Defenseless: 49ers scorched by Ryan, Freeman in 41-13 loss to the Falcons

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By Morris Phillips

With laser-eyed focus reminiscent of Joe Montana, and athletic superiority last seen in the being of Jerry Rice, the purposeful 49ers marched into the Georgia Dome on Sunday intent on slaying the NFC South-leading Falcons.  Armed with a bullet proof gameplan carved from the genius of Chip Kelly, and led by the fleet-footed Colin Kaepernick…

And thus begins the story pro football journalists assigned to cover the NFC West bottom-dwellers have been yearning to write for more than three months.    But the occasion of such poetic license has yet to come to pass for those chronicling the exploits of the San Francisco 49ers.

So instead–and for a franchise-record 13th consecutive week–the San Francisco game recap strikes a far different tone, beginning with a desultory, first quarter in which the 49ers spotted the Falcons a three-touchdown lead prefacing their 41-13 loss.

The Falcons moved a game ahead of the Buccaneers in the NFC South with the win, and control their playoff destiny.  Meanwhile,  the 49ers moved two weeks closer to a date with Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer and others in the small circle of top-tier NFL draft prospects.

Atlanta scored touchdowns on each of their first three possessions, and only a Devonta Freeman fumble at the 49ers 1-yard line in the second quarter prevented the Falcons from scoring five consecutive times.  Still, the Falcons led 21-0 after one quarter, and 28-13 at the half.

Matt Ryan threw a pair of touchdowns, and Freeman rushed for three more as the NFL’s highest scoring team cruised without top receiver, Julio Jones.  Along with the win, the Falcons established a new, single-season, scoring record with 469 points, surpassing the 448 scored in their 1998 Super Bowl season.  Against the 49ers, the Falcons scored over 40 points in a game for the fifth time this season.

That’s a really good offensive football team,” said Kelly, who saw his 49ers surrender 40 points in a game for the sixth time this season. “It’s a team that could make some hay in the playoffs.”

The 49ers’ ability to field a competitive lineup to counteract Ryan, Freeman and the Falcons’ offense was compromised when inside linebacker Gerald Hodges Jr.  was suspended prior to the game for a breach of team rules, with no other disclosure by the team regarding the nature of the offense.  Then with Nick Bellore set to start inside opposite Michael Wilhoite, Bellore was felled by an elbow injury three plays into the game.

That set in motion a revolving door at Bellore’s spot that included linebacker Ahmad Brooks, safety Antoine Bethea and backup safety Vinny Sunseri.  The lack of bodies at the inside linebacker’s spots put the team’s historically porous run defense at even greater risk, and the Falcons pounced.

Freeman rushed for 139 yards along with his three scores, and became the 11th back to surpass 100 yards against the 49ers this season.  The Falcons, fresh off their 42-14 thrashing of the Rams, totaled 550 yards of offense, including 248 on the ground.  Along the way, the team’s worst showing in a season in terms of rushing yards allowed zoomed past the record of 2,363 yards with two games yet to play.

Offensively, the 49ers weren’t good enough early to counteract the attrition on defense.  Kaepernick connected with Blake Bell in the second quarter to narrow the Falcons’ lead to 21-7.  Later in the quarter, Kaepernick connected with Rod Streater for a 5-yard touchdown pass, but the extra point was missed, and the 49ers would get no closer.

Kaepernick finished 20 for 33 passing for 183 yards, and he was sacked three times.  The 49ers’ offensive woes after halftime continued.  They managed just 85 yards total offense after halftime, with only four first downs.

The 49ers travel to Los Angeles on Christmas Eve, with the mandate to beat the similarly-challenged Rams, the only team they’ve beaten in 2016.  Gametime on Saturday is 1:25pm.

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