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If anything was more real than the facts that show the long list of injuries suffered by the 49er defense over this season, then our current record illustrates the very character of those costly injuries that have drained the lifeblood from this last ranked defense in The National Football League today.
This 49er Defense in all honesty has cost us all five games in our lost column, The 49er Offense has played with the intensity and excitement of a playoff caliber team, This offensive line was thought to be a weak link in this season, however even with adversity it has come together to be only second in total statistics and comparisons to The World Champion St. Louis Rams.
49er Quarterback Jeff Garcia is the little talked about Champion of this renewed and potent 49er Offense. He is the second-rated passer in the National Football Conference behind only Kurt Warner of St. Louis.
Garcia has thrown for 1,794 yards; completed 64 percent of his passes, and has 19 touchdown passes against just four interceptions. He doesn’t have an interception in his past 142 attempts over four games.
All the criticism and speculation of Jeff Garcia as the legitimate and unequaled starter of The San Francisco 49er’s has been destroyed without delay, I cannot say enough of how I have defended the decision to allow Garcia to grow and mature into the elite quarterback he has become today.
Many in the beginning with a Quarterback Controversy brewing after The First Carolina Game, thought Back-Up Rick Mirer would be the most logical starter and best to lead us into playoff contention. I go on record as being a stout Garcia supporter.
Probably the best attribute I admire about Garcia is his humbleness as he does not draw attention to himself in anyway shape form or manner, Garcia always has the entire team in mind on and off the field.
“I still see room for improvement,” Garcia said. “Sure, there are a lot of positive things, but I’m still learning every week.”
The Offensive line has been a rock, not only in the protection of their quarterback, but also in the form of providing solid blocking and pulling for Running Back Charlie Garners current success as the leader in rushing in The National Football Conference.
The Offensive Playmakers are scoring on a regular basis and making games close as their abilities and skills have shined this season, from running back to wide receiver the weapons are lethal and ready, this is what has made us so competitive with others this season.
On the Defensive Front the telling story is so much different almost a flip-flop of the offense. We went into the season very thin at depth in many defensive positions, we did not have the luxury of signing high-priced free agents to solidify and maximize a line that suffered from the paralysis of salary cap casualties.
Our defensive front is loaded with rookies and second-year players, many of them with enormous talent and abilities, there was a lot of excitement even from myself to see this type of raw and young talent unleashed onto the playing field knowing mistakes and blunders would happen from time to time.
But so far this defense has been decimated with injuries, Two starters have gone down for the season, and another four starters have missed at least one game, not to even mention the crippled reserves.
Even after all this though we managed to stay in games thought to be blow-outs by sports experts and newspaper forecasts, even though our defense has holes and players are beaten on close plays, it is not without the substance of learning.
The length of the professional season compared to college series also is taking a toll on some players. It is sort of a mental hurdle for players that are rookies to adjust to the length of a pro schedule.
Most college seasons would be drawing to a close, Five preseason games and seven regular season contests for the 49er’s add up to 12 games, which is an entire season plus a bowl for games at the college level.
Head Coach Steve Mariucci has been careful to address this very fundamental element in many different ways, being the players coach that he is he has gone to great lengths to make sure his rookies are not drawn out and overworked.
“We’ve had a meeting with the rookies to address it,” said Coach Steve Mariucci. “These guys are used to cleaning out their lockers at this point. They’d be at the end of their ropes. We talked about this being a long process. This is their profession now. There aren’t any finals to go take.”
Mariucci even went to lengths during the meeting to get the rookies mentally and physically prepared for the second half of the season. He checked such basic things as eating and sleeping habits.
“The trick is not thinking about the length (of the season),” rookie linebacker Julian Peterson said. “You just have to approach it game by game. Don’t look at the schedule and count the weeks. Just prepare for whatever team is next.”
Peterson also went on to make a valid point that being hurt (he has a sprained left knee) and losing close games are both much tougher than weathering a longer season. The 49er’s are 2-5 after a 31-28 loss to the Green Bay Packers.
The Injuries that have leveled so many defensive players on The San Francisco 49er’s has had a demoralizing effect on the team especially after suffering back to back close games one at home against The Oakland Raiders in overtime (10-08-00) losing 34-28.
And the other on (10-15-00) against The Green Bay Packers on Lambeau Field 31-28. Both these games had so many high and low points setting up emotional roller coasters for players and fans alike.
“It’s been a doozy,”Mariucci admitted. “The lows have been killers and the highs have been great.” However there have been more lows than highs as of late and that could spell doom for the remainder of the season especially in terms of a winning season, certainly playoffs once again this year are all but eliminated.
Each and every player has responded to this setback with different sets of emotions, and all will deal with it in a different manner based on their own personalities and character.
“I think emotion is a good thing,” quarterback Jeff Garcia said. “Football is an emotional game. There’s no way to cut that out.”
Safety Lance Schulters was enraged during and after the Green Bay game charging the 49er’s had been “cheated” after controversial pass interference call on rookie cornerback Jason Webster led to a Packer touchdown in the fourth quarter.
I to remember observing this play and came to that same conclusion that we were robbed and denied something special here, for without that call a win was very likely, even Fox broadcaster John Madden was shocked at the call pointing out that any other coverage would have been normal.
Can we wallop in this scenery of “what if?” Certainly not we have to move on and counter this negative influence with more positives. That will be tougher to do due to the fact that this is the second close game lost in the final minutes.
“Any time you spill your guts out there on the field and fall short again; it’s going to become an emotional locker room,” said Mariucci. Certainly this is a young and inexperienced 49er team, every rookie is making progress every week. They can sense that victory is near, just beyond their current grasp. The tears and angry words stem from a feeling that success is or must be just around the corner.
Defensive Tackle Bryant Young suffered torn cartilage in his ribs on (10-15-00) at Green Bay, If he cannot go on Sunday against Carolina the 49er’s are very thin at that position with Junior Bryant out for the season already.
In his place last Sunday, Just claimed off the waiver wire from the St. Louis Rams defensive tackle Nate Hobgood-Chittick saw action and played fairly well.
“Basically, where the rib and the cartilage meet, there is a tear,” Mariucci said. “Bryant Young is a tough guy, as you all know, and he’ll play if he can.”
On this same day Linebacker Winfred Tubbs suffered a pulled hamstring, and here the 49er’s are even leaner on linebackers with three of their six linebackers nursing injuries he is listed as questionable.
Linebacker Julian Peterson suffered a sprained left knee in the Raider game on (10-8-00) is out for the Carolina game if not longer as he continues to nurse back to health. Jeff Posey has been taking his spot and needs to remain healthy and play a lot of snaps.
Linebacker Jeff Ulbrich has a strained shoulder since (09-24-00) he is likely to finally start in The Carolina game out of necessity, but the last two times he tried to play, he immediately re-injured himself. If he does again surgery is likely.
Tight End Greg Clark out with a neck stinger since (10-08-00) will likely play he was held out as a precaution, his play will be most beneficial as we suffered without it at Green Bay.
Safety Zack Bronson out with a neck stinger since (09-24-00) will likely be back also, he will be brought back in slowly due to being out three whole weeks.
Fullback Terry Jackson out with sprained knee since (10-08-00) is questionable with a medium-grade MCL sprain. He primarily backs up Fred Beasley whom himself has been playing through the pain of a thumb injury.
The 49er’s also just added Second-year Safety Jason Moore from Green Bay off waivers, the 5-10, 195-pound Moore played in three games with the Packers this season, and he primarily takes Rookie John Keith’s place after a season ending injury due to a broken forearm.
Linebacker Edward Thomas has also been promoted from the practice squad and activated, along with Artie Ulmer both saw action in Green Bay as injuries mounted all day.
Certainly this the tale of the tape even others are playing hurt or banged up Cedric Killings replacing Bryant Young suffered a second neck stinger, Linebacker Ken Norton Jr. continues to play hurt, Defensive Tackles Brentson Buckner and Reggie McGrew are both still hurt, The list is totally unbelievable as injuries have played a large part in the 49er’s defensive demise. Promise and hope though continue to shine in glimmers through the holes and very cracks of this foundation though, there is real talent here and that has yet to crest to its peak this season.
We must show and continue to pray for optimism, we owe it to ourselves and our players who have been through some horrific wars on the field, they deserve our praise and our vocal jubilation as they will look for that now more than ever to sustain their appetites of sensing that victory that is close at hand, and most important of all our being there to share it with them.