Mike Nolan and fourth downs are not a good combination. They’re like Bill Clinton and high-haired women from Arkansas. Put the two together and there’s trouble. By now we can all recite by heart the fourth-down instances over which Nolan’s been hammered in the past, including the questionable decision to kick a field goal last year in St. Louis and the bizarre decision to go with a field goal/on-side kick combo this year against the Rams. (They lost both games in case you forgot).
Fourth down reared its ugly head again yesterday when a running-into-the-kicker penalty (should have been roughing) would have put the 49ers in a fourth-and-two situation late in the third quarter. The 49ers were trailing by 10 at the time and the penalty would have put the ball on the Carolina 42 yard line. Nolan, however, declined the penalty and chose to stick with a punt that was fair caught by the Panthers at the 17.
Nolan on Monday admitted what several of us suspected last night – that he was so infuriated with the call on the field that he didn’t completely think through the decision to go for it on fourth and two. And to be fair, it did seem like a horrible call. I’m not sure what it takes to draw a roughing-the-punter penalty – which would have been 15 yards and an automatic first down – but apparently it involves baseball bats, brass knuckles and a few guys from North Jersey. Anyway, Nolan was peeved to say the least.
“I was still pretty irate about the call as much as thinking about going for it,” he said as his Monday presser.
Nolan also thought it would have been closer to fourth and three had he accepted the penalty. He said the 49ers have a play for fourth and one (we know: Frank Gore left) but that fourth and two-and-half was pushing it.
Again, that doesn’t exactly show confidence in the offense, but I’m not sure I would have gone for it either. After all, there was still four minutes left to play in the third quarter and the 49ers only were down by 10 points. If it’s midway through the fourth quarter, then you go for it. At that point, however, you trust that your defense will stop 44-year-old Panthers QB Vinny Testaverde (which they didn’t) and you get the ball back. Maybe he should have asked Andy Lee to punt again and hope he pins the Panthers inside their own 10.
Nolan said that Alex Smith would do some light throwing on Wednesday and would have his shoulder re-evaluated at that point. He didn’t think, however, that Smith would have a follow-up appointment with Dr. Andrews in Birmingham. I consider it highly unlikely that Smith will play again in 2007. In fact, a Shaun Hill sighting is far more probable.
It looks as if Arnaz Battle is questionable with a sprained ankle. He has been by far the most effective receiver on the team, leading the 49ers in receptions (43), receiving yards (545) and TD catches (4). The next-best receiver has been Darrell Jackson whose corresponding stats are 29, 332, 1. I’m not sure what happens if Battle can’t play, but it might send Jackson to flanker and Ashley Lelie or Bryan Gilmore to split end.
I did not attend today’s presser. Jim Jenkins – the gentleman that he is – offered to drive in from Sacramento and give me the day off. I arrived from Charlotte (via Dallas) at noon and was back home to watch on my computer the 12:15 p.m. presser that – luckily for me in this case – usually starts at 12:30 p.m.
-- Matt Barrows