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 recaps Sunday's disappointing loss to the Carolina Panthers.**
The game against Arizona was exciting but it was by no means a clean game for the 49ers. Arizona could have also won that game at any moment, but I think what you hoped to see at least was the 49ers staying on track with what they began - protecting the football, using Frank Gore as much as possible, and then the defense playing a consistent ballgame. None of that happened in Carolina.
What was so disappointing first and foremost was all the turnovers. I think that's where you have to start in this game because when you have that many turnovers in a ballgame, it's really hard to survive. It's rare to pull out wins with that many turnovers.
For the offense, the turnovers obviously tell the story, the interceptions and then the one fumble make it very tough to survive. When you look at what the offense did last week in Arizona started with protecting the ball – you can survive turnovers, but the 49ers haven't shown that they can survive turnover days.
When you look at turnovers, you've got to look at their origins as well. On the interception for a touchdown, that was just one that got away from Trent Dilfer. But when bad things happen, they just keep happening to this team. Vernon Davis loses his balance, goes down on the ground on a route and the defender comes up with another interception. So, how they happen is always a story, but bottom line is that you can't have a five turnover day on offense. That's tough for any team to survive, least of all one that has struggled on the season.
Frank touched the ball 12 times in the run game and that right there shows you are going to be in trouble. The more touches Frank gets, the better chances the team has of winning, but the game dictates that and the 49ers couldn't stick with that game plan when they got down 17 points early. I think Frank is a guy who is always prominent in the game plan going in, but it's hard to maintain that in a game like Sunday's. Still, I think you've got to try to keep feeding him the ball because he's your best player.
Trent didn't have his best game, and the timing seemed off on several throws whether that was on Trent or on receivers running incorrect routes. The line also gave up six sacks which was kind of a letdown after a few weeks now of a much better job in protection.
It really seemed as if Carolina's offensive game plan was to come out and keep the defense off-balance by using trickery, whether that was pitch backs off of reverses, or fake reverses or direct snaps. You can go a whole ball game and not see one of those and Carolina seemed to have a game plan full of them in the first half. I think that kept the defense off balanced at the start, and then with the turnovers, it was just a bad first half.
I think what Vinny Testaverde showed is that he's still capable. He's got 20 plus years of experience and the trick with a guy like him is, can you get to him soon enough so that he doesn't have an opportunity to take advantage of his experience? I think the only way you can knock him off his game is by knocking him off of his feet, but those trick plays slow down a defense and that's what you saw this week. When the defense has to stop and read what is happening, it can take some of the aggressiveness out of a defense. The reality is the best way to combat that is to be even more aggressive up front.
Speaking of aggressive play, I think the match up between Steve Smith and Nate Clements was a classic match up. You've got two hard nosed, headstrong football players, and I saw neither of them backing down. Smith was definitely a go-to guy in a variety of ways in the first half but Nate was up for the challenge and he stayed aggressive throughout the ball game and eliminated Smith from being a game breaker.
Down 17-0 at the half, you weren't sure how the second half was going to go but to the 49ers credit, they really got it going. Trent had a couple of touchdowns and you really felt the momentum swing.
Then you have another big turnover on the muffed punt, and I think it was one that really changed the complexity of the ballgame. The 49ers had just scored a couple of touchdowns, the defense held Carolina to a three and out but instead of getting the ball back to the offense, you have a turnover and it's Panthers ball. They score and end up with a ten point lead again.
The offense didn't get much done after that point and the defense gave up another long drive. I feel like teams are able to get the edge on us a little too much and I'm sure the 49ers coaches are stressing that to the defense. It hasn't happened every week but in games where it has happened, it seems like it's happened too often and that teams have gotten big plays.
As for that running into the punter penalty - that was roughing the punter to me. I just don't get it. I mean, I know there's a difference in the rule between what is roughing the kicker and what is running into the kicker, but that looked like roughing from here to me. That should have been a first down. That's my take on that one.
The refs also missed another on Sunday as that was clearly a fumble on Carolina's punt return early in the game. Apparently it falls into that not reviewable category which I really don't understand because from my take, the purpose of reviewing plays should be to get them right, and that was not right from what I saw.
I always start these columns with the outcome and I'll finish it that way this week. To me, the outcome was a direct result of six turnovers. That's just ridiculous to think you can survive that, particularly not on a day where your defense is not having one of their better games.