They came for the auspicious debuts. The heralded new offensive guru was being unveiled. At his side was his trusted understudy, a quarterback poised to leap from obscurity to stardom.
What they got from their beloved 49ers was an overdose of sabotage football.
For Mike's Marvelous Machine had no magic Sunday at Candlestick Park. There was no inspiring statement, no bold new identity. Any and every flash of 49ers promise was punctured by five turnovers .
Or enough to lose count.
"Six turnovers killed us," head coach Mike Nolan said after San Francisco's season-opening 23-13 loss to Arizona.
"Six turnovers, you can't win a game like that," running back Frank Gore said. "We beat ourselves."
Whether it was five or six or 40, there is no arguing with the basics of Gore's assessment. That the newest incarnation of the 49ers, starring Mike Martz as offensive coordinator and J.T. O'Sullivan as quarterback, trickled out of the locker room with their chins on their chests was as much the result of a downright stunning level of sloppiness as it was the passion and purpose displayed by the Cardinals.
Arizona came out hitting everything that moved. And sometimes the ball came loose. The 49ers, meanwhile, couldn't get out of their own way. Nor could they protect the ball.
Which makes it difficult to fairly evaluate the work of Martz or the quarterback he brought from Detroit.
We'll do it anyway.
Martz was mediocre. Though the Niners ran only 44 plays (to 72 for Arizona), there was precious little to bring fans out of their seats. Understand, Martz built his reputation in St. Louis, where his powerful offense led the Rams to a Super Bowl championship. Thus, there was the expectation of creativity, if not surprise.
Well, no. Nothing truly daring. Nothing particularly assertive. It was as if Martz has been Nolanized.
Maybe he has. Maybe Martz's offense — usually an array of bright, vivid colors, a bit garish at times — has been neutralized by grays and browns so often associated with Nolan, a conservative offensive mind if there ever was one.
I would like to have heard what Martz had to say about this. Or hear his explanation for the fumbles. Or hear his take on why Isaac Bruce played but never was thrown to. Or even hear Martz say, while sobbing, that his brain is being held hostage by Nolan.
But Martz managed to disappear without comment, despite numerous interview requests.
All we know is San Francisco's lone touchdown came when Gore blasted through the line and found nothing but grass between him and the end zone. A basic play, in every team's playbook, resulted in an extraordinary back going 41 yards for the score.
The kind of play Gore could have run last season when Jim Hostler was scrambling in search of touchdowns.
As for O'Sullivan, who learned Martz's system while both were with the Lions, he was on Sunday more Steve than Joe.
DeBerg, that is.
Which is to say there were times when O'Sullivan looked pretty good. He threw a strike down the middle to tight end Vernon Davis for 37 yards. He found receivers in a pinch. But he also lost two fumbles and threw an interception on the kind of pass every quarterback knows not to throw.
Even O'Sullivan, a 29-year-old making his first NFL start, knows it's unwise to chuck a pass more than 20 yards the middle of the field late in the play.
"It's a good example of not throwing the ball late, down the middle," he said of the pass on which safety Adrian Wilson stepped in front of Arnaz Battle.
Our first impression of Martz and O'Sullivan — and they must be evaluated together, for now — was less than impressive. Yes, it was Game 1. Yes, they spent most of the game watching their defense trying to stop the Cardinals. And, yes, they moved the ball with some degree of success.
But there were no "wow" moments. There was nothing reminiscent of the days when Bill and Joe were at the head of an offensive revolution.
Martz is the most heralded offensive mind to arrive in these parts since Walsh. O'Sullivan is a journeyman quarterback who may or may not develop into a feel-good story. It's early.
But it was ugly.
While we concede that heirs apparent don't always quickly establish themselves, nothing about this debut gave reason for optimism.
Except maybe this: One has to think they'll get better from here.
Contact Monte Poole at email@example.com.