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The 49ers entered the season hoping to improve on a mediocre 6-10 record. They would have to do this without, Jerry Rice, the NFL's all-time leading receiver and their star running back, Charlie Garner. Instead, it is with new stars Quarterback Jeff Garcia, wide receiver Terrell Owens, running backs Garrison Hearst and Kevan Barlow and a young talented defense.
At the midpoint of the season the 49ers are 6-2, already matching their total number of victories from last season. They are winning with an outstanding passing game, a power running game and an improving defense. Although they are winning, the 49ers are yet to have put together a full four quarters of quality play. They seem to either start slow and finish strong or start well and then fail to put the game away.
Jeff Garcia has become the true leader of the team. It is his incredible ability to come through with a big play every time it is needed that has put this team in a position to make the playoffs this season.
Terrell Owens has become the guy that Garcia looks for when a big play is needed, thus he is leading the league in touchdowns scored.
The powerful one-two punch at running back of Garrison Hearst and Kevan Barlow has been very effective giving the 49ers the second best rushing game in the league.
The defense seems to improve every week. This has become a defense with no real stars, but one in which each player is doing their job effectively.
Bryant Young and Dana Stubblefield are teaming up together to stop opposing teams rushing attacks, while Andre Carter and John Engelberger are putting pressure on the Quarterback.
The line-backing core of Derek Smith, Julian Peterson, Jeff Ulbrich and Jamie Winborn has been tremendous in both stopping the run and pass coverage.
Second year cornerbacks Ahmed Plummer and Jason Webster have become one of the league's better tandems in the defensive backfield. Plummer is playing well enough to be considered for the pro bowl.
Lance Schulters and Zack Bronson have also been very effective at the safety positions.
On special teams it appears the 49ers have found a new kicker in Jose Cortez and an effective kick returner in Vinny Sutherland.
Overall this is a much better 49er team than we have seen over the past few seasons with a legitimate chance at making their presence felt in the playoffs.
Game 1 - 49ers 16, Atlanta 13 OT
The 49ers started off slow having to punt on five of their first seven possessions. It wasn't until the 4th quarter that the offense came alive. On their first drive of the 4th quarter Garcia connected with JJ Stokes on three passes including a 16-yard touchdown making the score 13-10. The defense forced Atlanta to punt on their next two possessions and then Garcia hit Terrell Owens with a 40-yard pass to the 17-yard line setting up the game tying field goal by Jose Cortez. On the third play of overtime Garcia hit Tai Streets with a short pass, which he turned into a 52-yard gain setting up Cortez's game winning field goal.
- Jeff Garcia finished 26 of 40 for 335 yards and one touchdown and 38 yards rushing. With the game on the line he came through leading the team to 10 fourth quarter points and the game winning field goal.
- The wide receivers all had impressive days. Terrell Owens had a 40-yard catch and finished with 5 receptions for 93 yards. Tai Streets had an impressive 52-yard catch and run and finished with 3 receptions for 81 yards. JJ Stokes finished with 5 receptions for 93 yards including a 47-yarder and a touchdown.
- Rookie tight end Eric Johnson had an impressive debut with 4 catches.
- New starting linebacker Derek Smith was all over the field finishing with 12 solo tackles and Jeff Ulbrich contributed 7 tackles.
- The entire secondary played impressively limiting the Falcon's leading receiver to 66 yards.
- The special teams looked good pinning Atlanta inside their 10-yard line twice and Jose Cortez coming through with huge field goals at the end of regulation and in overtime in his game.
49ers return to action after a week off for the September 11th incident only to face the high powered Rams.
The 49ers fell behind 12-0 but battled back to take a 16-12-halftime lead. The Rams then came out and made it 30-16. Garcia hit terry Jackson with a 10-yard touchdown and the defense forced it's third turnover the game setting it up a field goal to pull within four points at 30-26. It was then that Marshall Faulk took over the game leading the Rams on a 6minute drive that ran out the clock.
This was a game that the 49ers literally let slip through their fingers. Terrell Owens and JJ Stokes combined to drop four third down passes that would have resulted in first downs and keeping those drives alive.
- Jeff Garcia finished 19 of 34 for only 121 yards, one touchdown, one interception, 45 yards rushing and a touchdown.
- Kevan Barlow scored his first NFL touchdown.
- John Engelberger had a big sack that resulted in a fumble that was recovered by Andre Carter.
- Ahmed Plummer had an impressive diving interception to go along with 3 pass defenses and 5 tackles.
- Derek Smith again led the team in tackles and Jason Webster added 5 tackles, 2 pass defenses and a forced fumble.
Game 3 - 49ers 19, Jets 17
49ers return to Monday night for the first time since 1999.
The 49ers took over this game with a powerful one-two punch in their running game with Garrison Hearst and Kevan Barlow finishing with 233 yards.
- Jeff Garcia finished 16 of 20 for 141 yards and one touchdown.
- Garrison Hearst finished with 20 carries for 95 yards and Barlow had 83 yards on 9 carries.
- Jose Cortez kicked 4 field goals.
- Ahmed Plummer came up big knocking down two potential touchdown passes in the end zone.
- Andre Carter recorded his first sack of the year.
- Derek Smith was once again the leading tackler.
- Jason Webster added a sack and Dana Stubblefield blocked a field goal.
- Vinny Sutherland returned a kick off for 65 yards.
In an important division game the 49ers perform well on both sides of the ball leading them to a convincing victory.
- Jeff Garcia finished 17 of 31 for 212 yards, two touchdowns, one interception and a rushing touchdown.
- Terrell Owens was the star of the game with 8 catches for 118 yards and two touchdowns on which he simply ran away from the defenders.
- Reggie McGrew and John Engelberger were strong in defending the run and Engelberger added two pass knockdowns.
- Ahmed Plummer looking like an All-Pro had an interception, 3 pass defenses and 6 tackles.
- Jeff Garcia leads the 49ers to a huge comeback victory throwing for 257 yards and 3 touchdowns to Terrell Owens all after half time.
- Garcia finished 27 of 41 for 332 yards, 3 touchdowns, 70 yards rushing and a touchdown.
- Garrison Hearst had 78 yards on 12 carries and added 5 catches.
- Terrell Owens had 9 catches for 183 yards and 3 touchdowns.
- Kevan Barlow scored another touchdown.
- Jason Webster had 6 tackles and an interception.
- Lance Schulters and Bobby Setzer each had sacks
Jeff Garcia - "I think with everything that was involved, having to score in the last few seconds of regulation to tie it, being able to do what we were able to do in overtime, combining everything we had to do as a team, this was probably the most rewarding win I've been a part of since being here."
Game 6 - Chicago 37, 49ers 31 OT
49ers dominate early then let the Bears back in the game and to win in overtime on a play that if complete to Terrell Owens would have put the 49ers in a position to win the game.
The 49ers started the scoring on a great play by Bryant Young. Timing the snap count exactly right he burst through the line to hit Jim Miller forcing a fumble that Julian Peterson recovered and returned for a touchdown.
Later in the game the 49ers would score another defensive touchdown on a 97-yard interception return by Zack Bronson.
Garrison Hearst scored his first touchdown of the season on an impressive 60-yard reception
Justin Swift caught his first touchdown reception of the season
- Jeff Garcia finished 21 of 29 for 269 yards, 2 touchdowns and 2 interceptions playing with a sprained knee.
- Garrison Hearst appeared to be back to his normal form pulling in 4 catches for 105 yards and a touchdown
- Terrell Owens had 6 catches for 60 yards and JJ Stokes had 4 receptions.
- Ahmed Plummer and Zack Bronson had interceptions.
- Injuries to Jason Webster and Anthony Parker forced the 49ers to play more conservative defense in the second half allowing Chicago to take over the game.
Game 7 - 49ers 21, Lions 13
49ers come out flat but then Terrell Owens and the defense take over the game leading the 49ers to another victory.
- Jeff Garcia, wearing a knee brace, finished 26 of 35 for 296 yards, 3 touchdowns and two interceptions.
- Garrison Hearst rushed for 82 yards and Kevan Barlow 53 yards on only six carries.
- Terrell Owens had 9 catches for 125 yards and 2 touchdowns.
- JJ Stokes had 6 catches for 72 yards.
- Eric Johnson had 4 catches for 35 yards and his first career touchdown.
- The defense limited the Lions to 131 total yards and had 4 sacks. The sacks came from Derek Smith, Dana Stubblefield, Julian Peterson and John Engelberger.
Jeff Garcia passes for 4 touchdowns and Garrison Hearst runs for 145 yards leading the 49ers to victory over one of the top defenses in the league. Garcia threw 3 first half touchdown passes and Hearst rushed for 119 yards of his yards in the second half.
- Jeff Garcia was 21 of 34 for 252 yards and 4 touchdowns
- Garrison Hearst ran for 145 yards on 17 carries. His runs of 23 and 17 yards effectively ran out the clock and secured the victory.
- Kevan Barlow caught 3 passes for 80 yards including an incredible 61-yard catch and run in which he broke 5 tackles on his way to the end zone.
- Terrell Owens caught 8 passes for 100 yards and 2 touchdowns
- Eric Johnson continued to impress with 3 catches and a touchdown
- Andre Carter had his second sack of the year
- Chike Okeafor made a huge play stripping the ball away from Ricky Williams setting up the winning touchdown
- Zack Bronson was all over the field making 10 tackles and linebackers Jeff Ulbrich and Julian Peterson combined for nearly 20 tackles.
Jeff Garcia is not putting up the statistics he did last season but he is more than proving his worth to this team with heroic performances in every game. He has done everything to put the 49ers in a position to win every game they have played.
Terrell Owens is having a great season with 56 catches already and a league leading 10 touchdowns. He has had some controversy with Head Coach Steve Mariucci, but has proven his talent on the field where he makes the big plays when the 49ers need them most.
Many people believe that a running back by committee offense is not effective, but this season the 49ers have been very productive with Garrison Hearst and Kevan Barlow taking turns in the backfield. Hearst seems to have returned to his form from 1998 and Barlow is the perfect substitute when Hearst needs a rest. Both have been impressive in both the running and passing game.
One of the biggest surprises on the team has to be rookie tight end Eric Johnson. With Greg Clark missing the entire first half of the season the rookie has stepped in to be a very important part of the offense making 21 catches for 173 yards and 2 touchdowns.
This has also been a very good year for the offensive line. The 49ers have the #2 ranked rushing game in the NFL and the top rated passer in the NFC. This does not happen without the line doing their job very effectively.
On the defensive side of the ball several players have stepped up to make big plays when the team needs them most. Ahmed Plummer is having a terrific year and seems a likely pick for the pro bowl. Derek Smith is showing his worth by leading the team in tackles almost every game. The defensive line seems to be improving each week; they may not have many sacks but have applied the necessary pressure on opposing Quarterbacks to force mistakes.
I am looking forward to the second half of the season and the 49ers ride to the playoffs. It is great to see the 49ers playing the level we fans are used to. I expect them to keep getting better each week making them a team to contend with in the playoffs.