Despite a Loss, the 49ers Should Be Out of the NFL Basement

Sep 13, 2004 at 12:00 AM


It starts. An entire season of losing and being the brunt of your co-worker's jokes at the water cooler began Sunday with a loss to the Falcons. The Falcons; a team with a supposedly gimpy quarterback who couldn't grasp the offense he was given. A team with a porous defense. A team that was beatable.

It looks like 49er fans are in for a season of being that guy. You know him, we all know him. He's the guy who roots for the Red Sox every year. He's the guy who wore the Bengals jersey in 2002 all the while thinking to himself "this is their year!" (They finished 2 and 14). He's the only guy in California who wears a Warriors jersey out in public. He is known as a person who falls under one label: Your team sucks. Even today during the game, when commenting on Michael Vick's progression the commentator said something to the effect of "well, this is only the Niners"; seemingly putting the 49ers in that basement-dwelling class of teams that was so recently occupied by the Chargers.

But is that really where the 49ers belong?

On Sunday I saw a defense take the field against a team that did not look like it was in disarray, as many contended. Michael Vick was precise and accurate. Warrick Dunn looked more like a break out back, instead of someone coming off of a foot injury. And yet, the defense still held the Falcons to a 9% third down conversion percentage (1 for 11). They clamped down in the second half and held the opposition to just 95 yards rushing even though they were gashed open by Warrick Dunn in the first half. The defense sacked the most elusive quarterback in the NFL four times and held him to just 10 rushing yards on 6 carries. Oh yeah, they caught an interception, forced two fumbles and a blocked punt.

What about the offense, the supposed weak link in the 49er armor? Despite the fact that the Falcon defense, in typical Jim Mora fashion, blitzed everyone, including my grandmother at one point, the 49ers moved the ball. (My grandmother was unharmed). The 49ers chewed up 359 total yards of total offense, 266 of which were with an aerial attack that was supposed to be no better than your little brother's peewee football team. Eight different receivers contributed, with Wilson and Johnson getting most of the grabs. They even had a 6-minute advantage in time of possession and 18 more offensive plays. The place where the 49ers lacked offensively was in the rushing game. But over the last few seasons the 49er rushing game has been as automatic as thousand-yard rushers in Denver, and there is no indication that either will cease this season.

Even the kicking game enjoyed relative success. And of course by that I mean they did not miss an extra point or a field goal and Lee, the rookie punter, averaged over 40 yards a punt (40.8).

The 49ers weren't beat by the Falcons - they were beat by the 49ers. Turnovers and penalties spelled doom for the Niners. Usually a penalty free team, the 49ers were penalized 10 times for 57 yards often putting themselves in third and long situations. Barlow, who trainers say sweats Crisco, coughed up the ball on the first play from scrimmage deep in Falcons territory. Instead of a high percentage field goal or a possible touchdown, the 49ers just handed the ball back to the Falcons after a blocked punt. A mere three points instead of a fumble would have changed the outcome of this one. But the game clinching play was Rattay's interception down at the Falcons three-yard line that was returned 85 yards. He made a poor read and handed the Falcons a 21-6 lead in the third quarter. The 49ers handed the game to the Falcons, and they were good enough to take it.

The moral to the story? These problems are correctable. Barlow needs to hold onto the ball. Rattay needs to either 1) make better reads, or 2) make way for Ken Dorsey who will surely be the starter by season's end. Most of all, the 49ers need to find a way to put the ball in to the end zone. Too often the offense drove into the red-zone only to stall like a "Pimp My Ride" reject. With some minor adjustments, the 49ers should be able to put up six instead of three. It would worry me if the 49ers had no talent, or if the offense were as useless as flip-flops in Antarctica. Anyone who saw the game clearly saw that the 49ers are not as bad as everyone thought. Sure they may have lost this game, but they proved that they will not be the doormats of the NFL. The defense will be exciting, and the offense will surprise people. The 49ers will make people scrap for every inch while everyone continues to underestimate them. Perhaps 49er fans will not be the brunt of all of the jokes around the water cooler. After this game, it looks like the season may not be so gloomy after all.
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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