In a must win game against the 0-5 Carolina Panthers, the San Francisco 49ers found yet another way to lose.
The 49ers had a brilliant first drive of the game, scoring on a one-yard touchdown to Vernon Davis. The touchdown play occurred after Davis and quarterback Alex Smith hooked up for a 53-yard completion.
The 49ers lined up in running formations and threw the ball, and they lined up in passing formations and ran the ball.
Running back Frank Gore looked good early, ripping off several long runs, including one for 20 yards.
But after that first touchdown, the offense just could not find the end zone.
You just had the feeling that if Carolina kept it close, they would pull it out in the end.
At one point Carolina even tried giving the game to the 49ers, as rookie receiver David Gettis dropped a sure touchdown catch on fourth down.
But even then, didn’t you have the feeling that Gettis would redeem himself?
Due to an injury early in the third quarter to Smith, the remarkably ineffective David Carr took the helm and could do nothing to move the offense.
After Carolina tied the game at 20, Carr threw an interception that allowed Carolina to score on a field goal that proved to be enough to win the game 23-20.
So without further ado, on to the grades for the game.
Smith looked great on the first drive of the game. He did miss on his first throw, but he then made a beautiful throw to tight end Vernon Davis for 53 yards. Smith found a wide-open Davis in the end zone on the very next play.
But after that first drive, the thing that has plagued Smith throughout out his career reared its ugly head—consistency.
Before Smith went out with an injury early in the third quarter, he completed nine passes on 19 attempts for 129 yards. Throw in the touchdown and that is about a C average.
David Carr did his best to lower the grade. Carr completed a mere five passe on 13 attempts for 67 yards. He also threw an interception when the game was on the line.
Mixing up the offensive look allowed Frank Gore to be very effective today. He managed to run for 102 yards on 19 carries.
The problem was when they needed him the most near the end of the game, they couldn't fool Carolina anymore, and Gore was stuffed several times.
Rookie running back Anthony Dixon lost six yards on his lone carry.
Brian Westbrook was also stuffed, losing a yard on his one carry of the game.
At the start it looked like Vernon Davis might have a big day. But after Alex went down, all the receivers suffered, not that anybody was really lighting it up before Smith was lost.
Davis was the 49ers' leading receiver with four catches for 74 yards.
Michael Crabtree also had four catches but failed to break a big one and ended the day with 31 yards.
Josh Morgan added two catches for 34 yards, and Frank Gore added 57 yards to his yards from scrimmage total by grabbing four balls.
I don't know if this was the the most cowardly play I ever saw or the smartest. But when quarterback David Carr threw a high pass to Ted Ginn Jr., Ginn turned around and ducked before contact was ever made.
It was reminiscent of that classic play years ago when Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jim Everett went down without pressure. Jim Rome dubbed him "Chris" after that play.
Perhaps Ginn should be called "Tina."
If you are responsible for losing your starting quarterback, well, that to me is an automatic fail.
Anthony Davis was the culprit who gave up that sack. Davis has struggled all year with missing blocks and penalties. Not that a rookie isn't going to make some mistakes, but Davis really should have been benched and allowed to develop slowly by being rotated in and out of the lineup.
Outside of the Smith sack, the offensive line only gave up one other sack; however, they allowed too much pressure on Carr when the game was on the line.
They did run block fairly effectively today.
Ray McDonald says "Boo"!
This grade would have been an A had it not been for Demetric Evans' cheap shot on Carolina's quarterback Matt Moore. There was no penalty called, but in light of the NFL's crackdown on protecting players, Evan's shot at Moore's knees was just moronic.
Ray McDonald's 31-yard interception return for a touchdown was the highlight of the day. The big man rumbled, stumbled and bumbled his way to the end zone for his second touchdown in two years.
The Panthers' two-headed rushing attack, "Smash and Dash," managed only 73 yards rushing on the day—a 2.2-yard per rush average.
Patrick Willis returned to form with a game-high 11 tackles. Several of those tackles came from behind and managed to save what could have been huge gains.
Takeo Spikes got in on the action with six tackles.
Parys Haralson had four.
Yet Manny Lawson recorded only one tackle, and that was on special teams.
The linebacking corps earned a big fat goose egg in the sack department today.
A bunch of rookie receivers and the worst offense in the league rack up over 300 yards in receiving against this bunch?
Rookie strong safety Taylor Mays should have learned a couple of things today. The first is to turn your head for the ball. The second is not to wrap up your receiver before he catches the ball.
Nate Clements was seen picking himself up off the turf after a touchdown throw by the Panthers.
Shawntae Spencer learned what burnt toast smells like after trying to cover David Gettis.
But those are just the low lights. Oh, let's not forget the two pass interference calls on a single drive.
Clements did have the 49ers' only sack of the game.
Spencer and Clements also both forced fumbles...hoorah!
I was worried about the kick and punt coverage early in the game. It seemed like the Panthers were poised to break one sooner or later. But unlike the rest of the team, the coverage units actually got better as the game progressed.
Delanie Walker, Manny Lawson and Navorro Bowman all contributed with big tackles.
Kicker Joe Nedney was his reliable self, making both his field goal attempts as well as his two extra points.
Punter Andy Lee had a busy day with seven punts for a 50-yard average.
Ted Ginn Jr. did not look especially effective on punt and kick returns.
Someone has to take blame for this mess.
The offensive game plan was a welcome blessing for the first half of the game. But offensive coordinator Mike Johnson couldn't get anything to work in the second half.
Again only one touch for Brian Westbrook. A player that could have been used effectively at the end of the game to keep the ball away from Carolina doesn't even get a look?
The defense could stop the run, but not the pass?
Another penalty-filled game?
A must win and the 49ers find another way to lose?
Hope the coaching staff enjoys London—it may not be too pretty when they return.