If this game were a movie, the title would be "Missed Opportunities." And we would watch it and wonder why the Raider players kept repeating the movie title ad nauseum. Those opportunities came on both offense and defense and another common theme when speaking with players was that no one on offense or defense is without some blame.
The offense missed opportunities to make several big plays that would likely have been touchdowns. They also got in the redzone three times and came away with field goals every trip. The Raiders were moving the ball in the first half but once they got in scoring position, they seemed like they didn't know what to do with it.
The defense dominated in the first half. But there were three different occasions in which a defender got a ball right in his hands and could pull down the interception-- two by Nnamdi Asomugha and one by Rolando McClain.
The Niners were held in check in the first half but with the Raiders only scoring on two field goals, it would only take one touchdown for them to lose the lead. A three point lead at halftime was gone after the Niners 2nd series of the 2nd half. On the drive the Niners drove down to score a touchdown and those 10 points were all they would need to come away with the win.
Well, everyone may have some blame in an ugly game like this, but I will try and find those who deserve some credit and those of whom were swinging the ugly stick.
He is just a beast. That is the best way I can put it. He plays with a violent passion that is difficult for a lot of offensive lineman and blockers to handle. That shuffling that Cable did to start the season in which Shaughnessy was removed as the starter, Trevor Scott was move to defensive end, and Quentin Groves was named the starting weakside linebacker, was a mistake. That is not meant to slight Groves or Scott in any way. Shaughnessy is simply the best defensive end this team has and he should be starting. Regardless of players at other positions. And since Groves went out injured and Shaughnessy was given back the job he held in camp, he has been tremendous.
He got this started on the Niners first possession. After they had picked up a first down on a run from Gore, Shaughnessy ensured that was the only first down they would get on that drive. On the next play, he broke into the backfield and chased down Alex Smith to force an incompletion. The drive ended two plays later.
Then after a long Raider drive and field goal, the 49ers got the ball back early in the second quarter. And on the very first play of the series, Shaughnessy shot into the backfield again. This time he sacked Smith. The loss of yardage put the Niners in a bigger hole than they could get out of and the possession ended with a three and out.
Two possessions later, the Raiders were losing a field position battle that set the 49ers up near midfield due to Shane Lechler being forced to punt out of the back of his own endzone. The Raiders needed a stop and Shaughnessy helped give them that. The Niners ran the ball off right guard and Shaughnessy flew in from the opposite end to catch Gore behind the line and stop him for minimal gain. Again, the series ended with a three and out.
He had two more run stuffing tackles for no gain in the game and he was second in tackles among Raider lineman with 4 solo tackles.
While other players may stand out in this game for whatever reason, Wimbley quietly put together a pretty good game. On that first Niner series, when Shaughnessy pressured Smith into an incompletion, it was Wimbley who had Smith outlet receiver covered to force him to throw the ball into the turf. He began the next Niner possession blanketing his assignment and forcing another incompletion. Also lost in the Niners final drive of the first half, that resulted in a field goal, was a play in which Wimbley was bearing down on Smith and hit him hard just after he released the ball for an incompletion.
In the second half, the Niners came out and began a long drive in which they methodically moved the ball down the field to score. Well, that score would have come a lot sooner if it weren't for Wimbley. The Niners directly snapped the ball to Frank Gore who took it off right guard (as usual) for 11 yards. Not a big deal, but it would have been a huge touchdown run if Wimbley hadn't come all the way from the other side of the field to stop Gore just as he was looking to break into open field.
Wimbley was in on the 49ers final play of the game when he filled the middle to force Gore to change his direction where he was tackled immediately for no gain. It would give the Raiders the ball back with one more chance to score to try and tie up the game. Wimbley gave the Raiders offense that "opportunity" and they "missed" yet another one.
He had two catches in this game which by itself might not seem worthy of much praise. Especially considering we know neither was a touchdown. But unlike some wide receivers on this team, cough-DHB-cough, the fact that Zach wasn't seeing many passes was not his fault. The first pass thrown to him, should not have been thrown. Manny Lawson had Miller in good coverage but Campbell threw it anyway and it was intercepted. There were several other instances in which Miller was wide open and Campbell just didn't see him. It wasn't until the 4th quarter that Zach had his first catch. Then, not surprisingly, he was the target on the next throw as well. It was slightly underthrown and tipped but Zach smartly slowed and caught the ball anyway, off the deflection. Those two catches went for 22 and 26 yards and just like that, he had more offense (as usual) than anyone else on the team. He has long proven to be the key to this Raider offense's ability to move the ball and score. The team abandoning that is a big reason why they never put the ball in the endzone in this game.
Another guy who can't really be faulted for his lack of production in this game. In the locker room after the game, he was the most angry of all as far as I could tell. Granted, he is more firey than most, but this was a bit different. During the Jason Campbell interview, myself and a few other members of the media had their recorders on Campbell but our eyes on Murphy. He stood uneasily leaning his forehead against his locker, muttering angrily to himself. It is not hard to figure out why he was so frustrated. He had several passes come his way but only one was on target and it was a short pass that went for 4 yards. The other two passes, he was wide open with nothing but open field in front of him to the endzone. The first one was thrown short and the 49ers were called for pass interference when Murphy tried to come back for the ball. The other big one was well overthrown. Sure, Murphy had a fumble that he recovered but if he had caught even one of those long TD passes, would anyone care about the fumble? And even despite the missed opportunities, he was still part of the two biggest plays from scrimmage the Raiders had on the day-- the 46 yard pass interference call, and the 43 yard end around he ran to put the Raiders in scoring position.
Shane Lechler, Sebastian Janikowski
You may notice I said that no one on offense or defense is free of blame and that is because these two did just what was expected of them on Sunday. Janikowski had two touchbacks on kickoffs and was 3 for 3 on field goals (24,27, 40) for the Raiders only scoring. Lechler punted five times with nearly all of them being majestic moon shots. His most impressive one was with him backed up to the endline. He took the short snap and launched the ball 61 yards. Ah, to witness true greatness at work.
There was a lot of ugly play on that field from the Raiders on Sunday. But Jason Campbell had futility for the record books. He completed just 8 out of 21 passes for 89 yards and 2 interceptions and a fumble. Believe it or not, that is statistically worse than JaMarcus Russell ever did. In fact, it is the worst performance by a Raider starting quarterback since 1992 (Jay Schroeder). Also, not surprisingly, it was Campbell's worst performance of his pro career. The only reason the Raiders were still in this game was Alex Smith was only slightly less crappy. His first offense was on the very first play of the game when he underthrew an open Louis Murphy on a pass off a flee flicker. Luckily the Niners had a pass interference but if he would have thrown it on target, it would have been an easy touchdown. Then he ended the Raiders first drive with another errant pass that he threw out of the back of the endzone, resulting in a field goal settlement.
His next big mistake was his first interception in which he tried to force a ball to Zach Miller in coverage, right to the defender for an easy pick. Then he stopped throwing the Zach at all for three quarters, even when Miller was wide open on several plays.
Someone Campbell WAS throwing to was Murphy... or rather throwing NEAR Murphy. Hearing the stat announcer say "pass intended for..." was often comical to me because I wanted to say, "Was it?! Seriously, was it REALLY intended for anyone to catch it?"
When interviewing Murphy after the game, several of us tried to get him to be more specific about his frustrations in this game. He wouldn't throw his QB under the bus but he knew that we all knew what opportunities were missed out there. And he was probably thinking that if it were Gradkowski out there throwing it, those would have been touchdowns.
Campbell can't be blamed so much for the 2nd interception, as it was a dropped ball that was tipped up in the air. But he CAN be blamed for the fumble. He felt the pocket closing and started to look like he was going to try and run it but instead he made a quick, awkward throw backward in the direction of Michael Bush. The lateral was way short and wide, falling incomplete and therefore it was a fumble and a live ball. Bush had some trouble picking it up and was forced to simply fall on the ball and take a loss. The result was a three and out on a critical series. If the defense hadn't held the 49ers on their next possession, that would have been the Raiders last chance to score. Flush.
With the play of Stanford Routt not being much better this season, Johnson has been seeing more playing time than he did to start the season-- and he has not made the most of it. He was a key part of the big play at the end of the game last week to beat the Chargers, but that was the only thing that kept him from being named a Buster then too. He had no such heroics in this game. Quite to the contrary in fact. He was responsible for 79 yards in this game and 67 of them came on one drive alone. The Niners second series after halftime, they seemed to have figured out a few things about how to move the ball on the Raiders. One of those things was to throw at Chris Johnson. With the Niners moving the ball and nearing midfield, he gave up a 6 yard catch on 2nd down and then on the next play he was called for holding to give them another first down. Then after two nice defensive plays, he gives up a 19 yard catch on 3rd down to put the Niners in scoring position. Two plays later he was late getting over to cover a suddenly open Michael Crabtree in the endzone for the 49ers first touchdown.
Is it too early to give up on the Pro Bowl aspirations we all had for Branch after last season? In one offseason he has gone from playing at an All Pro level, to being a total liability. His biggest issue is being out of position on long pass plays. And again, as has happened a few times this season, Branch gave up a touchdown. It was the 16 yard touchdown to Vernon Davis, in which Branch was way out of position, in the middle of the field while Davis ran free on a slant to a wide open area on the left side of the field. Branch was also partially responsible for the 64 yard run by Gore that set up the touchdown. He was supposed to secure the gap and was easily taken out of the play on a block. He would have been responsible for another TD as well when he completely whiffed on a tackle, but Wimbley swooped in to hold the potential TD run to 11 yards.
The game started out great with an 8 minute opening drive by the Raiders to the 4 yard line. But, due to poor discipline and confusion, that is where it ended. With the Raiders at 2nd and goal at the 4 yard line, Langston Walker was not reported as an eligible receiver and was called for illegal formation. This same illegal formation has been called on the Raiders in a similar situation in several, if not every one, of the games this season. How could such a simple thing keep happening? Then to make matters worse, after the 5 yard penalty, there is further confusion on offense, forcing the Raiders to burn a timeout.
Overall, this team's inability to string two wins together in a row is the biggest issue here. And these lapses in the simple fundamentals of football are one of the main culprits. The media was itching to ask Cable why this team still has these monumental letdowns on the heels of big wins like last week against San Diego. So Cable basically gave us all the slip. He knows it takes a while to get all the way from the press box at the top of the stadium down to the conference room. So he very quickly went to the press room after the game, answered a few questions from the small group that was able to get there fast enough, and then split. Several other long-time sportswriters said that was the quickest they had ever seen a coach get in and out of a post game press conference. Although, from the looks of it on the field, it wouldn't have mattered because Cable wouldn't have had any answers anyway. If he knew what was going wrong, he might have actually been able to fix it already.
He was off to a good start calling a flea flicker that was a bad throw from being a touchdown right off the bat. That play gained 46 yards on a pass interference call. On the second drive Hue called a reverse to Louis Murphy that went for 43 yards. Once Jason Campbell threw an interception on the Raiders third possession the play calling changed. It would be charitable to call it vanilla. It was give the ball to Michael Bush up the middle every play. That play worked so well they had five consecutive three and outs. The third drive of that streak summed everything up perfectly. First and ten: Michael Bush left side one yard. Second and nine: Marcel Reece up the middle for one yard. Third and seven: From a shotgun formation they run a draw play to Bush up the middle and Shane Lechler trotted on the field for a 60 yard punt.
Usually when there is a Raider offensive lineman on the Buster list, it is because they gave up a sack or three. This is especially the case when it is an offensive tackle. But this time Henderson is a Buster mainly because of poor run blocking. On four different occasions in this game that I saw, he could not clear his man out of the way to allow Bush to get through. Often times his man would shed off of him and seek out the running back even when he wasn't attempting to find a gap near left tackle. In each case, it resulted in a tackle for run stuff at or near the line of scrimmage. He also gave up a quarterback pressure late in the game that helped force a three and out.
We have already seen him make multiple mistakes in the return game. This week he made his biggest mistake of the season and it was as a receiver. He let a ball bounce off his hands and pop up in the air where it was intercepted. It was the nail in the coffin for the Raiders. That drive was their last gasp and when the 49ers took over, they needed only get one first down to officially end the game. What is it with Raider rookie receivers with the number 12, dropping passes, and tipping them in the air for an interception? At this rate, the Raiders should force him to change his number and allow only quarterbacks to wear the number.