Deep into the fourth quarter, the offensive punch just wasn't there.
Unable to find receiver Roddy White more than once in the first three quarters, Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan looked indecisive, inaccurate and rattled at times in the pocket. He was sacked three times and rushed hard on several other occasions.
White, who entered the game with more than twice as many receptions as the next guy on the team, tight end Tony Gonzalez, said the first few quarters were difficult for him.
"It was a little frustrating," White said. "Going into a game, you expect to make big plays. People are just not going to let us run all over the field and let me and Tony make big plays all game. So we're just going to have to do things a little bit differently, grind people out and stuff like that."
That's what the Falcons did for most of the game, running the ball to take some pressure off the passing game and completing mostly short passes within the flow of the offense.
It was not the first time or the last a defense has worked hard to take White away from Ryan and the Falcons offense. It's somethingthey know will force them to adjust, particularly against the 3-4 scheme that has given them fits at times.
"That's part of what defenses are going to try and do to us," Ryan said. "But, as a quarterback, the biggest thing is you can't worry about who's getting the ball. You've got to continue to go to the places that warrant the ball being thrown to them."
White was targeted only three times during the first three quarters before busting out with six catches for 82 yards in the final quarter.
Falcons coach Mike Smith recognized the 49ers defense was bent on stopping White from the outset.
"They know that Roddy is our No. 1 receiver," Smith said. "Until I really watch the tape, I know that there were some things that they were doing. Obviously, it was an emphasis point on their defensive staff to try to take 84 away. There, at the end of the game, he made the plays that we needed to have him make."
An alternate target was Harry Douglas, who made three catches for 59 yards and a touchdown in place of the injured Michael Jenkins. One of those catches went for 34 yards and turned out to be the longest play of the game for either team, setting up a Falcons field goal at the end of the half to close to within four points.
Douglas was one of several players who stepped in to grab one of Ryan's 26 completions and give the offense just enough firepower to squeak by the 49ers.
"It's huge; it's another guy who's out there making plays," Ryan said. "I thought Harry did a great job for us (Sunday). He made some key catches for us; obviously, the touchdown pass early was big."