The Lofton Files: Every play counts

02/12/2013

The Lofton FilesI had a great view of the 49ers’ last offensive play of Super Bowl XLVII. I was on the San Francisco sideline. Michael Crabtree was split wide right — right in front of me — with his front foot on the seven-yard line right outside the numbers. I was at the 10-yard line just about 10 yards away ready to start postgame interviews with the winning team. The ball went up in the air, there was plenty of contact and the ball fell incomplete. No laundry hit the field and the Ravens took over.

Then the hard part begins: the analysis from all corners. Everyone, including the 49er coaches and players, have reasons why the Ravens won the game. Some might point to the fourth-down throw to Michael Crabtree and the no-call from the officials. Others might look at the 108-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Jacoby Jones to open the second half. How about that extra effort that resulted in a fumble on the fly sweep by rookie LaMichael James where he’s spinning and churning trying to get back to the line of scrimmage? How about that interception to Randy Moss where he didn’t even jump? That won’t help him win his case for being the greatest of all time.

The coaching staff will pore over every offensive and defensive play (and special teams plays) and grade all 11 players in the most basic of ways for assignment, technique, mental errors and effort. Also, they’ll decide if it was a win on that play. The hard part when you grade film is not to grade knowing what you know about the outcome of the game, but to take each play — whether the first or last — as an individual play not connected to any other.

On the very first snap of the game, the 49ers had a mental error. The 49ers broke the offensive huddle with “12” personnel which is one running back, two tight ends and two wide receivers. San Francisco aligned with tight ends on both the left and right sides and two receivers aligned to the left. Crabtree was in the slot with Moss outside. Both receivers needed to be off the line of scrimmage with Vernon Davis lined up next to the left tackle on the line of scrimmage, but Crabtree was right on the line. The illegal formation penalty wiped out a 20-yard gain to Davis on the very first play of the game.

As I’ve noted in The Lofton Files before, each team has an opening 15- or 20-play list for regular first- and second-down plays that are passed out to the players on Friday evening and reviewed Saturday during a walk through and again Saturday night at the team meeting. Crabtree just forgot where he needed to be, and in reviewing the coaches’ film, he aligned too tight to the line of scrimmage and the officials had to make the call. That one penalty pushed the Niners back and basically killed their opening drive. How would the momentum have been different in a first half dominated by the Ravens if San Francisco managed a longer drive to open the game? We’ll never know because of that call. As I said, the officials had no choice there, but if you’re a 49ers fan, you’re probably thinking: too bad the officials didn’t feel that same way and make the call on the fourth-and-goal three-plus hours later. Like coaches always preach: you play the game one play at a time. And, first or last, EVERY play counts.

— James Lofton

Pro Football Hall of Famer James Lofton is the analyst for Westwood One’s coverage of Sunday Night Football. This is James’ final Lofton Files post of the season.

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