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The 2008 San Francisco 49ers will look back on this past Sunday with a realistic grin as they achieved a tender moment in terminating the six consecutive game losing skid they had been on with both Mike Nolan and Mike Singletary. With their season isolated to playing out the rest of their regular season games and looking yet again to the future, the 49ers have been left wounded but still with a lot of fight left.
This was in fact the best game of the entire 2008 NFL season for the 49ers both offensively and defensively. The 49ers manufactured all of their offensive points within the first half with an unexpected and unusual tally of 35-3 in their favor. On five consecutive offensive drives the 49er offense with Shaun Hill as the quarterback scored almost at will.
Not only was the entire team jubilant that Mike Singletary had secured his first victory as the interim head coach but the 49er faithful were as well. The agonizing and depressing synchronicity that the franchise had been performing at was finally pushed to the next level in that both sides of the ball contributed with perfect balance to secure this victory.
The game against the St. Louis Rams inside Candlestick Park started off with ominous signs as on the 49ers very first offensive drive Frank Gore was run down from behind and had the ball knocked out form his grasp resulting in a fumble. The 49er defense came out and sent them back three and out.
Upon the second drive Shaun Hill marched the 49ers down the field to the five-yard line where Frank Gore delivered a blow up the middle for our first touchdown as atonement for his prior sin. Frank Gore would never look back on this day in the negative because he delivered yet another touchdown in the second quarter and had carried the ball 18 times for a total of 106 total yards and 5.9- yards per carry average.
This is how the West Coast Offense is supposed to look like when done with calculated precision and with a systematic approach in maximizing running the ball to help set-up the pass. Frank Gore flourishes when he has the ball in his grasp and is finding loop hole lanes to run through and up the field. In fact one could argue as some sports analysts already have that Frank Gore should see 25-30 carries a game to reach his maximum potential.
There is little question that Mike Singletary has tempered the high-flying aerial circus that offensive coordinator Mike Martz has long been associated with. He believes in a smash-mouth philosophy of winning yards up front and moving the chains the old-fashioned way with pure physical might and a will to get the job done in the red zone.
Mike Martz is seemingly now committed to the run versus the pass. How long he'll continue to do this is yet another question. Still Martz is finding ways to move the ball with Shaun Hill at the controls and is appreciating the progress we have been able to achieve with him at the helm.
Shaun Hill is reminding the 49er faithful of the other quarterback we admired so well and is doing an exceptional job now with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Hill fits the mold of a Jeff Garcia in that he is unafraid to take on bigger players when it comes to focusing on the ball and leads with his head to pick-up a few more precious yards in order to achieve the first down.
He was on main stage in this game with his jaunt into the end zone for a touchdown that left everyone in awe from one end of the Bay to the next. His ability to successfully manage games and provide a tempo are key elements towards his continued success. He completed 15-of-20 passes for 213 total yards and two touchdowns with one to Vernon Davis and Bryant Johnson in the end zone.
He was sacked twice for a loss of 14 total yards but finished the game with a quarterback rating of near perfection at 142.3. His long bomb of 42 total yards to Bryant Johnson was a sunrise sight to sore eyes. He worked his craft on the field by getting the ball to almost everyone that was declared as an eligible receiver.
Defensively it was about time for reckoning day for a secondary that has been well-paid but underachieving from one game to the next as we recovered a fumble by way of Parys Haralson and had two interceptions courtesy of Walt Harris and Nate Clements. Marc Bulger was sacked three times for a loss of 15 total yards and found himself hurrying as the pressure was dialed-up.
Yet despite all the glory that was the first half, the 49ers found little solace in how they under-performed in the second half by not scoring at all and going on a buffet gorging frenzy of sustaining one penalty after another resulting in us being outscored 13-0. There has to be an ability to put your enemy away and finish the game by playing in unison for a full four quarters, not just a half. Mike Singletary cautioned everyone at securing false hope just because we had come away with a victory, reminding everyone that it was how we finish the game that is the most important phase of the game.
Certainly penalties are the Achilles heel to our offense. Seven of them for a loss of 33 total yards, the most hideous being the three consecutive false start penalties we incurred in the second half that resulted in us punting the ball away as we did the entire second half.
Some are already saying that our victory carries very little significance because it is against the struggling St. Louis Rams that are without their star running back in Steven Jackson? Well that question has some legitimacy to it being that we haven't really beaten anyone of significance except for ourselves all season long.
Turnovers, penalties, lack of execution and focus, lack of protection up front and inability to provide a pass rush are all key elements towards our demise this season. These are the reasons why we are not at the top of our division where we rightfully should be.
Mike Singletary will get us there. I believe in that. The players have bought into that. The coaches that were Mike Nolan's believe in that. The majority of the 49er faithful is starting to believe that. Can we hang with the "big boys," though like the Dallas Cowboys and Buffalo Bills?
Those are the real roadblocks that lay ahead for us to encounter. The motivations and tempo of this team has changed for the positive. Now we need to see discipline and accountability. Mike Singletary is the old-school mentalist that will get the job done with each individual player psychologically. The net result is what we are seeing from a physical standpoint out on the field as we watch each Sunday.
Wounded but still fighting is where this team is at right now. Finishing the season on the best possible high has to be the goal of consensus from everyone which also involves us as fans. Mike Singletary is the head of that spear that will take down the ugly mammoth of this season quite like the movie 10,000 BC illustrated to us earlier this year.
Sources of Information: Mercury News.com, SF Gate.com, Inside Bay Area.com, NFL.com and my own personal analysis and opinion.