Remember last year in St. Louis when Mike Nolan chose not to go for it on fourth and one? Of course you do - I still get e-mails about it. For a lot of 49ers fans, that was the point they started to lose faith in the head coach. My problem with that sequence wasn't so much Nolan's decision to kick a short field goal on fourth down but his decision to call a timeout before the just-as-critical third-and-one play. The 49ers had marched down the field with ease, they had the Rams defense on the ropes, it was a standing TKO. But the timeout gave the defense a chance to catch its breath and regroup. The result - the Rams stuffed Michael Robinson for no gain.
Which, of course, explains the massive case of déjà vu I experienced today in Atlanta. It was almost the exact situation: 49ers driving down the field, stealing momentum, putting the Falcons' defenders on their backsides. They drive all the way to the one-yard line and what do the 49ers do? They call timeout, thus enabling the Falcons to gather themselves and then stuff - who? - Michael Robinson for a three-yard loss on third down. Freaky. And frustrating.
Nolan will get lots of flak Monday at 12:15 for burning two timeouts early in the fourth quarter and deservedly so. The most critical blunder in my opinion is letting the Falcons off the hook. That's two years in a row. Nolan should have learned.
It's hard to blame offensive coordinator Jim Hostler for this loss. There were plenty of calls that could have - indeed, should have - gone for big gains, but the execution was not there. For example, if Alex Smith doesn't overthrow Bryan Gilmore by two feet in the second quarter, Gilmore is off to the races for an 83-yard touchdown. Later, if Darrell Jackson doesn't let a pass glance off his fingertips, he's in the end zone with a touchdown
Sidney Rice caught four passes today for 66 yards, one of them for a touchdown. Calvin Johnson had three catches for 47 yards and James Jones went three for 32. Why do I mention them? They're all rookie receivers. Which just goes to show that, yes, a rookie receiver can be productive. But you have to give him a chance.
-- Matt Barrows