Is there hope? Niners fold with fourth-quarter meltdown

Is the 49ers’ season lost?


Coach Mike Nolan tried to ease the concerns of his team afterward. His postgame talk to his team focused on how the season is long and there’s still a lot of time for the 49ers to turn this thing around.

But you really have to wonder. This was a game the 49ers should have won. But they completely folded in the fourth quarter.


The 49ers ran 16 offensive plays in the fourth quarter and they lost 2 yards in total offense. Frank Gore touched the ball just twice in the fourth quarter. That doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense.


J.T. O’Sullivan threw two interceptions (one of which was returned for a touchdown in the final minute) and lost a fumble.


The 49ers were outscored 23-0 in the fourth quarter. Click here to read my article for the newspaper.


* * *

Obviously, many plays went awry. One play that deserves special attention was a third-and-6 from the Eagles’ 11 late in the third quarter. The 49ers were leading 23-17.


The Eagles brought six people on a blitz. Tight end Vernon Davis lined on the left side. O’Sullivan rolled right. They had the tight end screen set up perfectly, but when O’Sullivan turned to throw back to the other side, safety Quintin Mikell was in his face. O’Sullivan hurried his throw and tossed it over Davis‘ head.


It would’ve been an easy touchdown. The 49ers had three blockers out in front of Davis and there were no Eagles defenders on that side of the field.


“There was no one there at all,” Davis said. “He had a lot of pressure on him, so he had to get rid of it. He couldn’t see me because he had linemen in his face. . . . I was set where I was supposed to set and I did what I was supposed to do.”


The 49ers settled for a field goal to increase their lead to 26-17 – instead of 30-17.


* * *

Obviously, another key sequence was after the Eagles pulled to within two points early in the fourth quarter. What the 49ers needed was a time-consuming drive. They needed to use Gore to chew up the clock and perhaps move down the field to increase their lead.


Instead, the 49ers went three-and-out with two incomplete passes and a pass to Davis for negative-7 yards. That drive used up just 1 minute, four seconds. In fact, in the fourth quarter the 49ers had six drives and managed only one first down.


It seemed like pretty odd play-calling by offensive coordinator Mike Martz.


“You know, we’ve just got to finish,” Gore said. “I’m not the coach, and I don’t make the calls. The Eagles made big plays. We made mistakes and we lost the game. Our coach did what he thought was the best thing for us to get a first down and move the ball. We made mistakes toward the end. They made the plays and won the game.”


Said O’Sullivan: “I believe whatever play coach Martz calls is the best play for our offense. We were trying to move the ball and be aggressive. He is going to call the play that he feels is going to be the most successful.”


* * *


The one big head-scratcher was Mike Nolan’s decision to challenge David Akers’ made field goal midway through the fourth quarter.


This was not a good day for Nolan challenges – or non-challenges. But it’s my understanding that Nolan should not have been allowed to challenge that call because the kick sailed over the upright and could not have been reversed anyway because there’s no frame of reference on video.


“I asked him (referee Ron Winter), ‘Is it challengeable?’ And he said, ‘It really doesn’t matter now that you threw the red flag'” Nolan said. “They have to correct that. There’s got to be some kind of signal that says it’s not only good but it’s not challengeable or it is.”


The play the 49ers should have challenged was on the second drive of the game.


Hank Baskett was ruled to catch a 16-yard pass on a third-and-2 play from the 49ers’ 29. Despite the ruling of a completed pass, the ball clearly popped out of Baskett’s grasp and hit the ground. Nolan said he was not made aware that the ball was not caught until after it was too late. Four plays later, the Eagles scored the first touchdown of the game to take a 7-3 lead.


* * *

Injury report

Receiver Josh Morgan played almost the entire game at split end because Bryant Johnson is battling hamstring and groin strains. He is hobbled. Johnson practiced Wednesday and Thursday, but sat out Friday’s work. He was not on the team’s injury report.


Fullback Zak Keasey’s right arm was in a sling. He said X-rays proved negative, but he is scheduled for an MRI examination on Monday to see is something significant is wrong. Keasey hinted that it might be something serious, such as a torn tendon. Keasey sustained the injury while blocking on a first-half kickoff. He did not return to the game. If Keasey is out, look for Michael Robinson and Delanie Walker to split the duties of the fullback.


Kicker Joe Nedney had a shoulder sprain, an injury from trying to make a tackle in the first half. He continued to kick.


Vernon Davis required about five stitches to close a gash on his left forearm. The 49ers appeared to be taking extra precautions after the game after the staph infection that broke out late in training camp.

* * *

Report card

Here’s my quickie grades from the game:


D: With the game on the line in the fourth quarter, J.T. O’Sullivan threw two interceptions and lost a fumble. O’Sullivan completed 17 of 30 passes for 199 yards. His passer rating was 49.2.

Running back

A-minus: Frank Gore ran hard. He gained 101 yards and a touchdown on just 19 carries, while also catching three passes for 16 yards. Backup DeShaun Foster failed to convert a third-and-1 run in the second half when the 49ers were moving the ball.

Receiver/tight end

C: Vernon Davis finally was part of the game plan, catching six passes for 75 yards. The wideouts did not do a whole lot, as Isaac Bruce, Arnaz Battle and Josh Morgan combined for just six catches for 92 yards.

Offensive line

B-minus: Overall, it was a strong performance against one of the more difficult teams in the league to play against. The protection held up very well for most of the game against the Eagles’ blitzes. This unit gave O’Sullivan time to throw. Also, there were holes for Gore. On the down side, the line was responsible for four penalties for 23 yards.

Defensive line

D: The defensive line did not get much pressure on Donovan McNabb with their four-man rush. They also had a difficult time containing Correll Buckhalter, who rushed for 93 yards on 18 carries.


B-minus: Takeo Spikes made an interception deep in 49ers territory late in the third quarter. But in the fourth quarter, Patrick Willis failed to hold onto a ball that would’ve been a pivotal turnover. Willis and Spikes were the team’s leading tacklers.

Defensive back

D: The 49ers secondary had a very difficult time keeping up with rookie DeSean Jackson, who caught six passes for 98 yards. McNabb threw for 280 yards and two touchdowns while compiling a passer rating of 94.7.

Special teams

B-plus: Ray McDonald’s blocked field goal, which resulted in Donald Strickland’s 41-yard TD return looked to be the momentum-changer the 49ers needed. The 49ers’ coverage units did not have a good day. The Eagles’ average starting point was their own 46.


D: Coach Mike Nolan ordered a couple questionable challenges, including his decision to appear a made field goal in the fourth quarter. The play had no chance to get overturned, and the 49ers needed that timeout. The stars seemed to align for a 49ers victory, but they could not close the deal.

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