The San Francisco 49ers defeated the Atlanta Falcons yesterday, 34-24, in a game that was closer than it sounds and shouldn’t have been.
The lowly Falcons shouldn’t have posed any real challenge for the Niners. Atlanta starts more rookies than any team in NFL history that wasn’t an expansion team in its first season. Seven rooks on the defensive side of the ball a good part of the day? QB Matt Ryan is at best a slightly above average player. The Falcons were 4-10 and out of reasons to play other than maybe morale. The Niners were playing to clinch a playoff birth (which they did) and keep slim hopes of a division title alive.
And yet Ryan and his low-octane offense scorched the Niners time after time after time. They ended up the evening with 402 yards of total offense, 341 of it through the air. And a good bit of that yardage came on long passes that seemed to find the pores in the Niners’ passing D. When the Falcons tried a desperation on-side kick with just over 2:00 left in the game — and freaking recovered it! — I really thought it was game over for the Niners. A tie seemed all but inevitable and the way Ryan had the team working, a winning TD wouldn’t have come as a shock.
Then a fluke INT plopped into NaVorro Bowman’s hands and he returned it 89 yards for a TD and the game was over. Finally.
I must say the Falcons acquitted themselves very nicely. They have demonstrated to their fans that they can play with the league’s elite even if that comes too late to salvage a disappointing season.
So the Niners are in the playoffs. Depending on how they do in the final game this week at St. Louis. But you have to be a little worried about that defense. Over the past three or four games they’ve had lapses that have seemed incomprehensible. And they’ve yielded their share of penalties while contributing very few turnaround or scoring plays or opportunities. Sure, they’re still stingy as hell on scoring and that’s huge, but in the playoffs it doesn’t take too many lapses before you find yourself playing catch-up.
And Coach Jim Harbaugh and his staff have to reduce the number of dumb play calls and poor clock management incidents or they’re going to cost us a crucial close game.
On the up side, the offense has been clicking a bit more smoothly and efficiently of late. Kaep got some of his wheels back yesterday and looked really good a couple of times. He’s still making too many bad decisions on passes, sailed a couple too high and ate the ball once too often. But given that he’s only a bit more experienced than a true rookie, I guess we have to cut him some slack.