Buy the Ticket, Take the Ride: Immediate Reactions to a Tough Loss

Image Credit: Andrew Giesemann

What follows, then, is one of the most desperate last-minute hamburger jobs in the history of journalism—including the first known experiment with large-scale Gonzo Journalism—which we accomplished, in this case, by tearing my Ohio Primary notebook apart and sending about 50 pages of scribbled shorthand notes straight to the typesetter.

Hunter S. Thompson. "Fear and Loathing: Crank-Time on the Low Road." Rolling Stone. June 8, 1972

I’m not a snap decision person, though thought it would be interesting to submit an immediate reaction to last night’s Monday Night Football game. I’m making comments without watching the game film, diagraming plays or looking for the idiosyncrasies that add up to wins or losses.

Here are my thoughts on a few San Francisco 49ers’ offensive drives and defensive stands.

First Offense

From what depths of the universe did this drive come from? The 49ers’ offense was wholly functional and didn’t have a single negative play. Great play-action to Goodwin for 17 yards and Bourne’s curl route to set up first-and-goal was a fantastic play call from Shanahan.

First Defense

The 49ers’ secondary continues to set the bar so low that it will soon be in football textbooks as an example of how not to play defensive back. How is pass coverage that hard to master? The 49ers have been practicing since the end of July, and they keep leaving men wide open. A 60-yard pass play to open the game. Unreal. It looks like lunch recess football.

At this point, defensive coordinator Robert Saleh needs to use vanilla coverages like cover 3 buzz or a straight cover 1.

Third Defense

Is it a thing for defensive backs to not drop into coverage anymore? Aaron Rodgers completed a 54-yard pass to a wide-open Jimmy Graham while Jimmie Ward was hopping around at the line of scrimmage. Ward is a five-year veteran, plays football at the highest level yet couldn’t figure out anything else to do.

So, he hopped in place.

The 49ers run a bizarre defense.

Third Offense

What a touchdown pass! There’s the explosive play that seems to be missing from the 49ers’ offense. I suggest Shanahan open games with big yardage, momentum-seizing plays like the 67-yard pass to Goodwin.

Sixth Defense

Where’d this defense come from? Why does it take six series for the defense to finally start to come together?

Forcing the Packers to a three-and-out was a significant momentum shift. It’s disappointing the offense couldn’t wring six points from the stop, but the 49ers ended the half with a lead and only one penalty for five yards.

Seventh Defense

By my count, the 49ers allowed six plays and forced the Packers to kick a field goal on the seventh. That’s not quite biblical, but considering how the team opened the game, it’s undoubtedly born-again hardcore.

I wish we could hear what the coaching staff says to players during the half, especially Saleh hollering at the secondary for continued miscues.

Seventh Offense

This drive started out gaining chunk yardage with Goodwin and Garçon, who turned a short reception into 17-yards. Of note, the 49ers tried to stretch the field vertically using a Yankee concept, but the Packers had it well covered.

Two runs from Mostert set up third-and-two, but Kendrick Bourne dropped a low pass from Beathard.

Indeed, Beathard’s pass wasn’t perfect, but Bourne got his hand on it. Plays like this are the difference between winning and losing games. The drive ended with a field goal - take all the points possible against Rodgers - but it was disappointing to see it deflate.

Ninth Defense

The Packers used a great combination of run and passes, using Rodgers’ quick release against defensive backs playing too far off the receivers. Solomon Thomas forced a hurry, and the threat of the blitz on a third-and-ten forced the Packers to burn a timeout.

Things got a little tense when Rodgers scrambled for the end zone, but came up three yards short. I’ll need to rewatch this play, but it looked like he had a receiver open in the right flat.

Defensive back K'Waun Williams was able to break up the fourth-down pass, but Davante Adams looked open on a quick slant.

No matter, it was a huge stop for the 49ers’ defense.

Ninth Offense

Of course, when the 49ers need a drive, the offense goes three-and-out. I wasn’t a fan of the play-action bootleg to Juice. It gained about two feet.

What a lack of performance at the wrong time.

Tenth Defense

Here was the moment when the 49ers needed the defense to charm the darkest of magic to shut down the Packers’ offense, and here is when Saleh the Wizard conjured the ape. (h/t William Shakespeare - Romeo and Juliet. Act 2, Scene 1.)

What a fantastic three-and-out. This series might have been one of the biggest of the 49ers’ season.

Tenth Offense

Whatever momentum the defense gives the offense, somehow, the offense finds a way to extinguish the raging inferno with a wet wool blanket. I didn’t mind Shanahan calling a deep route combination on second down, but at third and ten, why not just run the receivers just past the sticks and turn around? Let's quit over-thinking the easy plays.

If the 49ers want to control the ball through the air, then call high percentage passes. Use three-step drops and chew up the turf with four-to-five-yard completions.

Eleventh Defense

Here’s where film study comes in handy. Was Reuben Foster really supposed to cover Adams? If so, why? Did someone miss Adams?

Just when the 49ers need another stop, the defense allows a 38-yard opening play, and then Rodgers picks on Greg Mabin for the game-tying touchdown pass.

Eleventh Offense

It’s third-and-three. The Packers are in a cover zero (no safety), and Beathard picks the vertical route rather than something underneath.

Three-and-out, and seven total yards gained.

I don’t have the playbook, and I don’t know the read progressions. The deep route makes sense to clear space, but choosing him as the target was the wrong choice. The 49ers needed to get into field goal range, not a game-winning touchdown.

Twelfth Defense

There are weak links in the 49ers’ secondary and Rodgers decided to go after Greg Mabin, playing for an injured Jimmie Ward.

I don’t blame him. In fact, I’m shocked Rodgers stopped going after Ward so early, but maybe he wanted to spread the black cloud around equally. Mabin could cover Davante Adams 100 times and break up a pass four or five times.


The 49ers are a bipolar NFL franchise. They played well, scored points and sporadically shut down a Hall of Fame quarterback.

However, the 49ers' defense allowed 521 yards of total offense and the 49ers' offense went three-and-out on its last three possessions. The rainbows and good fortune seem to vanish in the chilly wind at all the wrong moments.

It's clear the 49ers have the offensive and defensive schemes to make plays, but it falls on the eleven men executing the plan to total perfection, which hasn't happened in years.

That’s not bad coaching, that’s bad execution. Coaches can set the team up to be in the best position to win games, but it takes eleven men to figure out how to run the game plan to perfection. We saw the team do it sporadically, but not when it mattered.

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