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At 5-5, things are looking up for San Francisco

Nov 20, 2006 at 4:08 PM0

On Sunday, the San Francisco 49ers did something that they have not done in four years. The team won three games in a row. It was the first time that the 49ers have done this since beating the Cardinals, Raiders and Chiefs in consecutive weeks during the 2002 season.

Three weeks ago, the 49ers had lost two straight to fall to 2-5. It was the second week in a row that the team had given up over 40 points. The season seemed lost and the team looked to be headed nowhere. After Sunday’s stunning win against the defending NFC Champion Seattle Seahawks, the team has evened its record to 5-5 and is one game behind first place Seattle in the NFC West.

At the beginning of the season, if you had asked anyone where they felt the team would be after 11 weeks, no one would have said 5-5. A .500 season seemed a bit optimistic before the start of the season. Now it looks very doable. Two of their next six games are at home against the Packers and the Cardinals. The rest are on the road against the Rams (who they have beaten once this year), Saints, Seahawks (who they beat on Sunday) and Broncos. If they pull off a win against just one of those teams and take care of business at home, that will put the 49ers at 8-8. Anything more than that and the team may not only be able to compete for a playoff spot, but may be able to compete for the NFC West. Seattle still has to face the Broncos on the road, the Chargers and a rematch at home against the 49ers.

What is even more surprising is how the 49ers have won their last three games. After giving up an average of over 33 points to their opponents during the first 7 games, the team has only given up 10 per game in their last three. So their defense has been much improved.

A lot of that improvement has to do with the contributions of linebacker Brandon Moore and safety Keith Lewis. Once considered backups on the team, both have emerged as strong starters after replacing players that saw their productivity diminish.

But before you start calling for playoff tickets, let’s step back and be a bit realistic here. Yes, the team is improving. Yes, the team is just one game out of first in the NFC West. But the remaining schedule is no walk through the park. As previously mentioned, four of their next six games are on the road. The team's inability to play well away from Monster Park has been a big weakness.

The offense started the season very well and showed that they could be dangerous through the air and on the ground. The passing game has dropped significantly since the injury to Vernon Davis. While Davis' production has not been great in the games he has played, his return adds another dimension to the way opposing defenses plan for the 49ers. Davis' raw potential makes him a threat and that opens the field up for receivers Antonio Bryant and Arnaz Battle.

One guy that is turning into one of the team's few superstars is running back Frank Gore. If you throw out that fumble late in the fourth quarter, he was nearly perfect against the Seahawks. He had 212 rushing yards on Sunday breaking the team's single game record. Gore is certainly gaining some attention around the NFL and among the media. He may be the best 49ers running back since Roger Craig...and that's coming from a huge Garrison Hearst fan. As many Niner fans know, that is a huge compliment to Gore. His ability to find the open hole, his burst through that hole and his ability to run through tacklers have helped Gore run his way to 1,043 yards, which leads the NFC. Gore leads the NFL in yards per carry with 5.5. It is the first time that a 49ers running back has gone over 1,000 yards in a season since 2003 when Kevan Barlow had 1,024. Gore still has six games to play.

Another key element in the 49ers recent success is their ability to hold on to close games. The 49ers have won each of their last three games by six points. They practically gift wrapped a comeback win for Seattle on Sunday after a Gore fumble and a Joe Nedney missed field goal. Still, the defense was able to hold on as Marcus Hudson recovered a Mack Strong fumble to end the game. A year ago, this young and inexperienced team would have lost a game like this. While the team is not where it needs to be yet, they are learning how to hold on to leads and close out games.

A better record does more for the 49ers this season than a high draft pick would. Sure the team has plenty of money next season to sign high draft picks, but would that be the best thing for the 49ers? Probably not. Solid players can still be found in the middle to lower halves of each round. Look at Steven Jackson, Larry Johnson and Troy Polamalu just to name a few. For all of you that wanted the team to trade up right after the end of last season in order to pick Reggie Bush, where would the team be now if they had done that? The 49ers would not have a great prospect like Vernon Davis. They probably would not have Manny Lawson either. And in his second year as a pro, Frank Gore is performing well beyond expectations. Gore likely would have had to share his role with Reggie Bush which would have limited his production.

Winning now also helps the team lure in potential free agents. If you are a free agent and look at the 49ers versus a team like the Cardinals, Lions or Raiders, which would you rather go to? They will see the 49ers as a team headed in the right direction. Even if another team has a lot more talent at key positions like the Cardinals, they can’t find a way to win. That right there tells you something about the organization. The 49ers are doing more now with a lot less talent than some teams with more talent and worse records. This only increases the team’s chances to bring in key players. And if the 49ers make any type of push for the playoffs, players will see that this is a team that is only missing a few components and will likely see San Francisco as a good opportunity.

San Francisco is definitely headed in the right direction and is finding its own identity. They are ahead of schedule in their rebuilding process and no one really wants to face them at this point. They are too unpredictable. This is a team that can be beat by good teams if they play well. However, if you come in with your guard down and expect to walk all over San Francisco, they may shock you.
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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