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Pain, Anger, Frustration and utter rage rang throughout the San Francisco 49er franchise following their third consecutive loss in their regular season against The Carolina Panthers.
No one could have as much emotion as I could as I observe their intensity and willingness to improve upon a record that is now staggering with a large loss column. Not all is hopelessly lost; This team has made tremendous leaps and bounds with it’s youth in providing an atmosphere of competition and experience, focusing on improving fundamentals and breaking down plays in segments for analysis and review and bringing these learned lessons out on the playing field for improvement.
Errors and Injuries have all but beheaded this proud franchise with a fan base that knows nothing but winning, as that is what the 49er’s do best over so many countless years. Still so many are unable to accept even the players themselves that we are clearly in a rebuilding situation.
To grasp this concept and come to accept it is necessary and vital in our realization that we have many hurdles and bumps in the road before we can become a playoff contender in this division ever again.
Following the Carolina loss 34-16 at Ericsson Stadium Players convened in a sea of uncontrollable emotions as injuries and penalties that killed production came to a head and many pointed fingers as to why this franchise is in the state it is in today.
“I just think the whole team gave up,” receiver Terrell Owens fumed. “Did we play as hard as we could? No. Not at all,” said Owens, who in that game fumbled late in the first quarter but bounced back to catch a 32-yard touchdown pass from Jeff Garcia a series later.
Carolina Quarterback Steve Beuerlein came out shooting early as he has thrown 14 touchdown passes in his past four games against The San Francisco 49er’s, Head Coach George Seifert former coach to San Francisco also had a game plan in readiness to disassemble his old team.
“It was disappointing, man. You kind of question everybody’s heart, the reason they play the game,” Owens continued. “Players shouldn’t play the game to just collect a check on Monday. If you’re going to come out here and play, you should play to win. I would think people would get tired of losing. It’s embarrassing. Boy, 2-6? It’s embarrassing.”
Certainly Terrell is one of the most emotional of the 49er offensive players, as he suffered a one week suspension for displaying his emotions in a game widely publicized against the Dallas Cowboys.
However you begin to relate to Owens and his measure of conviction, his willingness to go all out and make plays happen, his desire for this franchise to attain a win and be proud at the same time. All that begins to weigh on my mind and makes me relieved that we have a player with these kinds of sentiments.
Even 49er Head Coach Steve Mariucci could see the frustration boiling over after this loss to Carolina and his damage control had to fly once again in high gear to keep morale at a even level.
“I sensed the whole environment in this stadium today was not as crazy and excitable as the last couple of games,” he said, putting it mildly.
The San Francisco Defense has been in a severe car wreck as many of the veteran and promising new players were out due to injuries as this game drew near and got underway.
Starting tackle Bryant Young was out and inactive (torn cartilage), as was linebacker Winfred Tubbs (hamstring). It has been so long since this defense ranked last in the NFL has been totally healthy.
At one point in the Carolina game six rookies took their places in the defensive lineup, Yet we are unable to blame them alone for Steve Beuerleins big day for passing for 309 yards and three touchdowns.
Talented and Young players had to step up and they did in this game, and probably will be relied on to continue as this defense struggles to find consistency and balance, and brings itself out of the cellar into the limelight of making big plays and taking the ball away from their opponents.
Free-agent rookie Cedric Killings started for Young; Killings had three tackles, including an eight-yard sack. Third-year linebacker Artie Ulmer, a free agent whom the 49er’s waived at one time from their practice squad, then resigned on September 19th, started and came up with six tackles and a five-yard sack.
Even with all this promise players were still in a state of utter disgust and unlimited frustration as all their emotions were spilled before one another in a symbol of consistent defeat. Athletes of this caliber have such high and positive expectations, to go from being familiar with winning to consecutive losses over a course of three weeks has really sunken in.
San Francisco Running Back Charlie Garner also was subject to the same bitter sweet anger as it was brewing, his performance on the field in Carolina gaining 87 yards on 10 carries (including a 42-yard run) and added seven receptions for 112 yards (including a career-best 62-yard catch).
Garner is not a vocal person very private and somewhat withdrawn. But in the post locker room, as the 49ers tried to find definition for their 13 penalties, the missed extra point, the three fumbles (one lost), the interception and countless execution errors, Garner stood up and delivered.
“I try to reiterate that point with these guys; I was on a 3-13 team with Philadelphia. And like I said, we’re going be shaking hands with one another, because they’ll clean this place (after the season). I know they will,” Garner said bitterly. “For sure. That’s with any organization, if you keep losing.”
The San Francisco 49er offense could do little to make up for a struggling defense as they encountered their own demons on the field that day, in the form of turnovers, penalties and sacks.
As I look back on the last three losses the 49er’s have suffered I still realize where this team is in the year 2000, in a rebuilding mode but not a dying mode, we can still be competitive and we can still win games for these players to display so much emotion it speaks volumes about how strong the will is in these players to perform at an exceptional level.
“Guys just need to look within themselves and play with a little more heart,” 49er’s receiver Terrell Owens said. “I know we’ve got injuries on both sides of the ball, but if you’re going to be out there, you’ve got to play hard. I don’t think everybody did that today.”
Charlie Garner clearly a great offensive playmaker with the likes of wide receiver Terrell Owens also had more to add, as he sensed the mood about attaining our sixth loss and wanted to make known that this is unacceptable.
“We have to have some guy’s step up and make some plays. We had Cedric (Killings, a rookie defensive tackle) step up, and made a couple of plays for us. But we have to have a total team effort,” Garner said. “That’s an offense, defense and special team when you have a lot of guys injured.”
Injuries continue to be the dark cloud that has hung over The San Francisco 49er’s for a period relentless weeks as Defensive Tackle/End Junior Bryant is out (neck) for the season along with promising strong safety John Keith (broken arm) for the season.
Linebacker first-round draft pick Julian Peterson out (knee) possibly another few weeks, and linebacker Jeff Ulbrich (shoulder) a few more weeks.
Again despite the contrary the 49er’s played Carolina better than they did in Week Two, as we gave up 11 fewer points and one of Carolina’s touchdowns came off an interception by Mike Minter.
Pressure was applied to Beuerlein as he was sacked by three different players Ulmer, Killings and Pleasant all had sacks as the security Beuerlein was used to was pounded away with these big plays and constant pressure.
Carolina Tight End Wesley Walls a former 49er he made an overview of what he observed in the game compared to Week Two.
“They played a lot harder,” Walls said. “They were sound. We had guys running wide open the first game. This game, we had to work for it.”
The 49er’s started with a defense raw with rookies but they played with a heart that can be defined as flowing in the right direction, Cornerbacks Ahmed Plummer and Jason Webster anchored the secondary with Cornerback Monty Montgomery moving to free safety, this move may be permanent if all goes according to plan.
Even though Plummer and Webster suffered from a distinct height advantage to Carolina’s wide receivers Mushin Muhammad and Donald Hayes, they were burned on occasion but did not back down, and they each proved they’re not afraid of major league contact.
Certainly the heart and soul of some of these players is without question, the real dignity is knowing you went out and played to all your potential and worked diligently in every play that was snapped to the best of your ability.
In regards to 49er Wide Receiver Terrell Owens comments he later apologized to the team for his comments that day, making note that he did not mean it the way it sounded.
Pro Bowl Safety Lance Schulters said. “He didn’t mean to point the finger. It was just the emotion of the game.”
“I don’t think there was any bad blood over that,” defensive tackle Bryant Young said. “Guys didn’t really think he needed to apologize.”
Owens certainly one of our most proficient offensive guru’s has 49 catches for 693 yards and nine touchdowns this season despite missing one game due to suspension.
The heated emotions that burst open after this game and others in this losing streak of three, have been indications of how well these individuals take their positions seriously and with a pride that is bent on winning at all costs.
I am proud of what The San Francisco 49er Coaching Staff has done so far in this era of rebuilding and renewal, they have all worked very hard day in and out in developing these fine athletes that can play at a superior level with veterans every game.
Head Coach Steve Mariucci has been instrumental and remarkable in his ability to comfort players and assures them that we are indeed on the right path; he has preached patience and character and above all professionalism on and off the field.
His standards are very high and he strives to instill these same standards in each of his players. He has been called a “player’s coach” and that is what I believe he is. No matter what they feel they need to call him I can go on record as an honest believer in his curriculum and fundamental strategies to turn this franchise into a dynasty again.
“I’m uncomfortable, because that’s not really how we do things,” Mariucci said. “But when you lose a game or two, guts spill their guts. Some of the so-called finger-pointing I’m reading about is only passionate pleas by our players to get the most out of every ounce of flesh and blood that we have in that room.”
This is what caring and understanding is all about as we the fans and all the rest of those who follow The San Francisco 49ers know that we have one of the most sound and durable coaching structures in the league today.
General Manager Bill Walsh without question is responsible for so many bright glimmers of hope in this franchise, his tenure with us is drawing to a close, Terry Donahue is being groomed and I believe he will do an outstanding job.
Walsh had these comments to say regarding the state of the union involving his beloved 49er’s.
“We’re improving, but it’s not going to show up on a scale,” Walsh said. “It’s going to happen in fits and bounds. There are a lot of positive things happening, and we’re giving a lot of rookies a chance to play a lot of football.”
The San Francisco 49er’s are a team proud of it’s rooted heritage, we are constantly striving to better ourselves in every facet of the game on a daily basis, the crossroads have come it is now halftime in this 2000 season.
Let us find new challenges and opponents that will teach us more about what we need to know to take that next step into the arena of champions that we can be so comfortable in for another extended stay.