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Looking at my TV on Sunday, I had no idea such a thing could act as a time machine. Scientists have been trying to get a handle on this time travel thing for decades; if they only knew what remarkable things I saw emanating from my TV on Sunday. I couldn't help but notice that the San Francisco 49ers team that I was watching was not a 6-7 team out of the playoffs; it was an early rendition of the 2004 49ers.
The team that took the field Sunday certainly could be the team that takes the field for the 2004 season opener. With Ahmed Plummer and Jason Webster both out due to injury, Dwaine Carpenter and Mike Rumph started on the perimeter of the defense, while Ronnie Heard filled in for the injured Zack Bronson. Fitting, since Plummer and Webster will be free agents at the end of this season. The future at this position looks bleak. If this is the backfield that the 49ers are left with after free agency decimates their roster, the team is in more trouble than John York in the hands of rabid 49er fans. Carpenter's inexperience as an NFL cornerback was exposed by the Eagles' typically anemic passing attack. Against the 49ers patchwork secondary, Todd Pinkston looked like the second coming of John Taylor, going over 100 receiving yards for the first time in his career. Carpenter was flagged twice for pass interference, while Holman, the nickel corner, was beaten for the game tying touchdown reception in the fourth quarter. After the mediocre Pinkston made the 49er's secondary look like the swiss cheese they were in 1999, it is obvious that Ahmed Plummer should be second after Peterson on the free agent priority list.
Perhaps with a bit more experience, Carpenter can be the answer to the nickel corner problem that has eluded the 49ers in recent history. Based on Sunday's performance however, Carpenter seems as though he is a better fit to replace Bronson, who is on the short list of players to be cut. Bronson has lost a step since he returned from his injury last season. Being embarrassed by Rudi Johnson last week probably seals Bronson's fate as a member of the "cap-casualty" squad.
"The Future," also known as Kevan Barlow, put together another show on the ground gaining 154 yards and averaging 5.1 yards per carry. Barlow even scored once on a pass from Garcia. As long as he cures his fumble-itis, Barlow will definitely be a bright spot for the future 49ers rushing attack. He slashed, he broke some ankles, and powered over Eagles defenders all day long. Jamal Robertson even got into the mix rushing for 39 yards. While that number may not be stunning, his 9.8 yards per carry is certainly a gaudy stat.
I thought I was only getting a glimpse of the 49er's future; the picture was still foggy around the edges like in one of those dreams Zack always had in "Saved by the Bell." Then at the end of the first half, the picture cleared up. The 49ers brass got a chance to see what the offense would look like without "The Answer." After Sunday's win, it looks like "The Answer" will be on "The Plane" out of here. Rookie Brandon Lloyd dazzled the fans with a circus 33-yard catch in which he jumped for the ball (yes, he actually TRIED to get the ball!) with an Eagles defender, tipped it, had it tipped by the defensive back then caught it while on his way down to the turf. Like a jungle cat, Lloyd landed on his feet and strolled into the end zone.
Lloyd only caught two balls on Sunday, but he definitely came up big in the clutch, catching a fade pass from Garcia in the right corner of the end zone. Just like he's been doing all year in practice, just like the plays against the Raiders this Preseason, and just like a superstar should, Lloyd plucked the ball from the air like he owned it to convert the two points that made the game 28-21 in the 4th quarter. Maybe Owens would do better finding "the answer" on a multiple-choice quiz while standing in the unemployment line. He's a amazing player, but even the great Jerry Rice was replaceable. With an up and coming star like Lloyd ready to bust out, Owens looks just like that - replaceable.
The offense of the future looks more potent than a man on Viagra. Lloyd, Barlow, Garcia (yes, I said Garcia) and Newberry all transform the 49er offense into a force to be reckoned with. The defense of the future, well, that's a bit harder to get excited about. Julian Peterson showed again why he's probably the best at his position, the secondary looked lost at times. Tony Parrish will definitely be the glue that holds this unit together in the future.
The part of this little excursion to next season that excites me the most is the win, on the road, against a team that many thought was the best team in the NFC. The kicking game started clicking after LaFleur was pulled from his holding duties (maybe it was his fault all along?), and the 49ers - even if only for a split second - returned to prominence. If my TV has anything to say about it, the future looks bright. Lets just hope my TV doesn't have any reception problems.