Questions Linger as the Chargers humble 49ers
August 30, 2003 at 12:00 AM
The 49ers could not manage to come away with their first undefeated pre-season since 1992 in a 24-3 loss to the Chargers. There were few 49ers highlights on a Friday evening where the Niners racked up 6 penalties for 88 yards with only 3:03 elapsed in the first quarter. Penalties were the story of the evening as the Niners ended the night with 11 penalties for 139 yards almost matching their total for the first three pre-season games. The sloppy play might have been expected in the early stages of the pre-season, but having such a problem right before the beginning of the regular season is a bit troublesome. Many of the 49er positives were overshadowed by a shroud of penalties that made the team look like a less rabid version of the Pre-Gruden Raiders.
Ken Dorsey continued to show why he will win the final quarterback roster spot away from Brandon Doman. The box score does not show what those who watched the game witnessed. Dorsey made clutch throws on third down and drove the team down for the game tying score – until it was nullified on an illegal procedure penalty; again, the sloppy play ruining what could have been a decent game. Dorsey threw the TD-pass-that-wasn't off of his back foot, into traffic, and still managed to hit the receiver in the numbers. It looked more like Brett Favre than a rookie Steve Young look-alike. (Yes, Dorsey really DOES look like a young Steve Young). Dorsey flat out wrenched the final quarterback roster spot from Brandon Doman. The fact that Doman only played one series due to Dorsey's extended playing time is only a microcosm for Doman's season. With Rattay signing a 3-year contract for a reported 4.8 million, Doman's fate is sealed unless for some reason the Niners decide to keep 4 quarterbacks.
The QB position seems sealed for the future, and so does the wide receiver position. Brandon Lloyd is simply electric. He excites the fans with amazing one-handed catches, he drags his toes and falls out of bounds beautifully extending his body as he makes what seems to be an impossible catch, and (most importantly) he is a fan favorite. At the 49er public practice at Kezar, Lloyd was the only player to interact with the fans before the autograph-signing melee when he hopped a bench, and tossed a football into the stands. The act was by far the most exciting event of the evening, besides the constant booing of "owner" John York. By next year Lloyd will be in the starting lineup contributing with his acrobatics on every down.
Only one more beacon of light could be found in this perpetual fog of penalties. Jimmy Williams is back. He absolutely destroyed running back Jesse Chapman with a crushing tackle in the backfield. He also showed that he is willing to sit back and return kicks despite this being his first game back after knee surgery. Given the fact that he plays a position where the 49ers are thin, he seems a lock to make the final cut. Although Arland Bruce III has impressed, the numbers game will force his release. Hopefully he will clear waivers so that he can be placed on the practice squad.
Other than Lloyd, Dorsey and Williams the Chargers beat the 49ers in almost every facet of the game. Even before Sean Moran played linebacker, the Chargers ran well against the first team defense. The Chargers scored on their opening drive, and did so in only less than two minutes, all the while doing it against the first string defense. The Charger defense managed to hold the potent Niner offense at bay, and when it couldn't, the Niners themselves managed to. Andrew Pinnock, the Chargers' second-string fullback was unstoppable in short yardage situations. It looked like the Chargers ran the same play on three different third-and-short plays, all of which were successful.
Saleem Rasheed, the speedy linebacker that has managed to impress the coaches while being injured more often than not, finally showed the fans why he is so highly touted. He was the team's second leading tackler on Friday, and showed his sideline-to-sideline speed on the field. He did so until an all to familiar sight appeared on the television screen: Rasheed on the field, clutching his hamstring, waiting for trainers. Luckily the injury doesn't look too serious as it was deemed a "minor strain". But given the Niners' recent luck with injuries, he could have ripped his hamstring to shreds and be forced to spend yet another season on the injured list.
Certain questions still remain for a team that is on the cusp of Super Bowl contention. Can the defense pressure the quarterback without the blitz? Can Anthony Adams solidify the line in his rookie year? All indications are that he will, but if not, I can assure you that we will finish at best second and at worst third in the division behind pass a happy St. Louis or an improved Seattle team. Will injuries again hamper the progress of the team? If Rumph is not ready by the opener then Rashad Holman will start – the same Holman that was flagged for pass interference in the first series, and beat for a TD by Joe Horn on a post pattern. I'm sure Holman is a capable backup, but I doubt that the 49ers' pass defense will improve with Holman starting opposite Plummer. Will Garcia's back be a lingering problem? If it tightens up the day before the Green Bay game, or a day before the Eagles game, can Rattay lead the team to victory?
Luckily, this one didn't count. Nevertheless, when the regular season starts, the mistakes must stop and the questions must be answered as the team attempts to march its way to Houston for what could potentially be a record 6th championship.
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