Nightmare First Quarter Dooms Niners

The Mercedes-Benz dome was a house of horrors for the Red and Gold on Sunday, as a nightmarish first quarter set the tone for what turned into an easy 28-14 victory for the home team. The Falcons didn’t exactly dominate, rather it just felt like San Francisco was doomed to lose this one from the start.

On the opening possession, the Falcons immediately exposed a soft spot in the Niners’ secondary when Marcus Mariota hit Olamide Zaccheaus across the middle for a big 37-yard gain on 3rd down. That would ultimately be the longest offensive play of the entire game, as the Atlanta offense proceeded to march down the field with a series of short gains. In a bad omen for the rest of the contest, the already thin Niners’ defensive line was dealt another blow when DE Samson Ebukam limped to the sideline late in the drive. On the very next play, the Falcons capped a 10-play 74-yard drive with a short touchdown pass.

Things went from bad to worse on the second Niners ‘possession. Jeff Wilson, Jr. fumbled and, as if guided by a malevolent spirit, the ball bounced directly into the hands of Falcons defensive back A.J. Terrell. He nearly returned it for a touchdown before fumbling at the goal line. Rather than rolling out of bounds, the ball simply paused in place in the end zone, and was recovered by Jaylinn Hawkins for a defensive score. And just like that, the Niners were behind by 14, and for the first time this season, they trailed by more than 10 points.

If the first five weeks were any indicator, this methodical Niner offense simply isn’t built to play catch up. But for a brilliant stretch in the second quarter, it appeared they were ready to prove that wrong. Jimmy Garoppolo dropped back into the shotgun and looked sharp, completing nine consecutive passes, including two touchdowns to Brandon Aiyuk. But even this positive stretch came with some bad news, as tackle Mike McGlinchey suffered a calf injury during the second touchdown drive.

The Niners would have done well to keep the score tied 14-14 heading into halftime, but the beleaguered defense was unable to stop the Falcons from matriculating the ball down the field on another long 11-play touchdown drive. On their next possession after halftime, Atlanta again slowly marched down the field for the decisive touchdown. Mariota had key scrambles for big gains on both drives, and it’s hard to imagine that happening if this Niners’ defense was at full strength.

Again down 14 points and forced to press the issue, the Niner offense showed its limitations. The Falcons stuffed the rushing attack, and Garappolo struggled to throw the ball down the field. We all know who Jimmy G is at this point, so it’s hardly a surprise that he can’t put the team on his back and overcome a two-touchdown deficit. This was just another reminder that while this team has a lot of potential, they are not the type to make big comebacks, especially on the road.

In addition to Ebukam and McGlinchey getting banged up, the Niners also lost cornerback Charvarius Ward to a groin injury before the game finally ended. It would be best for fans to forget about this rough outing in Atlanta. The football gods giveth and they taketh away, and it just wasn’t the Niners’ day yesterday.