Did you know that the 49ers are 2-3 on the season when facing a team whose mascot is a bird? I’ll make sure to start the “Ban all teams that have a bird as their team name and mascot” petition for the 49ers fans out there. In any event however, the 49ers lost a clunker against the lowly Atlanta Falcons, 29-22. On the day, Jimmy Garoppolo threw for a feeble 200 yards, completing 22 passes out of 34 attempts, throwing for one touchdown. His QBR was a meager 60.5, with a passer rating of 90.3. He also only averaged 5.9 yards per attempt. The offense was lackluster — passing for only 200 yards, and rushing for 120 yards, which has not been the MO the 49ers’ offense had grown used to throughout the season.

Although the offense was stale, Kyle Jusczcyk had a solid touchdown which set up the 49ers with a 19-10 lead.

Jusczcyk also had a clutch fumble recovery on special teams, which helped setup his touchdown catch.

Aside from the fullback highlights, George Kittle, who had a nice day catching the ball 13 times for 134 yards, ate most of the yards, while the rest of the pass catching unit did not show up. The WR unit COMBINED caught the ball 4 times for 49 yards.

Out of Jimmy’s 34 pass attempts, the WRs were only targeted 9 times. Kittle on the other hand, saw 17 targets. Much can be said when the game film comes out what the problem was. Was Atlanta playing good defense? Did Shanahan call a bad game? Were Garoppolo’s throws off line? All of these can be factors, but for the time being, we’ll settle with “The 49ers did not play good football”. The 49ers offense and defense felt off all afternoon. With very sluggish starts on both sides of the ball, the team did not play like the team that we watched last week against New Orleans.

In a game like Sunday’s, the better team lost. However, the team that played harder, with more intensity and ferocity, did win. Sluggish starts have been the Achilles’ heel for the 49ers this season. Whether it be games like this one, or the Steelers and Seahawks game, the way a team starts can define how they play throughout the day. And as for Sunday, the 49ers finished the game the same way they started: Sluggish.

On the defensive side of the ball, Saleh and Co. did a good job containing everyone on the Falcons…. Except for star wide receiver Julio Jones when it mattered most. Jones finished with the same line as Kittle: 13 catches, 134 yards. Julio was targeted 20 times on the day. One aspect of the game Saleh failed to do was to contain Julio. Matt Ryan completed 25 passes out of 39 attempts. 20 of those 39 attempts were to Julio. Saleh failed to adjust to Julio’s game, as Jones had a field day picking apart any DB that was in front of him. Whether it was Ahkello Witherspoon or Emmanuel Moseley, who was covering Jones most of the game, he could not be stopped. The rest of the pass catching unit for the Falcons combined for 76 total receiving yards.
Needless to say, the secondary did their job against everyone but Julio.

As for the 49ers’ run defense, it was surprisingly good on the day. Only allowing the Falcons to run for 89 total yards and 1 touchdown, much of the defensive line performed well in both run defense and passing downs. Although they only finished with 2 sacks (Nick Bosa, Sheldon Day), Matt Ryan was facing a good amount of pressure from the front-four. When given a clean pocket however, Ryan was constantly looking Julio’s way, getting the job done when the duo called for it.

Sheldon Day, with the first sack for the 49ers, got immense push up the middle.

Also,, Nick Bosa, who had a solid “effort sack” against the Falcons’ right tackle.

Overall, the defense played solid. However when they needed to come through when it mattered, they failed to do so. After a Robbie Gould field goal to make the game 22-17, Atlanta only needed one drive to take the lead and close the game out. Targeting Julio throughout the drive, including the game winning touchdown, the defense could not slow down one of the best QB-WR duos in the league.

A questionable call before Atlanta’s game-winning drive was Kyle Shanahan’s choice to kick the field goal, rather than go for it on 4th down & 2 and attempt to seal the game. I understand the field goal is the safe bet, but you have to wonder how much confidence Shanahan had in the defense at the time. On the flip side, does it also speak to his confidence, or lack thereof, by not allowing his offense the opportunity to pick up one yard when it absolutely mattered most?

The game-changing play wasn’t one of the 49ers’ lost fumbles, but a short catch by George Kittle, who would have easily had a first down had he not fumbled the ball out of bounds, which resulted in a 4th and 2 situation. Kittle had a signature game, and I’m not blaming him for the loss in anyway. However, one has to wonder what the outcome would have been had Kittle not fumbled, and finished the play for a first down. It was so uncharacteristic of him, and i think it speaks to this whole game. The 49ers put out a dud on Sunday, and it definitely isn’t something we’ve seen fro them this season.

In any event, there’s no point in crying over spilled milk. The 49ers needed to win against Atlanta, and they failed to do so. With games against the Los Angeles Rams and Seattle Seahawks looming, the 49ers at this point need to win out if they want to clinch the 1st seed in the NFC, and win the NFC West. By doing so, they’d ensure a bye-week and home-field advantage throughout the post-season, which is huge.

On Sunday, the Rams lost to the Cowboys 44-21. Los Angeles has been a wildly inconsistent team throughout the season, and should not be too tasking against the 49ers this coming Saturday. If the 49ers wants to win though, they cannot afford to play at the same level they did Sunday against the Falcons, as the Rams have shown that they can still play solid football when everything is clicking.