The 49ers were defeated at Candlestick Park for the first time in 2009 after the Atlanta Falcons used a five-touchdown first-half performance to beat their former NFC West rivals 45-10.
Afterwards, the 49ers locker room was much quieter than in the team's previous two home wins. Players had the look of disappointment written on their faces, but there were signs of resolve.
Just after he walked into the locker room, quarterback Shaun Hill shook hands with outside linebacker Parys Haralson and the two shared a word. By evidence of the exchange, the 49ers players will not let Sunday's defeat set them back. They'll use the disappointment as a way to build closer bonds.
"I don't believe in setbacks. There are bumps in the road and there are things that can slow you down, but as far as a setback, I don't think so," rookie running back Glen Coffee said. "Winners don't have setbacks. You always can improve and you can always take something from a loss. This won't be a setback."
Coffee's head coach agreed.
"I wouldn't say it was a setback, because we're going to handle it the right way," Mike Singletary said. "When you're not playing smart football a game like this is going to happen. I wouldn't use the word setback; I would just say it will be a wakeup call for some of our guys."
Without the services of Frank Gore who was resting foot and ankle injuries for the second consecutive week, Coffee rushed 12 times for 45 yards and scored his first career touchdown.
But other than Coffee's first NFL run to paydirt, the 49ers (3-2) struggled against the Falcons (3-1) defense, picking up 15 fewer first downs than their opponents. The 49ers were also outgained 477 to 279.
"Hopefully, everybody has a bad taste in their mouth and won't forget that," Hill said. "We, as a team, made some uncharacteristic mistakes that we haven't done for most of this season. We came out of character a little bit today, and we know that's something we need to fix."
Hill finished the game 15-of-38 for 198 yards and one interception compared to the eye-popping 22-of-32, 329-yard, two-touchdown performance from Atlanta's second-year quarterback Matt Ryan.
"I know I left a few plays out there," Hill said. "When you lose a game like this, you've got to look at the quarterback first."
If Joe Nedney's opening kickoff going out of bounds wasn't a bad omen to a slow start, the Falcons made sure to take control of the game in the early moments, by jumping out to a 14-0 lead.
Two of Atlanta's first three drives resulted in touchdowns, while the 49ers turned the ball over and went three-and-out on their first two drives.
"We prepared as much as we could all week long," tight end Vernon Davis said. "We made a few mistakes and they got the momentum and the whole game changed. We lost our focus and we can't do that."
The Falcons first touchdown was set up by great field position after Hill's pass intended for Isaac Bruce was tipped by outside linebacker Mike Peterson and caught by cornerback Brian Williams.
Four plays later, Falcons running back Michael Turner found the end zone on an inside run from seven yards out for the game's first points. Turner went on to score two more times and finished the game with 97 yards on 22 carries.
Following a 49ers three-and-out on their second drive, Ryan led a 7-play, 66-yard touchdown drive that was capped off by a 31-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Roddy White on a play-action fake. White came free off the line of scrimmage and beat the coverage of free safety Dashon Goldson to catch the pass.
White had no trouble getting open against the 49ers defensive backs, finishing the game with a game-high eight catches for 210 yards and two touchdowns.
After seeing Atlanta go up by two scores, the 49ers offense showed their first signs of life when Hill hit Josh Morgan for a 61-yard gain on a third-and-10. Morgan beat the coverage of Williams on a comeback then proceeded to break Wiliams' tackle attempt and run the ball down the right sideline. Morgan was tackled from behind at Atlanta's 2-yard line.
But the second-year wide receiver's effort was rewarded when Coffee scored from 2-yards out on a quick pitch from Hill. All Coffee had to do was outrun two Atlanta defenders to the front left pylon.
Nedney connected on a 39-yard field goal to make the score 14-10 early in the second quarter and that would be the closest the 49ers would make the game.
The 49ers had a chance to take the lead following a fumble by Falcons running back Jerious Norwood. Atlanta's backup running back was unable to hold on to the ball after he caught a swing pass, outside linebacker Manny Lawson knocked the ball loose and strong safety Michael Lewis hustled to the sideline and jumped on the ball before it went out of bounds.
Falcons head coach Mike Smith tossed out a red challenge flag, but the referees upheld the original call. But even with the ball at Atlanta's 33-yard line, the 49ers put no points on the board after defensive end Kroy Biermann beat right tackleTony Pashos for a sack on a third-and-seven play. The sack knocked the 49ers out of field goal range and squashed all the team's momentum.
It proved to be costly as Ryan hooked up White again on a 90-yard touchdown pass on their next possession. White broke cornerback Nate Clements' tackle and ran 80 more yards for the score.
On the ensuing kickoff, tight end Delanie Walker fumbled the ball when his elbow hit the turf. The 49ers could not challenge the play because they were out of timeouts and as a result, a few carries from Turner put the Falcons in the end zone for the fourth time of the first half.
"I thought I saw him [Walker] go down and the ground caused the fumble," Singletary said. "But it's about game managing and if you don't have a timeout to challenge it, you just have to let it go."
With the score 35-10, the 49ers picked up another turnover at the start of the third quarter on a Dre' Bly interception, but Bly lost possession of the ball and the Falcons recovered his fumble. White, Atlanta's Pro Bowl wideout stripped Dre' Bly from behind following his interception.
"When I catch a pass like that and I get a head-start, I was gauging if I was going to cut-back on the quarterback and that's when he stripped me," Bly said of the play.
The Falcons tacked on a 40-yard field goal from Jason Elam after White's strip and closed out the game with a 1-yard touchdown run by Ryan.
While it wasn't the type of performance they wanted to have, the 49ers will use the game to get better. With the bye week coming up, the team will have plenty of time to use Sunday's game as motivation for the 11 remaining games on their schedule.
"It's going to be a good time to have the bye week because we're going to make it into a positive thing," Coffee said. "We're going to get into work and on the actual bye week, we'll get rest. But with this loss, I think football will be on our minds even when we're at home. You never want to go into the bye week with a loss, but we're going to make it a positive thing."