Lightning struck twice against the 49ers, and so did Roddy White. The lasting image from last year's 49ers loss to the Falcons was White, the Falcons receiver, coming from behind to strip Dre Bly of a just-intercepted pass. White again victimized a 49ers cornerback in today's game, this time Nate Clements and this time in a far more meaningful situation.
Clinging to a one-point lead, Clements picked off Matt Ryan with 1:31 left and starting sprinting down the right sideline to the end zone. While Clements was directing his blockers with one hand and holding the ball loosely with the other, White was closing in fast. He knocked the ball free, the Falcons recovered with 1:22 remaining and they then marched 68 yards for the game-winning field goal.
"I'm sure all Nate saw was the end zone," Mike Singletary said in his post-game press conference. "... Sure, you could say, yes, slide down. Some players think like that. Some don't."
But every defender, especially a 10-year veteran, should have been thinking "slide down" given the field position and the clock and especially given what Bly - vilified for his bone-headed showboating last year - did last season. Even if Clements had cruised into the end zone, the Falcons would have had 1:20 and all three time outs with which to try for a game-tying touchdown. Turning the ball over to the offense would have at the very least forced the Falcons to burn all three time outs and given the 49ers a four-point advantage.
Clements, by the way, ducked out of the locker room and was not available to talk to reporters. (Even kicker Owen Pochman manned up after his debacle in Arizona in 2003).
Clements' mistake masks (somewhat) another interception-filled game by Alex Smith. The Falcons defensive game plan was to take away the deep passes and force a methodical 49ers drive in which they hoped Smith would make a mistake. In fact, he made two, forcing one pass - high and tipped - to Frank Gore and misreading a safety on the second.
Smith said he thought safety William Moore was going to follow Vernon Davis into the flat. Instead, Moore curled inside and stepped in front of the pass for Josh Morgan. Said Singletary: "I was not at any time thinking about taking Alex out of the game."
Asked why Chilo Rachal was pulled from the game in favor of Adam Snyder, Singletary - who was not sharp during the post-game presser - said it was due to injury. Rachal, however, wasn't part of the early injury report. On the play before he was pulled, Rachal allowed pressure up the middle on a third-down play in which Smith was forced to throw the ball away.
Manny Lawson (knee) and Reggie Smith (hamstring) were hurt but returned to the game. Delanie Walker sprained an ankle. Xrays were negative, but he did not return. ... Brian Westbrook made it into the game for one play ... sort of. The 49ers nearly were flagged for delay of game on the play, called timeout and Westbrook was not on the field when the 49ers lined up again.
-- Matt Barrows