49ers at Falcons: Stay the course.
The San Francisco 49ers won the game because they stayed with their original game plan even when falling behind early in the game. Down 17 points in the first quarter, many people would have thrown out the game plan and started slinging the ball all over the field. Head Coach Jim Harbaugh did not fall into that trap.
The lesson here is that if you have faith that your game plan is good enough, you do not have to abandon it if circumstances early in the game go against you. Obviously you feel that your plan is sound and that it gives you the best chance of winning. You do not have to scrap the running game when you fall behind if that is what you do best.
Going into the game, the 49ers wanted to throw the ball on early downs. Out of Kaepernick's 16 pass completions, 14 of them came on first and second down. Yet the Niners maintained their run/pass balance with 29 runs and 22 called passes (21 passes thrown and one sack).
Harbaugh continued to expand the Read Series phase of their offense with the Power Read play making an appearance on San Francisco's first touchdown, a 15 yard run by LaMichael James. The Power Read is actually a melding of two plays: a speed sweep on the perimeter and a power off-tackle run. On this one, Kaepernick read the defensive end as he meshed with James coming across the formation from left-to-right. When the DE froze, squatting on a potential run by the QB, Kaepernick gave to ball to James for a clear run around the end.
Something that Jim Harbaugh, along with Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman and Quarterback Coach Geep Chryst, has been able to do is add plays to the Read Series each week. He has been methodical in game planning for Kaepernick, giving him what he needs while still being able to execute. It is amazing how he has been able to play without hesitation, and that is due not only to Kaepernick's unique athletic ability but also to the game planning and preparation.
Another use of the Read Series was on Frank Gore's two touchdown runs on the Read Lead or Isolation plays. Kaepernick was able to eliminate the playside defensive end with his read while fullback Bruce Miller led through the hole to block the linebacker.
As I have always said, "It is easier to fool them than to block them."
Even though the Niners can be praised for their stick-to-itiveness, the Falcons had more than enough opportunities to win the game. Two passes come to mind, one in the first quarter to Tony Gonzalez and the other in the fourth to wide receiver Harry Douglas. Instead of two touchdowns, the Falcons scored three points, and we would be talking about Atlanta instead.
Ravens at Patriots: Missed Opportunities or Forced Errors
Did the Baltimore Ravens win the game or did the New England Patriots lose it?
It would be easy to say that the Pats lost the game. New England quarterback Tom Brady had won 61 straight games at home when leading at halftime as opposed to zero losses. Make that 61-1 now.
There was no question that the Patriots' execution was not up to their usual standard. That was never more evident than at the end of the first half when Brady completely botched their time management.
There also were other stumbles, bumbles and drops that were uncharacteristic of a Bill Belichick coached team. When your team is built on execution, any shortcoming puts your team in a hole.
However, just as Stevan Ridley got knocked cold, New England was felled by a better team. The errors that New England made were due to the physical presence and relentless pressure of the Ravens. It was no accident the last two weeks that both the Broncos and Patriots made critical errors at the end of the game that turned the game in Baltimore's favor.
In the first half, most of the pressure on New England came from the Baltimore defense. Out of four red zone penetrations in the opening half, the Patriots could only salvage a single touchdown and two field goals. Until this game, the Brady led offense was seemingly unstoppable inside the 20 yard line.
In six possessions inside the Baltimore 25 yard line, the Patriots could only manage one TD, two field goals, two interceptions and a loss of downs.
While the Raven defense was keeping the pressure on the Pat defense, the Joe Flacco led Baltimore offense was finding their way. Plagued with poor field position, Flacco could only get one drive going for a touchdown.
But the die was cast. With the loss of Aqib Tahlib and Patrick Chung in the NE secondary, the second half attack was to turn Flacco loose to throw the football. The plan was to take advantage of the Patriot nickel backs, linebackers and safeties in coverage inside the numbers. Tight end Dennis Pitta, receivers Anquan Bolden and Torrey Smith torched the Patriot defense repeatedly in the middle of the field dominating the half.
The Ravens scored three consecutive TDs to end the third quarter and to begin the fourth quarter while maintaining possession for more than 19 minutes of the half. The Ridley knockout, fumble and resulting Baltimore TD at the start of the fourth quarter started a string of Patriot possessions that ended with giving the ball up on downs and two INTs.
At the end of the game, the New England spirit was willing, but their flesh was weak. They really did not want to play any more due to the pressure and energy of the Ravens. Patriot missed opportunities were forced by Baltimore.
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