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The 49ers' 2000 campaign started exactly like their 1999 season ended…with a loss to the Atlanta Falcons. However, there were a few bright spots. The offense seems to have picked up right where they ended too. They put up 28 points and scored in every quarter as second year man Jeff Garcia was 23 of 36 for 253 yards 3 touchdowns and 1 interception. The defense on the other hand was all too familiar giving up 36 points to an otherwise mediocre team. So what are we to expect when we face teams like the Rams, Packers and Broncos? Blowouts? Maybe not.
Weapons in training
You have to remember, this is a very young defense as shown by the secondary's porous performance. Rookie Ahmed Plummer alone had a very bad game giving up two big plays which pretty much determined the flow of the game. But like all the other youngsters on this team, they will learn and start playing as a unit. The injury to safety Lance Schulters was a heart breaker as well. He is expected to miss next week's game against the Carolina Panthers at 3Com Park. Big deal? It sure is. Lance Schulters was the one person you had to watch out for when throwing the ball deep. Falcons' quarterback Chris Chandler was already taking advantage of the young secondary by using our own offense against us with slants up the middle. When Schulters was knocked out of the game, Chandler immediately took advantage of the opportunity throwing deep knowing that there would be very little help from the safeties. Without Schulters, the secondary consists of Monty Montgomery and Ahmed Plummer at cornerback and Zack Bronson, John Keith, or Pierson Prioleau at safety.
The rush defense was present giving up only 95 net yards on the ground. 77 of those yards came from Jamal Anderson as the 49ers held him to only 3.2 yards per carry. Not bad considering how much damage Anderson did to the team in 1998. While the rush defense was there, the pass rush was not. Once he got his rhythm, Chris Chandler had plenty of time to find open receivers whether is was a 12 yard catch to Bob Christian or a 44 yard touchdown bomb to Terance Mathis. Bryant Young and Junior Bryant were pretty stable in the middle but it was the youngsters around them that the Falcons seemed to be targeting. Again, with time they will improve as well.
Going on the offensive
While Jeff Garcia played his heart out, some of the receivers seemed to be out of rhythm. Jerry Rice and Terrell Owens combined for 131 yards on 12 receptions, but they each dropped a couple of typically easy catches which would have kept two key drives alive and moving. Certainly not the performance we have come to expect out of the two seasoned veterans. Greg Clark, Charlie Garner and Fred Beasley were as reliable as always. Even J.J. Stokes got into the action making a key catch for a 25 yard gain.
On the ground, Chalie Garner kept on going as though the 1999 season never ended gaining 62 yards on 15 carries. That's a little over 4.1 yards a carry which clearly outperformed the Jamal Anderson show. But it was fullback Fred Beasley who stole the spotlight with 3 touchdowns on 3 receptions with a combined 25 net yards, despite a poor rushing attack.
Down the road
What are we to expect from this team? That depends on one man, Jeff Garcia. Can he be a super quarterback and have monster yards each and every game? Because until this defense develops, that's exactly what he will have to do. If he doesn't put a lot of points on the board then don't think that there will be any hesitation to throw in NFL journeyman Rick Mirer who performed well in the preseason (which isn't saying much given Ryan Leaf of the Charger's opening day performance). The obvious choice would be to stick it out with Garcia even if the offense does not run as smoothly with him…yet. The receivers will have to step up and help Garcia out because he may not be a Joe Montana or Steve Young but for now, he is this team's leader. This is a good football team right now. At least they are better than most figured they were according to what they showed us this past Sunday. There are no expectations for this team and that is our greatest advantage. We may take a few teams by surprise. While it is true that the glory days when San Francisco, Dallas, and Green Bay dominated the NFC are over, the 49ers are closer than any of those teams on the road back to glory. Now I won't go as far as predicting a playoff birth as Fred Beasley apparently has when he was quoted saying, "Don't count these 49ers out just yet… Our '97 team lost its opening game, too, and then won 13 or 14 in a row (they actually won 11).'' He may see something we do not but I seriously doubt that with all the tough competition between the Redskins, Vikings, Eagles, Rams, Bucs, and Bears, that we will be sneaking past anyone. But with time and development, who knows what the future may hold for this team.