Improvement? What Improvement?
December 20, 2004 at 12:00 AM
It's all you can ask of any team. Whether it's a 7 and 1 team, or a 1 and 7 team all you can ask as a fan, coach, or GM is that the team get better every week. Sounds simple, but the 49ers have not been able to do that all year.
With Saturday's loss to the Redskins, the 49ers come closer to tying the franchise record for losses (14) in a single season. Instead of starting horribly and steadily getting better the 49ers seem to be doing the exact opposite. Their season so far has looked more like the EKG of a dying squirrel, spiking every now and then, but generally staying flat.
The killer in this game was turnovers, as it was in many other games. In games against Atlanta, New Orleans, New York, Chicago, Carolina and Miami turnovers were crucial, directly contributing to the loss. Yet, after 15 weeks, the turnover hemorrhage has not coagulated.
This time, it was a 78-yard interception return that put Washington up 23-9. Before the interception it looked like the 49ers had gained some momentum after a blocked punt resulted in a safety. Instead of tying the game, the 49ers handed Washington the win.
As has been the case pretty much all season, the defense held up their end of the bargain, holding Washington to 3.2 yards per rush, forcing and recovering a fumble, and keeping Washington out of the end zone on three "goal-to-go" situations. Unfortunately, though, that Madden Card that gives you points for defensive performances doesn't work in the real world. Trust me on this one - I tried.
The same problems that plagued the team at the beginning of the season plague them now. Turnovers, penalties, lack of a running game, lack of a consistent passing game - basically everything on the offensive side of the ball. After 15 weeks, there should be some improvement, something, anything that makes one think the team is moving in the right direction. Instead, the offense seems to have fallen off the perpetual treadmill it has been on since September.
Had the 49ers been able to improve, they might find themselves in the playoff hunt. At 7 wins and 7 losses, Seattle leads the division. Because of the way playoff teams are determined, each division winner is guaranteed a playoff spot. At 6 and 8, the Panthers, who started the season 1 and 7, hold the final wild card spot after this week. The NFC is so wacky this season that the Arizona Cardinals, the only team to lose to the 49ers, could still win the division if they win out.
Even the typical excuses, injuries and youth, are hard to swallow. The Panthers have suffered a litany of injuries, as many or more than the 49ers. Their offensive line is a patchwork of journeymen and back-ups, their top three half-backs and go-to receiver are on injured reserve, arguably the best defensive tackle in the game was lost several weeks ago. In all, Carolina has started 36 different players. When Carolina met San Francisco in week 9, both teams were 1 and 7, both were looking for an identity, and both were looking for a spark. One team found it, and the other team found the bottom of the NFL barrel. The only other excuse, youth, gets older with each game and each loss.
This season would be bearable if there was some kind of improvement from week to week, or even over several weeks. Unfortunately, with the resurging Bills and the always-dominant Patriots on the schedule all fans can do is beg for some kind of mercy rule while the broken record of excuses spins. All fans can do in the meantime is pound their heads against a brick wall hoping that they will knock themselves out until season's end. It's either that or spending countless hours trying to get those Madden Cards to work. Madden...here I come.
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