It's a good thing
September 20, 2006 at 4:01 AM
The San Francisco 49ers made it three in a row against one of the top menaces in their division, after defeating the St. Louis Rams at home 20-13 before an enthusiastic Monster Park. The crowd beamed with excitement over the encouraging progress right before their very eyes.
At Monday’s news conference, Mike Nolan mentioned that winning their first regular season game of the season, “[Is] a good thing.” And he mentioned that Frank Gore’s ability to touch and carry the ball 29 times that game, and gain 28 yards with 3:38 left in the game was a determining factor in securing a lead and achieving a victory. Frank Gore ran for 127 yards this day against the Rams. He fumbled for the second time in two regular season games on the first play of the second quarter. Every 49er fan held their collective breath as the ball was punched out of Frank Gore’s grasp and recovered by St. Louis defender Corey Chavous at their own three-yard line.
The Rams later turned this drive around to achieve a field goal that tied the game up 3-3 inside the second quarter. This happened after Arnaz Battle “fumbled” (a call that was reversed) on a very successful 49er offensive where we penetrated the St. Louis 2-yard line. And then poof, all of that vanished within an instant.
Frank Gore, the starting tailback that beat out Kevan Barlow for the job and sent him packing to the New York Jets, had just done it again. In Arizona and now at home against the St. Louis Rams…where does it end?
Going back to the sidelines he was met by 49er running backs coach Bishop Harris and received a detailed questioning on the sidelines. But instead of trying to get Gore fired up, Bishop was doing just the opposite, he was trying to calm Frank down because of the immense emotions he was distributing as he came in off the field.
“He told me to remember that we have another play,” Gore said.
Of all the things that Frank Gore did wrong though, he always seems to comeback to redeem himself in one way or another. Mike Nolan downplayed the fact that Frank Gore fumbled because he always is trying to make that second effort with the ball, although he did say it was most unfortunate. He reiterated that Gore is a true football competitor and has always carried that coveted football spirit with him when he’s out on the field performing. From his high school days to his college career, Gore arose above all the mediocrity and scrutiny to deliver positive results in the long run. This is exactly what he did at the start of the second half after we trailed the St. Louis Rams 10-3.
On the kick from Jeff Wilkins to start the second half, 49er running back Maurice Hicks returned the ball an astounding 59-yards, out to the St. Louis 34-yard line. Great field position was a highlight that the San Francisco 49ers and the new makeshift offensive line (minus Jonas Jennings and Larry Allen) needed to take advantage of.
Frank Gore, anxious to atone for his sins from the first half fumble, received the ball from Alex Smith twice, and on the second play from 32-yards out broke through a seam and scampered into the end zone for an astounding touchdown to tie the game up 10-10. The typical hesitation to feed the ball to a player that just made a mistake turned out to be just the opposite with the 49er play calling by offensive coordinator Norv Turner. He repeatedly emphasized Frank Gore’s abilities as the game wore onward.
In fact, with the Rams trailing by a touchdown late in the game and in dire need to stop Gore to keep their hopes alive, they attempted to stack the line of scrimmage. But regardless of their efforts to stop him, Frank Gore carried six consecutive times for 28-yards and two game-clinching first downs. He remained patient on a third-and-one play near the two-minute warning, waiting for a key block and then surged ahead just enough and even more to accomplish the coveted first down.
“That was as good as a touchdown, almost,” said Tony Wragge, who made his first career start at left guard. “Frank is a great back and he’s a go-to guy, no doubt about it. The coaches trust him and have confidence in him.”
As the story has been told more than once even with just two weeks into the regular season, the San Francisco 49er offensive line admires Frank Gore and his personality so much, that making the extra effort for him is always a top priority of these linemen because they feed off from his tenacity.
“It’s not just that he runs so hard,” right tackle Kwame Harris said, “but he’s also a great guy. His personality shouldn’t make a difference, but when someone is that tremendous a human being, you want him to be successful.”
In fact a lot has to be said of this offensive line that opened the left side with journeyman Tony Wragge at left guard and second-year stalwart Adam Snyder at left tackle. Both played exceptionally well during the entire game, despite Frank Gore favoring the right side where both Justin Smiley and Kwame Harris made gaping holes for him. This offensive line played brilliantly together as a collective unit and made Frank Gore look absolutely wonderful, but at the same time provided Alex Smith time to make his reads and throws and never relented one sack during the entire game.
The third quarter was Alex Smith’s best quarter in this game, as he connected with wide receiver Antonio Bryant on a 72-yard touchdown pass that really sealed the deal on this game. One of the characteristics of Alex Smith is that even though one would be basking in the glow of this instant success, he critiques his throws and wonders if it could’ve been thrown better or with better execution. It is a trait that his teammates see and congratulate him on more times than not.
“I can tell you this much,” said Bryant, who told Smith his throw was just fine. “The best attribute I like about Alex has is the fact that he always thinks he can do something better, even if we score on the play.”
Alex Smith added to the success he had in the opening game at Arizona by completing 11-of-22 passes for 233 total yards with one touchdown and absolutely no mistakes. He even raised his quarterback rating over last week to 103, and has diminished talk throughout the league that he is still a quarterback without definition.
“This was important, not just for the offense but for this whole team,” Smith said, “because for the last two weeks, we were down at halftime and we were faced with coming out in the second half and having to put drives and points together. This is the kind of game that builds our character. We’re learning to do the things we have to do to win.”
The San Francisco 49er defense rose to the occasion almost every single opportunity it had to get the offense back out and on to the field. Brilliant play by everyone, and in particular first-round draft pick Manny Lawson who has broken open his own learning curve. But one thing you need to learn about Manny is that he is a humble guy. He is a player that works as a teammate rather than one that draws particular attention to just himself. He always gives credit to where credit is due.
“It wasn’t just a good game for me,” Lawson said. “It was a good game overall for the defense.”
Manny Lawson was drafted 21 spots after his fellow former teammate in Mario Williams from North Carolina State, who by the way has absolutely no sacks thus far as a Houston Texan. This isn’t to rub anyone’s nose in anything, but one can say that we will not run dead last in sacks for a third consecutive season as we have had.
“He’s coming along good,” defensive tackle Bryant Young said. “He understands the importance of playing big in games you need to play big in, and he came through today.” Defensive tackle Anthony Adams added, “He’s growing up and getting comfortable with all the calls.”
On the game’s fourth snap, Manny Lawson was one on one with premier All-Pro left tackle Orlando Pace, and then had the good opportunity of finding Marc Bulger stepping up into the pocket and into his arms for career sack No. 1. The selfless Manny Lawson credited that sack to the 49ers secondary, which played exceptionally well and held its own against deep threats Torry Holt, Isaac Bruce and Shaun McDonald. He continued to thank both Brandon Moore and Bryant Young for pressuring Marc Bulger on the other side of the pocket.
Lawson’s second sack came on the Rams first snap of the second half, and again he credited others for it. Linebacker Jeff Ulbrich burst up the middle on a blitz and fed Marc Bulger right to Manny Lawson, who raced untouched past the Rams fullback. The San Francisco 49er defense fed on St. Louis Rams quarterback Marc Bulger all day with a collective total of six sacks. Manny Lawson, as indicated, pitched in with two and on top of that a bone crushing stop on running back Steven Jackson for a 2-yard loss in the third quarter. 49ers safety Chad Williams came out of the backfield for two sacks and both Bryant Young and Marques Douglass each recorded one a piece. In fact, it was on a few of these stops that Alex Smith was able to hit Arnaz Battle for a 56-yard pass completion that led to 32-yard field goal by Joe Nedney to open the game up for the 49ers.
In a 49er secondary that often displayed immense confusion in Week One against the Arizona Cardinals, this secondary came out into the game like absolutely nothing happened at all last Sunday.
“It was just correcting some things,” cornerback Shawntae Spencer said. “We had a lot of mistakes last week and we made corrections.”
Despite the finger-pointing last week and the utter lack of communication that seemed to be a lost element in Arizona, the 49er secondary coaches went to work and made alterations in conjunction with tweaking a few players and schemes…and made the right choices.
49er veteran cornerback Walt Harris played exceptionally well, who broke up three attempted Rams passes and made seven tackles. And because of the vast improvement in the secondary covering the lethal threats the St. Louis Rams were deploying, the interior defensive line of the 49ers was able to feed off Marc Bulger for a total of six sacks that sent them reeling backwards time and time again.
“I was just playing the calls and being where I was supposed to be,” Harris said. “I just need to be where I’m supposed to be and plays will come to me instead of trying to make things happen.”
And despite St. Louis Rams running back Steven Jackson running for 103 yards and a 4.7-yard per carry average, the 49er defense stepped up and made plays where they counted the most on third downs and even denied him from making a touchdown.
“The extremely positive thing about our team, the thing that gets me fired up, is how we improve,” Ulbrich said. “If you look at the pre-season, Dallas and Oakland did a lot of perimeter running and were very successful with it. So the coaches put a lot of emphasis on stopping that. And when other teams have tried to do perimeter runs against us since, we’ve smashed it. We take a weakness and try to make it our strength.”
I couldn’t have said that better myself. In fact, it is what the entire team is doing as a collective unit right before our very eyes. Mike Nolan recognizes that and said just that at his Monday news conference following the game. We can see improvement in this football team from just one year ago today.
There is no questioning that success builds and breeds success just as Mike Nolan indicated. We are a football team on the move and that is a good thing. We have a lot more to come obviously, and will again be tested by a premier contending team in the Philadelphia Eagles with veteran quarterback Donovan McNabb at the controls.
The task at hand again becomes an immense one. But it is one that again will define who we are. Progress has been made, and a victory validates almost everything. Monster Park needs to be the extra man on defense, not offense as Mike Nolan indicated. Noise is welcomed, but at the right moments. Let’s make that noise heard throughout the NFL this coming Sunday.
The views within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.
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