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Mike Singletary has his San Francisco 49ers humming like a professional race car in the Daytona 500 as we try and make the stretch run on the 2008 NFL season by reaching the .500 mark as a crowning achievement for an interim head coach that inherited a momentous challenge to overcome Mike Nolan's shortcomings.
Defeating a playoff caliber team in the Buffalo Bills and now a division leading team in the New York Jets 24-14 at Candlestick Park and on Bill Walsh Field has set a new mindset for this franchise. Looking at the film over and over I come away amazed and astonished at the cumulative effort being manufactured out on the field as a team oriented philosophy.
If there is anything one can say as a 49er fan, it is that Mike Singletary along with his coaching staff has won the hearts and minds of these players once and for all. It is carried over from the players living rooms to locker rooms and finally and most importantly to the actual field of battle. This is a team that has finally found its true identity by all working together.
We are now fighting to establish a San Francisco 49er identity and to super-size our own mentality on making fewer mistakes and executing with precision out on the playing field. Although the post-season for us is not but a want till next season, this team is playing as if tomorrow is it's post-season. The determination to exorcise the demons that were plaguing the team has been successful with the Singletary doctrine.
The recognition that needs to go around as a result of this game is far to much to categorize, but I will start with the offensive line as this was probably the best performance they've ever had with center Eric Heitmann nullifying big New York Jets nose tackle Kris Jenkins with some help from right guard Chilo Rachal who is making his presence felt.
Left guard David Baas has restored the nastiness that was missing on the left side and is very adapt at showing improved athleticism for someone his size in his pulling ability on running plays. Left tackle Joe Staley continues to show marked improvement in protecting Hill's blind side and driving towards the ball as indicated in his fumble recovery in the end zone for a 49er touchdown in which he spiked it with great enthusiasm.
The play of the offensive line seems to be getting better with each passing game. It is here where Mike Singletary wanted the smash-mouth mentality of winning the war at the line of scrimmage. I think the writing is on the wall for Jonas Jennings to be let go with Chilo Rachal proving to be a worthy draft pick. Shaun Hill is now defiantly standing longer in the pocket as he surveys the field for potential targets.
I was pleasantly surprised to see everyone converting to maximize protection on his behalf and this proved legitimate in converting 53% of their third down conversions. Offensively the 49ers put up 25 total first downs, 375 total yards of offense with only three penalties for 25 loss yards.
Shaun Hill was the field general we have all yearned for particularly in this game as he hit a variety of receivers and employed a great rushing attack that churned up 100 total yards with Frank Gore accounting for 52 of them before being injured in the third quarter by result of a sprained ankle that banished him from the remainder of the game and his goal of 1,000 total yards and beyond in 2008.
Shaun Hill completed 28-of-39 passes for 285 total yards with two touchdowns one to Frank Gore and the other Bryant Johnson. He was sacked twice for a loss of 10 total yards and threw one interception. Hill ended the day with a 98.8 quarterback rating and is starting to make a legitimate case to be the starting quarterback of the future.
When you figure in the long road we have seen in the quarterback carousel since 2004, with the departure of Jeff Garcia who has been very successful with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers assisting them to a playoff spot, we have been an offense with absolutely no teeth. Shaun Hill has been the only quarterback with a winning record that provides us any hope for a view into the future.
Hill threw the ball to 10 different targets during this game and chewed up the game clock to the tune of 39:49 compared to 20:11 for the New York Jets. The only callous on the offense was the five total fumbles that were lost with all being recovered except for one. Ball security is something Mike will have to address and hammer into every player's collective mind if we are to play with the top gun teams in this league.
Kick off returns showed a good average with Delanie Walker and Michael Robinson getting the workload but punts were mishandled by Arnaz Battle for the most part. I am intrigued by the vast assortment of offensive playmakers we have on our active roster most noticeably the up and coming Bryant Johnson, Jason Hill and now even Dominique Zeigler.
Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker still could be the best tandem duo tight end set in the entire NFL as both shows a promising contribution to an offense that is just starting to get itself back up and on track. Mike Martz is discovering a lot of potential breakaway threats on his arsenal that continue to cry aloud for the ball.
Defensively we had veteran superstar quarterback Brett Favre back on his heels all day long as our defense peeled their ears back and attacked relentlessly in sustaining just enough pressure to rattle his old cage now and then. He completed only 20-of-31 passes for just 137 total yards and was sacked three times for a loss of 14 total yards and was intercepted by veteran 49er cornerback Walt Harris. He ended the day with a 60.8 quarterback rating very uncharacteristic of the man they call Favre.
The main characters providing the heat were Parys Haralson, Justin Smith and Roderick Green. In what was the defensive line's season-long opportunity to stop the running game they held Thomas Jones and company to just 59 total rushing yards and practically forced Brett into throwing situations to try and catch up.
I must say that defensive coordinator Greg Manusky is starting to enjoy his new found choice of freedom in making the main calls from the sidelines rather then play interference when Mike Nolan who saw something he thought was pressing which appears to be more like meddling than it was in the form of cooperation.
Even without the reliable man they call "lockdown," being Nate Clements, the San Francisco 49er secondary with Donald Strickland and Tarell Brown effectively cemented outstanding coverage with both safeties in Mark Roman and Michael Lewis playing with a renewed vigor. With a team that was once staring at a (2-7) overall dismal record we are now at (5-8) and in striking distance of finishing second place within our weak division.
My worry is legitimate when we look at DeShaun Foster as being the starting running back going into Miami to play the Dolphins. He seems to have ill regard for securing and holding on to the football when his number is called and we rely on him for a big play.
Should we go to Miami and win we will have run the board on almost all of the American League's Eastern Division except for the New England Patriots. If we can go into the cold clammy climate we know as Buffalo and win on the road we certainly should be feeling pretty comfortable in entering sunny and warm Miami with great expectations to ruin a promising playoff run for the Dolphins.
With but three games left on our season, the reality that we will all be watching someone else is disappointing. If we can win even two out of three and finish on a high that we can take into the next season, that alone is worth a reward we all owe ourselves in anointing Mike Singletary as our official head coach with a new contract for change.
Sources of Information: Mercury News.com, SF Gate.com, Inside Bay Area.com, NFL.com and my own personal analysis and opinion.