Former 49ers linebacker Keena Turner, a four-time Super Bowl Champion, understands what's going out on the turf better than most which is what he'll try to share with you in his column Turner's Turf. In this week's entry, Turner talks about the effort he saw from the 49ers, despite losing to Atlanta.
I think that the 49ers went into the game against Atlanta with some confidence that it was a winnable game. I think that was apparent on the opening drive when Alex Smith and the offense march right down and scored. They really came out hard and showed that they came prepared to play.
Obviously Atlanta was prepared for the game also and they too believed that they had a real good chance to win.
There are two things that really stick out clearly to me on offense and that was the turnovers and the missed opportunities. Turnovers do happen because defenses will make good plays, but you want to look at each of them and see how many of them were ones that you could control. In this league, you've got to be able to take care of the football as much as possible.
The missed opportunities came down to a few plays where Alex Smith just didn't deliver the ball to some guys who were open down the field. There was the one to Bryan Gilmore and the one to Delanie Walker that really stuck out because those could have been touchdown plays. At the same time, there were times where he put the ball where he needed to and the receiver didn't make the play. Those are missed opportunities that really could have served as a shot in the arm for the offense had they been completed.
You hit a couple of those long balls or get that 3rd and goal from the 1 in there, and we'd probably be talking about this game from a totally different perspective.
Overall, the themes that we keep seeing from the offense happened once again. There was enough inconsistency in their play that the team and the offense just could not overcome and that's been a consistent occurrence this season.
The bright spot on the offense is that you had some guys step in like Maurice Hicks and Michael Robinson that were really energized. Even in the game before this past one against the Saints you look at the attitude and determination that Robinson brought with 20-yard pass play and know that he brings some grit. Hicks also came in and did a nice job, especially when he made a beautiful cut to the backside to get into the end zone on that 9-yard run.
You see guys still fighting to right the ship. I didn't look at the offense and see an offense that wasn't trying, or guys who weren't out there to make things happen. When you are going through tough times like this, and again I go back to my eight-game losing streak my rookie year, you are looking at individuals to see the effort, to see the focus and to see that there is a relentless determination from each guy to make this better, and I got that sense.
On the defensive side, these guys are also really battling. The one thing that sticks out to me is that there were three turnovers and they gave up six points. You don't want to give up any points, but that means that the defense was able to turn around and handle sudden change and keep the opposition out of the end zone. Those six points might have turned out to be the difference in the game, but you've got to have a defense that can respond and be mentally prepared to deal with those situations. I think the defense has really just rolled through a lot of adversity throughout the season, and really shown their character. That's a pretty good group and I think it starts with Bryant Young. I just can't imagine having a defensive unit with him involved that doesn't bring that full commitment. I think Jeff Ulbrich sticks out in the way he ran around and made some things happen, not just on special teams but on defense. You saw some energy out there by him. The secondary is a little banged up but they have been able to keep fighting. Every team in the league is going through the same thing this time of year with guys banged up. I think you have to play hurt, but you can't play injured and it looks to me like the 49ers have guys who are willing to play hurt, and that's a big deal.
You still see some fight and some guys out there putting forth effort and really playing like you have a chance to win, and that's what you look for in times in trouble. Once you lose that, you've really lost everything because I think at this point, it's about attitude.
Eight games in, you are not going to get any better physically, you are not going to infuse any new talent. There might be some guys who get more opportunities as the season wears on, but the makeup of your team is what it is. I think what makes a difference between teams that are winning and teams that aren't doing as well is really the attitude that they bring to practice every day and the attitude they bring on Sunday.
You talk about attitude and the attitude I'm seeing from one guy in particular that I like is Joe Staley. He just continues to impress, and he's leading the NFL in tackles and that in itself is a statement. On top of that, he plays that game with a broken hand. Then, I hear that he went to the special teams coach and requested to play on some of the coverage units because he thinks he can help. That's the guy I'm looking for, a guy who wants to be involved, who wants to be in the action and just goes out every single day and works to make a difference. I haven't heard one sound bite or read one selfish quote from him. He just goes out and works and that's my kind of linebacker.
Times like this test your character, your will, your determination, your grit and really they test you mentally more than anything else. So for the 49ers, the task is the same no matter the record, they've got to keep fighting and believing they can get the win. Seattle is their next opponent and they are a team that is not playing very well right now, so I think the 49ers have to go up there with some confidence that they can get a win and with an attitude.