walker on a tight end screen that got six yards, but bad news on the play for the 49ers was that Walker injured his ankle on the play and did not return to the game.
A questionable playcall for Johnson was next as Smith threw to the opposite side of the field on another tight end screen, but this time it was Nate Byham. Unlike Walker, Byham isn't nearly as fast or elusive as Walker and the first defensive player for the Falcons was able to stop his momentum for no gain, and the next play was an incomplete pass by Smith.
So, what looked like another solid drive was ended prematurely and the 49ers were forced to punt.
No scoring again for the Falcons defense forced to a three and out by the 49ers defense. With the second quarter almost at an end it looked like the 49ers were going to drive down the field and at least get a field goal on that drive because it started out extremely well.
Smith found Crabtree for a 13-yard gain, Gore had a carry for three yards, Smith found Gore as he released out of the backfield for a 19-yard gain. Yet, the very next play was Smith trying to make something out of nothing.
He could feel the pressure coming and instead of bringing the ball down and taking a sack, Smith tried a jump pass to Gore. The ball sailed on Smith went high, Gore made a leap for the ball, but could only tip the ball with one hand and it was intercepted by Lofton.
That's the problem when a quarterback tries to make a play instead of taking a sack. If Gore had caught the pass there wouldn't have been many yards to the play either as the Falcons defense was right there to hit Gore as soon as he made the catch.
Atlanta got the ball back with one minute and 13 seconds left on the clock, which led to a field goal to put the score at halftime 14-10.
49ers got the ball to start the second half and again another mistake by Smith on the drive hurt. Gore had a carry for two yards, Davis had a catch for six, a pass interference call got the 49ers a first down as Gore was matched up on a linebacker, Smith threw an incomplete pass, then it was a heavy dose of Gore with six straight carries that went for 24 yards.
Yet, after the six straight runs the 49ers opted to pass and this was the play where Smith did not recognize that the safety didn't stay with Davis and jumped the route by Josh Morgan. As a result it ended another impressive drive by the 49ers.
The Falcons went down the field again the 49ers defense held their ground, but the Falcons added more points with a field goal. 49ers still leading but barely 14-13.
The next series for the 49ers was uneventful as it was a three and out. Gore had a carry for three yards, Davis had a three yard catch on a screen pass, and then an incomplete pass ended the drive.
Another three and out by the Falcons gave the ball back to the 49ers. Gore had a four yard carry, Crabtree a 14-yard catch, Gore two straight carries that went for eight yards, and then an incomplete pass stalling the drive and forcing another punt.
Falcons got the ball back the defense again came up big forcing a punt. The 49ers were driving down the field and it looked like for the moment that the 49ers were going to have a field goal attempt, but that didn't happen.
The drive started with an incomplete pass, Gore had a carry up the middle of no gain, and at that moment it looked like another three and out for the 49ers, but that wasn't the case. Smith found Gore who made some nice moves and picked up 13 yards for the first down.
Gore had a carry for two yards, an incomplete pass by Smith, a 10-yard catch for Morgan, Gore runs for three yards, Smith finds Gore for a six yard gain, Anthony Dixon has his only touch of the game with a three yard run on third and one, an incomplete pass as Smith went deep for Morgan, Smith finds Davis for a 15-yard gain, Gore gets two straight carries for six yards, so a third and four with the game on the line.
Smith is forced out of the pocket as the Falcons send in a blitz, Gore did not pick up the blitzer which forced Smith to try to make a play before he was sacked. As he was going to the ground, Smith attempted to throw the ball but didn't get anything behind the throw and since it didn't go across the line of scrimmage a penalty came out from the spot of the foul plus 10 yards for the intentional grounding.
Any chance of a field goal was out of the equation and the 49ers were forced to punt. Without the three points that is what allowed the Falcons to only need a field goal to win the game and that's what exactly happened as the 49ers lost 16-14 to the Falcons.
Although, it's hard to find good news with a team that has not won a game so far in their four games. Johnson looked good as the offensive coordinator for the 49ers and the numbers reflect that, although it was the mistakes that hurt the 49ers the most.
Coming into the game the 49ers have been horrible on third downs on offense, but the 49ers went 6-12 for 50 percent, which is good.
Crabtree had his best game of the season coming into the game he had six catches for 81 yards. He nearly equaled that with five catches for 58 yards and Davis' touchdown was the first of the season, and the offensive line only allowed one sack.
More importantly though the 49ers held the time of possession battle against the Falcons a team that averaged over 35 minutes with the ball and that was due to the drives that the 49ers had and even though those drives didn't result in points today, as the season progresses those drives will lead to points. It's also important to note that the 49ers had eight possessions while the Falcons had 11 possessions, so more plays for the Falcons and yet the 49ers still won the time of possession battle.
The season is far from over and there's still a lot of time left to make up ground in the NFC West and if the 49ers can keep the offense on the field and the defense off the field the NFC West title is certainly within the grasp of the 49ers.