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As we near mid-term in the 2004 NFL season, the fan base of the San Francisco 49ers have very little to be optimistic about. We stand in at (1-5) and are riddled with injuries, floating in salary cap acidity, dealing with an offensive line that is trying to identify itself, trying to believe everything that Terry Donahue is telling us is for the best, dealing with the learning curves of so many rookies yet again and hanging on to the ball needs to be more than just an afterthought.
Fans in the stands of the newly christened Monster Park, once 3-Com and known to many as Candlestick boo their beloved team in almost every aspect of it's internal and external structure as an organization. And how can I sit back and blame them? How can I disagree with them?
How can I justify where this ownership and management is now again promising something that already should be in place? And that is a sound, competitive and championship caliber organization running on all cylinders much like the Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots are running as right now.
Every San Francisco 49er fan yearns and craves for that championship glory again, and we try and imagine what it will take to lead us there again. Many are pessimistic that we will ever se those days a again, especially under the ownership of Denise DeBartolo and her husband that holds the keys to the car that drives this franchise in Dr. John York.
Every time you turn around Bay Area newspapers and sports broadcasters echo the same things over and over again in reporting in on management news on the San Francisco 49ers. Promises that indicate there will be an adjustment period and a waiting period to get this organization back on track. We did this in 1999 and once again five years later we are faced yet again with a rebuilding effort based upon bad decisions by the management and deals that were done that we continue to pay for right up till now.
Thinking back to the St. Louis game when wide receiver Curtis Conway made that nine-yard reception in the end zone in the fourth quarter on October 3rd, 2004 it was the teams first points in seven quarters of playing this season. Unfortunately it wasn't even that much to celebrate even then because it came too little and too late to curtail a 24-14 whipping at the hands of the St. Louis Rams right in our own backyard.
We became (0-4) for the first time since guess when? 1979! This scoreless stretch tied a team record set in 1974. And to be frank and honest to all of you I believe we look worse then when we did back in 1999 at this very point.
"I never imagined this," linebacker Julian Peterson said. "It's very shocking. But it's there. We have to do something about it."
Where was the offense? We managed only two late touchdowns against one of the league's worst defenses. The San Francisco 49ers had been ridiculously outscored by their opponents up until Curtis Conway's reception 65-0 since the fourth quarter of the Week 2 game against the New Orleans Saints.
Think about that folks? What does that tell you about the overall complexity of this team? It means in layman's terms a tremendous rebuilding project that is just now underway in my opinion, and the ownership and management of this team would have you believe that we are still going to be competitive after slicing and dicing 11 core veteran players from this roster.
"On one hand, it was nice to do something to give the team a boost," Conway said of his 50th career touchdown. 'But you can't get jacked emotionally, because you're getting blown out." "It was a bad night," 49ers Coach Dennis Erickson said. "There's not a lot you can say about it."
Guess what? There is plenty to say about it, but this organization isn't because it's too embarrassing to tell us fans that we are sinking like a runaway anchor off a ship that has no rudder.
From this game we saw now veteran cornerback Mike Rumph go down to what is a well known in this organization on an annual basis to a season-ending injury. Unable to free himself from a block, Mike Rumph tried to make an important tackle in desperation; he attempted to slow down running back Steven Jackson of the St. Louis Rams but paid a heavy price for it.
Mike Rumph's right forearm connected with Jackson's knee, and that is when the fracture occurred that would sideline Rumph for the entire season. Rookie Shawntae Spencer has been the starter there ever since and has played to the best of his ability in Rumph's absence.
"Isaac Bruce tried to cut block me, and I really couldn't get out there to make the tackle," Rumph said about the play that began on the 49ers 15-yard line with 9:36 to go in the second quarter. "So I just threw my arm out there."
Meanwhile we continue to wait for the return of Pro Bowl center Jeremy Newberry who in all practicality holds the cement that keeps the offensive line clicking. Newberry had surgery to alleviate his painful knee condition and is hopeful to be back towards the end of the regular season.
He hasn't played since the season opener against the Atlanta Falcons, because he underwent surgery Sept. 21st to splice tissue that had been pulling his knee- cap out of it's socket and causing bone-on-bone grinding in the joint.
Anyone can tell you just how much Jeremy means to this offensive line. Although Brock Gutierrez has managed to fill-in he's nothing of the same in Jeremy Newberry's leadership and tenacity on and off the field.
The offensive line hasn't really been in sync since his departure due to injury and the mechanics and performance of the left tackle position has been an issue with Kwame Harris playing and not playing due to injury and with Kyle Kosier simply trying to survive there period.
Our No. 1 2004 draft day pick in Oklahoma State's Rashaun Woods has also been a simple bust for this team up until the game with the Rams. Here he finally grabbed his first NFL touchdown reception with just 16 seconds left to play in the game. No one but tight end Eric Johnson has been a breakout offensive player, even No. 1 starting wide receiver Brandon Lloyd has struggled with groin injuries and limited receptions up until now.
Yet fans continue to heat up their grills in the parking lot at Monster Park and the smells of various cuisines can be identified as soon as you drive on to the pavement there. The red, white and gold colors that adorn fans in player's jerseys and caps continue to smear the landscape in the Bay Area faithful.
Going out of the Bay Area and looking across the nation 49er fans from afar I can tell you are concerned, disheartened and upset as well. Being so far from the heartbeat of the organization will do that to you, so it's important that all fans turn to the news on their personal computers to stay updated.
"I know there's a lot of dead money from when they made the decision to cut (Jeff) Garcia and (trade Terrell) Owens. With the (salary) cap, it's expected," said John Bauson, 28, of San Mateo. "Next year looks to be better than this year. They'll have more money to spend."
"It's kind of depressing, but in the back of my mind, I saw it coming," Greg Russell, 41, said. "I took a lot of flack about being a fair-weather fan. Bit I'm here now and they suck. That's a true fan."
It's so important that all San Francisco 49er fans vent and rant about what's going in with the organization, after all this is our organization. We are the one's that pay and support it.
We are the one's that deserve so much more from an ownership that has turned it's collective head on us in every sense from making bad decisions to closing public access to it's practice facilities in Santa Clara, simply because revenue wasn't made available to build bleachers and fencing to accommodate it's fan faithful.
Still more injuries have decimated this proud team, as it has struggled to keep it's starting lineup on the field season after season. Linebacker Derek Smith one of the 49er's leading defensive tacklers in the game has been out with torn ligaments in his ankle. Smith actually leads the 49ers in tackles with 32 and was well on his way to his eighth-consecutive 100-tackle season.
Smith suffered the injury when he planted his foot in the turf just as St. Louis Rams receiver Torry Holt made contact. Holt's leg nailed Smith's shin, and the impact ruptured the membrane surrounding Smith's ankle.
"He's a leader of our football team," Coach Dennis Erickson said. "He's a guy that makes the calls. He's a guy that energizes everybody. So you miss him. He's a true warrior."
Defensive End Andre Carter has also been missing in action with a back condition that has robbed the 49er defense from its best pass rusher. And fellow teammate defensive end Andrew Williams has been missing in action all season with a broken left leg as well. Both are hopeful that they will be back by at least towards the end of October or beginning of November but again there are no guarantees. It goes to show that not only has the offense been licking its wounds in injuries but the defense has as well.
"The cyst was bothering him and putting pressure on a nerve," Erickson said. It's what's been bothering him the past couple of weeks. The epidural (injection Carter received three weeks ago) helped his (bulging) disk, but the cyst kept pressuring the nerve."
Of course the well- documented injury is the one to franchise player Julian Peterson in which he tore his left Achilles tendon, in the lone victory we had over the Arizona Cardinals.
Peterson received the injury when he tried avoiding a first quarter block by Cardinals right tackle L.J. Shelton, who he initially accused of leg whipping him. But upon watching video and seeing that Shelton didn't touch him, Peterson offered a public apology to Shelton and said he got hurt by landing on his own heel.
This effectively took away one of the premier players on our defense and has made winning a more complicated scenario for our team as all the injuries have indicated. The complications with this type of injury that Peterson has suffered are real. Many a player has had difficulties coming back with 100% effectiveness with this very injury, but Peterson is determined to do so.
"I've seen people in this organization come back from worse injuries than I have," said Peterson, citing the returns of running back Garrison Hearst in 2001 and defensive tackle Bryant Young in 1999 from leg injuries."
Another real problem with the 49er offense is it's running game. We simply don't have one and this is the staple of the team and has been for as long as I can remember. Over the past three games dating from the loss to the New York Jets, the 49ers have averaged just 54-yards on the ground. Since a big game against the New Orleans Saints in Week 2, running back Kevan Barlow has 98-yards in 39 carries, a 2.5-yard average which by the way is pathetic.
Injuries to the offensive line have been key and the reshuffling has done nothing to improve that trend. Players are unable to execute and work together in cohesion in getting running lanes open to Barlow when they are maximized to covering and protecting Tim Rattay. The golden key to any running game has always been the offensive line and if they are unable to pull and block effectively everything else doesn't even matter.
"This will be the third game that we've had the same lineup on the offensive line. That quits being an excuse. We either block them or we don't."
Even though the New York Jets have one of the best defensive lines in the league and are 11th in the league against the run, we still must find a hole for Barlow to get through. Barlow has also been suffering from a tender shoulder that has made him hesitant on some plays. If that's the case and it seems like the coaching staff has addressed it finally then share the load of carries with another back.
Dennis Erickson has given this team time to reflect on the season and to get some well deserved time off to both mentally and physically prepare for the final 10 games of the season. Losing close football games has been difficult to swallow but yet again turnovers seem to be the key to our demise most of the time. Until we can secure the ball more of the same will happen and close football games will continue with us in the loss column.
We all have ideas as to what we need to do to become better; certainly Erickson and his coaching staff have theirs. We as fans have been both patient and frustrated with what we've witnessed this season. More of the same will happen, but being faithful always seems to be the firewall we fall back on. It is a difficult challenge to stand up to friends and critics that ridicule your team.
I know I have been there and still experience it. It is a difficult journey that we have been force fed to take, because the blood of this organization is still rich with winning and being of championship caliber. Remember it is weak now but never extinguished, we need to believe that things will come and our turn again will be there soon.