A mess of a season so far

Sep 29, 2003 at 12:00 AM0


Before week 4, many could argue that the 49ers were 6 points away from being an undefeated 3-0 team. However, on the opposite side of that, many could argue that this team was one decent opponent away from being a winless 0-3 club. Either way, a week 4 game against the undefeated Minnesota Vikings erased all the mystery on where this team was. The San Francisco 49ers are indeed falling apart.

The 49ers' defense was getting early raves in regards to its aggressiveness and speed. To make up for a lack of depth in the defensive backfield, 49ers defensive coach, Jim Mora Jr., was sending in heavy blitzes to try and rattle opposing quarterbacks. However, this was the first time that the 49ers would face an offensive line like the Vikings'. The defense was manhandled and the lack of depth at cornerback became abundantly clear. Especially when they were asked to cover Vikings' receiver Randy Moss. It really didn't matter who was in there at quarterback when you are behind a line like that. Moss repeatedly beat the corners and made his way into the end zone three times with receptions of 15, 35, and 59 yards.

On the other side of the ball, it was an even bigger mess. Jeff Garcia was off target and was intercepted 3 times during the game. All 3 of those interceptions came before halftime. But this was not the only game that Garcia has struggled in. While Garcia has been bothered by back and groin injuries of late, he insists that these injuries are not the reason for his poor play.

"It's definitely something that's not completely healthy, but I feel that I could work through any sort of issue that I had with the groin and be a good quarterback. I don't feel that it is what held our team back," said Garcia.

Garcia will have to wait at least another week to join fellow quarterbacks Joe Montana, Steve Young, John Brodie and Y.A. Tittle as the only 49ers to throw at least 100 touchdowns. Garcia has thrown 99.

So why are they struggling?

There are a number of reasons why the 49ers could be struggling. One of these reasons could be the coaching. This is not your father's 49ers offense. Maybe that is the problem. The 49ers have moved away from the traditional west coast offense in an effort to open things up a bit more. This is something that the owners and fans have wanted for some time now. This is the reason that coach Steve Mariucci is no longer with the team. But at what point do you completely abandon something that has worked so well for so long? Instead of tweaking and improving a working system, the 49ers are trying to be much more aggressive on offense. This is something that, for whatever reason, was not displayed much during the preseason so it is an offense that is still pretty new to the players.

While much of the team has said that they like the new offensive system, Garcia is clearly struggling. Anytime Garcia has been thrown into a new offensive scheme, he has not put on that great of a show. Just take a look at most of his Pro Bowl appearances.

Is Garcia adapting as well as he claims? Only he knows. He has played through injury in the past and played well, so why should this be any different? Regardless, Garcia is one of the best quarterbacks in the league and he is the 49ers' best chance of winning. But is he struggling because of the system?

Again, if something works, then stick with it. The 49ers are not running the ball too badly this season. Yet coach Erickson often abandons the running game when it is working so well. Balance is the name of the game in the NFL and when you don't have that, your team will struggle. It's a shame that even when the running game struggles for only a play or two, it is given up on. By the time you want to start it up again, you are down and forced to start passing in order to play catch-up.

During the offseason, the 49ers had a real pressing need to address the cornerback problem. In the end, they did nothing to fix it and it is certainly showing. When it comes to complimenting Ahmed Plummer, Jason Webster (who has been injured) is hardly the answer. Mike Rumph is nowhere near ready to be a starter. Should the 49ers have drafted a starting corner? No. This needed to be addressed during free agency, not through the draft. The 49ers can't afford to wait for another young corner to struggle his way through a rookie season. They needed veteran help and leadership now.

The 49ers' lack of talent at cornerback was finally made apparent against the Vikings. This was largely due to the defense's inability to create a strong pass rush. They said they did not need it and now they are suffering the consequences.

Owens has yet another tantrum

Have you seen the new Budweiser commercial? A running back sits in the locker room and is asked by a reporter to explain the team's breakdown. He explains that football is a team sport, so he must lay the blame on his supporting cast…his teammates. He then says that he has been the one carrying the team. The reporter then asks if his 3 fumbles had anything to do with the loss. The running back replies by explaining that any one of his teammates could have jumped on the ball. After all, he can't be expected to do everything. It's a pretty amusing commercial, but sadly, it now seems very familiar.

Terrell Owens was up to his old ways again during the third quarter against the Vikings. Fans have become quite familiar with his little temper tantrums. He was very vocal toward coaches (particularly offensive coordinator Gregg Knapp) and fellow teammates during the game. He was also happy to express his anger to the media after the game. While there is no argument that Owens is one of the best in the game, right now, he is not as good as he thinks he is. Owens has been struggling all season long. While all the balls thrown his way are not 100% on target, many are. And when they are catchable, especially for a player of his caliber, he is often frustrating fans by dropping them.

When asked what the team's problem seems to be, he had a simple 4 word answer: "We got no heart." Of course, according to Owens, he is never to blame. He went on to say "Nobody can ever question how hard I play...I play hard, regardless. I'm a winner in God's eyes." Nobody is questioning his work ethic. However, so far this season, his desire to get to the ball and make plays has been less than impressive. Even when he is one on one with smaller cornerbacks, they are the ones making plays for the ball, not him. Oh sure, he may beat some of them, but the way he is talking, you would think he was the only one out there making an effort.

When Jeff Garcia was asked about Owen's comments, he simply said, "I'm really through with answering questions about T.O. and his frustrations and his situations on the sidelines…just don't want to answer any more." Garcia is not the only one fed up.

The bottom line is that Owens is not getting open. That is why he is not being thrown to. When he is getting open and is passed to, he juuuuust misses it. This is surprising considering that this is a contract year for him and he is demanding a rather outrageous paycheck. His desire to win is commendable, but these little tantrums of his are getting very old. Owens is hardly in a place to question the team's heart.

Outlook not so great

No worries right? It is only week 4 and there is plenty of football to play. Looking at the schedule, there are plenty of beatable teams on there, right? Well, looking at it now, no one seems to be an easy win. This is especially true when you are a team that lost to the Cleveland Browns. What was originally seen as a mismatch, former 49ers coach Steve Mariucci and his Lions have to be licking their chomps. This weekend, they will head into Mariucci's old stomping grounds to take on a struggling 49ers team.

"If we're worried about him, we got a real problem -- seriously," Owens said. "If anybody's going to be jacked up, it's going to be him. I'm not worried about him. They're probably worse than we are, or just as bad."

And you can bet that this would be a big victory for the Lions. It is a must win situation for the 49ers if their season is to be salvaged. Even if they make it past the Lions, no one is an easy win anymore so the 49ers will have to make adjustments this week if they even plan on having a winning season.

Notes, quotes, and anecdotes

The 49ers have made it into the end zone only once in their past two games. It was a 37-yard pass to Tai Streets from Tim Rattay against the Vikings when the game was pretty much over. It was also the 49ers' longest play from scrimmage this season.

"[The Vikings] did whatever they wanted," coach Erickson said. "I thought our players fought back in the second half. We had some opportunities in the second half but we couldn't get it in the end zone. We just got beat by a team that was better than us today."

Offensive lineman Scott Gragg commented, "There's no lack of desire or want-to or passion...That's what makes it so frustrating."

Garcia completed 11 of 23 for 108 yards and 3 interceptions. He finished with an 21.9 quarterback rating.

On a good note, the 49ers still have not been shut out since Oct. 9, 1977 when they lost 7-0 against the Falcons.
The opinions 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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