NFL: This is a loss to forget but also to remember for 49ers
By Mark Purdy
San Jose Mercury News
MINNEAPOLIS — So. What now for the 49ers? Do they remember the rot in their bellies after Sunday’s last-second loss and let it drive their motivation through December? Or do they try to quickly forget it and move on to avoid dwelling on defeat?
The 49ers actually need to do both of those things — although none of it will come easily after they were impaled on Vikings horns by a gray-bearded quarterback old enough to have gone ice-fishing with Erik the Red.
Yes, Brett Favre did it once more to the 49ers. He beat them 27-24 with two seconds left here at the Metrodome. Then he celebrated by going out to Applebee’s for the early bird special.
The 49ers need to forget it. They need to cast aside the loss as a horrible moment while they ponder all of the good stuff they did against a very good Minnesota team and move on to the next 13 games that now hold such potential promise.
Yet the 49ers also need to remember. They need to realize the loss didn’t need to happen, realize that Favre was not automatically destined to throw the winning 32-yard touchdown pass to a seldom-used wide receiver, realize there was so much that could have been done to prevent the defeat.
This last task won’t be a problem for linebacker Manny Lawson. On the game-deciding play, he had looped around on the pass rush. He was bearing down toward Favre from behind. Already, as he was buying time, Favre had evaded the outstretched arm of defensive end Justin Smith. But now here came Lawson, drawing a bead.
“I was thinking,” Lawson said, “that if he pumps or just hesitates a little “& I just didn’t get there in time.”
Instead, Lawson hit Favre an instant after he released the pass that Greg Lewis caught with his feet skimming the last six inches in the back of the end zone.
How close was Lawson to preventing the throw?
“Not close enough,” Lawson said. “But close enough to know I’ll be thinking about that play for a while.”
Good. Lots of thinking will be good. For the 49ers proved several points Sunday, some of them rather surprising.
“I want them to remember this,” said coach Mike Singletary, who on the billboards says he doesn’t like moral victories but appeared to be wavering on that policy. “I want them to remember what it feels like. But learn from it and go from there.”
For instance, it turns out the 49ers don’t absolutely need Frank Gore to win a game, because after one carry in the first quarter, the only drive in which Gore participated was a ride in a golf cart to the locker room. Gore’s strained right ankle was X-rayed and he was done for the day. But the 49ers bucked up, turned Glen Coffee into their featured back and kept the machinery humming well enough.
The 49ers also proved that quarterback Shaun Hill and tight end Vernon Davis might — at long last — be developing into a dangerous pitch-and-catch operation. Davis grabbed seven balls from Hill, two of them touchdowns.
And the 49ers proved that their defense is solid enough to hold Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, who has averaged 105.8 yards per game in his career, to only 85 yards. With no touchdowns.
The 49ers’ plan was obvious. They wanted to wall off Peterson and beat down Favre. It mostly worked. Favre aged more rapidly as each quarter passed. In the first quarter, he was 39 years old. The 49ers kept hitting him, causing him to move and pass with less oomph. By the second quarter, Favre was acting 41 years old. By the third quarter, he was 42. By the fourth quarter, he was closing in on 50.
But there is still one true thing about the best athletes, no matter their age. If you give them one chance, one play to win, they still can. If you put Jack Nicklaus, even at age 69, on the last hole of a golf tournament and told him that he needed to simply make a birdie to win the tournament, Nicklaus could still make a birdie. That’s what Sunday was like for Brett Favre.
Here’s the mistake that the 49ers made: They allowed Favre to be in position for that last shot. And that happened because the 49ers offense could not make a first down when it took over the ball with 1:49 remaining in the game.
The Vikings, you see, still had all three of their timeouts. So after three running plays by the 49ers gained just 6 six yards and used up just 13 seconds of clock time, the 49ers punted. Favre was handed the ball with 1:29 showing.
Singletary defended the decision not to throw the ball on those three downs, implying that offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye strongly believed that the 49ers could get a first down by running the ball three straight times.
“What we did, we thought would give us a chance to keep the ball,” Singletary said. “It didn’t happen. If we had won the game, we wouldn’t be talking about it.”
Sunday’s loss could definitely haunt. The 49ers’ schedule almost mandated a fast start for any playoff hopes. Unless they are 4-1 when their bye week arrives next month, it’s difficult to see 10 victories in their future. Sunday would have been a very nice “W” to place in the bank.
“This game doesn’t break us,” insisted linebacker Patrick Willis. “It’s a game we could have won and should have won. We didn’t. But it’s not the last game. It’s a game we lost.”
Singletary, in his postgame speech, even declared that the 49ers and Vikings will meet again in the playoffs. Sounds loony at this point. But if the 49ers remember not to forget, you never know.