Mike Nolan pooh poohed the importance of sacks yesterday, noting that his defense sacked the oh-so-immobile Matt Cassel five times and yet still couldn't get off the field in the critical second and third quarters. "I know we brought pressure," Nolan said. "It's a good example of getting five sacks. (I know) how excited people get about sacks and how they think they're directly related to winning. That should give you a great example that it really isn't."
A look back on yesterday's game, however, shows that the Patriots did nearly all of their damage on possessions in which Cassel was not sacked. That is, the sacks were instrumental in allowing the 49ers defense to get off the field. In fact, the Patriots only scored one of their touchdowns on a possession in which Cassel was sacked. And that sack involved a questionable personal foul call on Justin Smith in which the officials said that Smith had dragged Cassel down by his helmet on third and six deep inside San Francisco territory. Smith afterward claimed he had Cassel by the neck. It was a huge call. Without the penalty, the sack forces New England to try a field goal, and the 49ers would still lead 14-13. With it, the Patriots had a fresh set of downs and the ball at the 6- yard line. Two plays later, Kevin Faulk ran in for a touchdown and the Patriots had a lead they would never relinquish.
One possession earlier, the Patriots had driven to the San Francisco 12 when Ray McDonald sacked Cassel on third and six. The Patriots were forced to kick a field goal. On the other possession in which Cassel was sacked, the Patriots had to punt, something they did only four times all game.
So why was Nolan so lukewarm about the sacks? Perhaps it had to do with the Patriots' 66-yard touchdown in the first quarter. On third and eight, the 49ers blitzed but couldn't get to Cassel before he unloaded a perfect pass to Randy Moss. But the slip up wasn't the lack of pressure as much as it was the coverage. The 49ers' best cornerback Nate Clements failed to keep pace with Moss; the team's second-best cornerback, Walt Harris, should have been deeper. Nolan said a third defender should have been in the area as well.
"We had three-deep," he said. "Three-deep, yep. We ran a quarters coverage but it's half, quarter, quarter so that equals three. Three guys should have been back."
-- Matt Barrows