The non-so-magnificent seven (plays)

Looking back at Sunday’s 49ers game, there were seven plays (or sequences) that sealed their fate.

Looking back at Sunday’s 49ers game, there were seven plays (or sequences) that sealed their fate. We’ll take a look at them in chronological order.

First quarter; scoreless game. Niners with a first-and-10 at the Saints’ 32: This was the 49ers’ first series of the game and they had already gained three first downs. But on this fresh set of downs, offensive coordinator Mike Martz abandoned the run.

The key play was first down when J.T. O’Sullivan was sacked for a 7-yard loss, which pretty much took away the option of RB Frank Gore running on second or third downs. The Saints came with a four-man rush. O’Sullivan takes a seven-stop drop and had he kept that depth, he would’ve been all right. But he moved up 2 yards and right into the path of Saints DE Charles Grant, who had spun underneath RT Barry Sims.

O’Sullivan appeared to be ready to let a pass go to Isaac Bruce on the left side. However, as he started to throw, Bruce lost his footing after making contact with a Saints linebacker. O’Sullivan pulled the ball down and took the sack 3.6 seconds after the snap of the ball.

O’Sullivan completed a 10-yard pass to Josh Morgan on second down. On third-and-7, Sims and LT Joe Staley ride the Saints defensive ends past O’Sullivan, who steps up and tries to get the ball deep to Bruce. However, he puts too much air under it, allowing Roman Harper time to get over and break it up. Harper probably should’ve had the interception.

Their chance at a touchdown is lost, and the 49ers settle for Joe Nedney’s 47-yard field goal for a 3-0 lead.

Second quarter; 49ers lead 3-0, Niners with second-and-15 at their own 39: O’Sullivan takes a seven-step drop while the Saints rush four men. TE Vernon Davis remains into block and he’s matched against DE Will Smith. Davis gets turned by Smith, who begins his pursuit of O’Sullivan from the outside. Meanwhile, O’Sullivan recognizes that DE Bobby McCray is beating Sims in front of him. O’Sullivan slips away from McCray and rolls to his right. He has plenty of time to get rid of the ball, but he does not sense Smith is behind him. Approximately, 5.5 seconds after the ball is snapped, Smith strips O’Sullivan of the ball from behind. Jonathan Vilma recovers it inbounds at the 49ers’ 32.

Six plays later, the Saints score a touchdown for a 7-3 lead.

Second quarter; Saints lead 7-3, Saints with second-and-10 at SF 33: The 49ers are unable to generate much pressure with a four-man rush. The only 49ers lineman to get off the line of scrimmage is DE Ray McDonald, who gets some nice push. He lifts his hand and barely misses disrupting QB Drew Brees’ throw.

S Dashon Goldson is covering WR Lance Moore in the slot. Moore blows right past him — nothing fancy. Goldson simply can’t keep up with Moore‘s speed. SS Michael Lewis, probably left flat-footed because of Brees’ play-action fake, is slow getting over. That’s an easy 33-yard touchdown for the Saints, giving them a 14-3 lead with 3:00 left in the half.

Second quarter; Saints lead 14-6, Saints with second-and-3 from the SF 47: It’s late in the first half. The Saints have already moved the ball 27 yards on the first three plays after the 49ers settled for another field goal on the previous drive.

The Saints send all their eligible receivers out in the pattern and easily block the 49ers’ four-man rush with their five offensive linemen. CB Nate Clements lines up 10 yards off WR Robert Meachem. Clements back-pedals for about 7 yards and then peels off Meachem to cover an underneath route.

FS Mark Roman picks up Meachem, who’s running full speed down the field. Roman does not turn and run until Meachem is already past him. Brees throws deep for Meachem, Roman dives to try to break up the pass but does not make the play. Goldson is way late – 5 yards away – in getting over to help Roman.

After the game, coach Mike Nolan said the 49ers devoted two defenders to every deep Saints pass. That would seem to suggest that Goldson was as much to blame as Roman for the 47-yard TD pass that gave the Saints a 21-6 lead with :52 remaining in the half.

Third quarter, Saints lead 21-9, 49ers with second-and-5 from Saints 10: Again, the 49ers don’t run the ball despite the fact that Gore’s four carries on the drive got them 4, 9, 6 and 7 yards. (Not to mention DeShaun Foster’s 9-yard carry.)

The 49ers have two tight ends and two wideouts on the field. Davis remains in to block, while Delanie Walker goes out on a short pattern. O’Sullivan has plenty of time to throw. WR Bryant Johnson lines up on the left side; Bruce on the right side. They both run similar post routes, taking them to the same general area of the end zone. O’Sullivan throws behind Johnson and into double coverage, where S Kevin Kaesviharn makes a nice one-handed interception in the end zone.

Put this one on Martz and O’Sullivan. The play call is easy to second-guess; and the design of the play looked bad. Also, this was a ball O’Sullivan should not have thrown, and it was poorly thrown at that.

Third quarter, Saints lead 21-9, Saints with second-and-11 from own 22: Brees hands off to RB Deuce McAllister up the middle. McAllister tosses it back to Brees on a flea-flicker. LB Patrick Willis appears responsible for McAllister. When he sees McAllister’s role on the flea-flicker he high-tails it to Brees. Willis leaps as he gets to McAllister, but Brees gets rid of the ball.

Michael Lewis seems to have this play sniffed out and he’s running with Meachem. He was in good position to make a play, but he does not go up for the ball. Instead, he tries to rip at Meachem’s hands after the catch. Meachem juggles but manages to hold on for a 52-yard gain. CB Walt Harris was running behind the play.

The Saints would go on to score another touchdown, giving them a 28-9 lead early in the fourth quarter.

Fourth quarter, Saints lead 28-9, 49ers with first-and-10 from N.O. 16: Just because the final margin was 14 points, everyone can point to O’Sullivan’s two interceptions in the end zone as the margin of defeat. That’s why we’ll include this play as a key moment, too. (In reality, the game was already over.)

There’s 10 minutes left in the game and the 49ers have to do a lot of scoring, so there’s no second-guessing the decision to throw. O’Sullivan has plenty of time in the pocket and makes his decision to hit WR Arnaz Battle on a post pattern. The only problem is that rookie CB Tracy Porter has inside position on Battle and makes the easy interception. It looked as if Porter was the intended receiver on the play.

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Bottom line: The offense should’ve scored a lot more than 17 points against the Saints, and the 49ers’ experienced defensive backfield shouldn’t have gotten their wires crossed as many times as it did against Moore and Meachem. This really was a “team loss.” The offensive line did not play well, but it was not to blame for all the problems. Sims could definitely have used some help on the right side.

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Everyone can agree that O’Sullivan did not play well. However, this is how things have changed from a year ago. He threw for 257 yards, which was more than any 49ers QB passed for in a single game last season. And as bad as his 59.6 passer rating was . . . well, it was still better than what Trent Dilfer (55.1) and Alex Smith (57.2) did over the entire course of last season.

Here are the 49ers’ top six offensive games, in total yards, since the beginning of the 2007 season:

374 at Arizona, 2007

370 vs. Lions, 2008

365 at Seattle, 2008

337 vs. Bengals, 2007

312 at New Orleans, 2008

291 at Seattle, 2008

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