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After resembling more of a train wreck than a pro football team for the past three weeks, the San Francisco 49ers may finally be back on track. After a resounding 17 point win in hostile Texas Stadium (their first away win since week 3 last season) coach Mariucci may have stumbled upon the formula which could produce a few more W's before seasons end.
During the week preceding the Dallas game, Mariucci highlighted certain aspects of the 49ers game plan which would require improvement in order to turn around their losing skid and avert their first 0 - 4 start since 1979 - time of possession and third down conversions.
Controlling the ball means that you control the clock, and in turn control the tempo and speed of the game. After observing the defensive performance during the previous 3 weeks, it had become increasingly obvious that until such time as the rookies develop into players capable of holding their own, maintaining possession of the ball by converting critical third downs is a must. It appears as though the practice has paid off.
Against the Dallas 'D', the 49ers managed to convert 11 of 15 third downs for first downs. This allowed the 49ers to chew up almost 38 minutes of the game clock.
A major part of the 49ers ability to sustain drives can be linked to Charlie Garners club record 201 yards on the ground. Much like Duce Staley of the Eagles, Garner sliced up the run defense of the Cowboys who were helpless to stop such an onslaught. When it appeared as though Garner would go nowhere, a strong second effort ensured that what could have been a loss was turned into positive yardage.
The offensive line that many believed only a couple of weeks ago would be an area of concern performed admirably. Garcia had the protection needed to make second and third reads, something that only last year was considered a luxury. The front line blocking to open up running lanes for Garner could only be described as a thing of beauty. Not bad for a unit that lost permanent starter Chris Dalman for the season.
In addition to the 49ers ground attack, the receivers also had a big day out despite early dropped balls by Jerry Rice. Owens and Rice combined for a total of 9 receptions for 124 yards and 4 touchdowns. The running of Garner obviously made the Dallas defense edgy expecting the 49ers to pound it in over the goal line. This caused them to bite on a couple of suspected run plays resulting in wide-open receivers for Garcia to pick and choose.
Oh, did I mention Jeff Garcia? His numbers were 16 of 26 attempts for 178 yards and 4 touchdowns. A truly courageous effort for a second year QB in the NFL who only a couple of years ago was throwing passes in the CFL. Jeff is out to silence his critics and he has realized that the best way to do that is to let the numbers speak for themselves. Unlike the quarterback controversy in Dallas, back in the Bay Area there is no confusion as to who is running the show.
It was nice to see all phases of the 49ers game plan come together, and some might say, "It's about time!" The offensive line provided protection for Garcia and running lanes for Garner; the defensive line provided a pass rush while limiting the Dallas running game to a mere 76 yards; and the defensive secondary are finally coming together as a unit. Hopefully the 49ers can continue this winning formula and restore some pride and respectability back into a once great franchise.