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Oh what a game this was my friends. This was a game that from almost every standpoint, was not supposed to end this particular way. The San Francisco 49ers defeated the Greatest Show on Turf in very high fashion this particular Sunday afternoon.
Mike Nolan's ultimate goal, as defined right from the beginning stages of training camp, was to win the National Football Conference's Western Division. With this victory over the top-ranked seeded team in the division a statement was clearly made despite some misgivings and weaknesses identified from this game.
A jammed packed Monster Stadium welcomed the San Francisco 49ers in high spirits and a dreamlike stance that maybe, just maybe, we would have a shot at this thing called victory.
The San Francisco 49ers delivered a show for the ages and defensive coordinator Billy Davis is allocated a lot of the credit based upon his defensive calculations and manifestations he helped create right before Marc Bulger's eyes.
After defeating the St. Louis Rams 28-25 because of a great defensive effort, Mike Nolan and his coaching staff couldn't have been more proud of all the collective hard work they had exasperated over the course of the off-season and throughout pre-season in order to get to this all very important opening series against the St. Louis Rams.
"I don't know what word describes it but it is a very big win," said Nolan of his debut. "I am extremely pleased with our football team. Maybe somebody will give me the word later, but I don't know it right now. I am extremely happy with this, very much so."
It was all about finding our identity as a team as Mike Nolan describes it so eloquently. He wanted to set a tempo and a pace that would make the highflying aerial circus of the St. Louis Rams to stand up and take notice of these very San Francisco 49ers.
With jubilant cheers of joy from his assistant coaches inside and outside the locker room you could tell that the atmosphere had been set in a tranquility of pride and accomplishment.
"I can only imagine the frustration in the locker room last year," Nolan said. "The same guys that took a lot of the criticism last year are the same guys that pulled out the game today. You can imagine how excited and enthusiastic they feel."
You can see the new step in this team. You can sense the confidence and the energy that the players display on the field even from afar. You can analyze the complicated formations and schemes being implemented right before your very eyes and be satisfied with what transpires. You can just simply see what coaching is all about and what is able to sustain itself by paying attention to even the smallest of things.
"We've bought into this system, and that's easy to do when you see the success they've had elsewhere before coming here," said wide receiver Brandon Lloyd, who caught the first of Rattay's two touchdowns passes. "They've prepared us, prepared us to win."
There are so many positives when you look at this game and tear open what is inside. I want to highlight those from a standpoint that identifies key fundamental strengths that the team has and what it needs to continue to do in order to sustain more victories.
We performed a daring onside kick in a situation that never even called for one. There was a 75-yard punt return for a touchdown by un-drafted rookie wide receiver Otis Amey.
And even still, there were seven totals sacks by the newly just installed 3-4 defenses, counting as nearly as one-quarter as many as the 49ers produced all last season.
"The attention to detail in which they do things is amazing," Martz said. "They are a team with a great deal of energy and confidence. That's Mike Nolan. That's his personality."
One person I want to bring attention to was defensive tackle turned defensive end veteran Bryant Young. There was a play in which Bryant Young found himself head first right into the field of Monster Park after the St. Louis Rams had snapped the ball. Amid all the war that was happening all around him, Bryant Young suddenly realized he couldn't make it up.
Bryant Young then realized he could do just one thing after that and that was to crawl. He did so like an alligator hungry for its prey, by scratching and grasping at everything he could to finally reach out and touch Marc Bulger.
He did just that and recorded his third sack of that afternoon. This sack total of three came in the first game of Young's 12th full season, as a 33-year old playing a new position in a new defense.
"He's a beast," 49ers linebacker Derek Smith said. "Bryant Young's a beast. He's a pleasure to play with because he's such a professional...Plays with such heart and determination and pride. He's a guy everyone should emulate."
"When I alluded to Bryant and his three sacks, there was a big hugging fest," Coach Mike Nolan said. "There was a display of appreciativeness by his teammates for everything he does for this football team."
With just a minute to play the game and the St. Louis Rams trailing by just three points, the Rams were facing a first-and-five from the 49ers 33-yard line. Either one or two scenarios rang through my head as this play began to unfold right before my eyes. Either we would be facing overtime or at worst a Rams win in regulation.
Then all of a sudden St. Louis Rams quarterback Marc Bulger took the snap, and Bryant Young powered up the middle, applying instant pressure and hitting him the instant after throwing the ball. Marc Bulger's pass landed behind Isaac Bruce, and then 49er nickel back Mark Adams intercepted the ball and sealed the victory for the 49ers.
And then there is the tale of Otis (a.k.a. Fred) Amey in his very first regular season game, something he has always dreamed of doing as he has been working so hard to win the praises of his teammates. Nothing could have been sweeter then to score a touchdown on your very first possession of the football in your very debut in the NFL.
He scored with character, on a sensational 75-yard punt return just about midway through the second quarter, which was much to the delight of some two-dozen family members and friends sitting it out for his debut.
The former Sacramento wide receiver was elevated into a select company that day; it also gave him an emotional boost like no other en route to shocking the St. Louis Rams 28-25.
No one came close to him on the 75-yard scamper to the end zone. And, as for one that did come out of the St. Louis Rams contingent Amey saw out of the corner of his eye and then vanish as the play unfolded before him, he credits a key block by Mike Rumph for making that score happen.
"When I caught the ball, I could feel someone on top of me," he said, describing a defender converging. "Then, he suddenly disappeared. At that point I had the opening I needed, with only the punter to beat. I was thinking, 'Please get to the end zone and not get caught from behind by anybody."
He raced into the end zone to make the score 14-6 with a 49er lead to boot. Since that, his friend in safety Mike Rumph has nothing but good things to say about this un-drafted and little-to-be-known kind of player.
"Since day one, we could see his work ethic," said Rumph. "I mean, he worked his tail off to make the team and then each week we've seen him improve. All that work he did in training camp and the pre-season is paying off. He only knows how to play one way, 100 miles per hour."
Otis Amey, all 5-foot-10, 197-pounds of him is having a hard time coming down from the stratosphere just yet.
"You couldn't ask for anything more than to score a touchdown on your very first play in the NFL," he said. "It's the highest caliber of football. All I wanted to do, once I made the team was just to help any way I could."
Still, despite the victory, very real weaknesses were exposed. The San Francisco 49es had a 28-9 lead going into the third quarter and yielded 16 unanswered points, or in other words, they were out gained in total yardage 405 to 219! Unbelievable yet we had a defense that stood up and applied the brakes just in the nick of time to seal the win.
In time of possession with the football, it was the St. Louis Rams again that came out on top by holding on to it for 39:23 compared to 20:37 for the 49ers. This usually spells doom to the team holding the ball less time, yet the defense seemed to never lose vigor while out on the field for extended playing time.
The defensive unit by the San Francisco 49ers was just astonishing to say the least. Never have I seen a defense play with such udder vitality and a sheer determination to change the course of an entire game no matter the cost.
It was the ability of our secondary that shut down lanes and being able to handle man-to-man coverage from time to time while the rest of the defense disguised their formations and brought strange and confusing signals to the St. Louis offensive unit.
St. Louis Rams quarterback Marc Bulger witnessed pressure like he hopes to never see again on the opening day of a long season to come for him.
"When coach Nolan got here, he said he wanted this defense to raise havoc in the backfield, and that's what we're trying to do," said linebacker Julian Peterson, who recorded 2.5 sacks in his first regular-season game since tearing his left Achilles tendon 11 months ago. "I think we did a great job of that today."
Even nickel back Mike Adams who had the game winning interception thrown by Marc Bulger credited the San Francisco 49er defense for creating his opportunity.
"If that pressure wasn't there, (Bulger) probably wouldn't have thrown that ball," Adams said. "He would've thrown it deep. It just so happened, Bruce bobbled it, and I snatched it from him."
Tim Rattay had a lot to prove in this game as well coming out of a pre-season that named him as the starter after the second pre-season game. Rookie first round pick Alex Smith stared from the sideline and peered at the veteran on the field beginning the series on a rough note, by regrouping from a sack and a fumble in his opening series to lead three touchdown drives in the 49ers 28-25 victory Sunday over the St. Louis Rams.
Tim Rattay found himself playing without injured tight end Eric Johnson, the teams leading receiver last season with 82 catches. Rattay was able to notice his other wide receivers, throwing touchdown passes of 35 yards to Brandon Lloyd and six yards to Arnaz Battle, whose very score was set up by a 30-yard strike to Johnnie Morton.
Tim Rattay, was limited to just nine starts last year because of injuries, completed 11 of 16 throws for 165-yards and emerged with a quarterback passer rating of 141.9%.
Brandon Lloyd explained Rattay's overall performance being helped by an offensive line strengthened by the addition of free-agent left tackle Jonas Jennings and the return of two-time Pro Bowl center Jeremy Newberry, who missed all but the opener last season with a knee injury.
"The St. Louis defense decided they were going to bump-and-run us and let us pass the ball," Rattay said. "We found that out early on so we thought we needed to take a shot at them. We took a shot and it worked."
"I think we sewed up some of the issues we had up front," Lloyd said. "Hopefully, we'll keep Tim healthy all year and we'll go out and make plays."
I cannot close this article without highlighting kicker Joe Nedney's outstanding play off his foot. He kicked an onside kick that sailed almost directly into the arms of Terry Jackson about 10 yards downfield. If you can believe it or can't, Nedney was actually aiming at Jackson; it's a play they had been practicing all during training camp.
This onside kick came right after Otis Amey's 75-yard punt return for a touchdown. With the St. Louis Rams reeling from that, the 49ers gave St. Louis Rams head coach Mike Martz a dose of his own medicine. Jackson pounced on the ball at the 49ers 44-yard line. "It was just like bread and butter," Nedney said.
"It goes to show that the best team doesn't always win," Rams wide receiver Torry Holt said. "Stat-wise, we showed we were a better team, but they beat us to the punch. They made more plays to win the ball game then we did."
The running game for the San Francisco 49ers was nonexistent though. We only had 34 total yards of rushing with Kevan Barlow touching the ball but 14 times for 22 total yards averaging 1.6 yards a carry! It is something we will need to establish more than ever in Philadelphia to ensure that we are not missing this very important link to our overall offense.
Running the ball should be our staple and has always been. Whether it be Kevan Barlow or Frank Gore, someone needs to define themselves soon. I would have to be concerned a little with this here, as we never had time of possession, which is a pure indicator that we have a successful running game. Obviously we didn't in this one, and in time we'll have to make this a priority.
I am excited though and I am very impressed with the way Mike Nolan approached this contest and dealt with every situation in a masterful game of defensive brawn over offensive firepower. We honestly silenced these Rams for once and with the Lord's help we will yet again.