Coming off an exciting, sometimes frustrating 16-13 overtime win over the Falcons, a few of the serious questions regarding the 2001 49ers were answered. Sort of.

1. The 49ers need to spend the bulk of the 2002 draft on some offensive lineman.
I know that I’m jumping the gun on this call, but the fact that the team is only carrying eight linemen should be very troubling considering their performance Sunday. Jeff Garcia had little time to throw and was on the run all day. Hearst and Barlow had few holes to work with. And this was against the Falcons defensive line. This is especially troubling when you consider that the 49ers offensive line has usually gotten off to good starts in the past few seasons.

If one of the running backs does not step up next week, Jeff Garcia is going to get hammered. Garcia has spent the last year dancing in the pocket and throwing for 300 yards. But that was with a running game. If the defense – especially the Saints defense – starts disregarding the run, things could get ugly for the 49ers offense.

2. The running game misses Garner.
Neither Hearst nor Barlow looked especially promising. This is the same line that Garner dashed through for back-to-back 1100-yard seasons. Garner was extremely quick and could hit the hole equally quick. Hearst certainly did plenty of that in 1998, but I did not see the same player Sunday. Barlow looked very indecisive in his few carries.

3. The passing game does not miss Rice
I had one of those 'Where has JJ Stokes been all day?’ moments in the third quarter. Of course, this was usually a question Stokes answered with one of his famous 3-catch, 35-yard days. But with two catches – one a 40 yarder down the left sideline and another for the 49ers’ lone touchdown – Stokes suddenly emerged into the player we saw flashes of in 1998. Here’s to hoping that this is the start of a solid season and not just another tease.

Tai Streets looked fabulous. Leg injury? What leg injury? He broke tackles and was lethal every time he touched the ball. With all apologies to Fred Beasley, the 49ers need to work with a few more three wideout packages to get Streets involved more. The play of #83 and #89 was a very encouraging sign of health for the passing game, because the Falcons made it clear with their coverages that Terrell Owens is perceived as the only major passing threat. Stokes and Streets must make defenses pay if the 49ers are going to win this year, and they did Sunday.

4. Andre Carter is not Jevon Kearse
There was endless talk from the offensive lineman in the preseason about how great Andre Carter was going to be. There was talk of 10 sacks. There was even talk of Rookie of the Year. Of him having a Jevon Kearse kind of impact.

All of those things could still happen, but so far we haven’t seen a lick of it. Carter looked tentative all preseason, and was invisible against the Falcons. He held his own, and was in good position to make some nice plays vs. the run. My opinion of Carter has been – and will remain – that he’s a player who will develop into a Pro Bowler. But I don’t think he’ll be that kind of player yet. He will eventually be a very solid end – sometimes great, but not a superstar.

5. The defense is on the rise
Considering that the Falcons have their share of offensive weapons, and considering that Jamal Anderson looked better than I thought he would, the 49ers should be very happy with their defensive performance.

Jamal Anderson looked very good, and appeared to be fully recovered from his 1999 knee injury. Even though he ran hard and showed some burst, he ended the day averaging less yards per carry than Hearst – 3.3 yards vs. Hearst’s 3.4 – on 34 carries. The 49ers defense deserves most of the credit there. Bryant Young was unbelievable again – he was occupying multiple blocker every play and was held on two occasions that I happened to see (both went uncalled). Remember, the Falcons had a ten-point lead for a long stretch of this game, which allowed them to vary their play calling to keep the 49ers defense off balance. Derek Smith looked very comfortable at linebacker and made 12 tackles. Ahmed Plummer looked very good and had a nice pass breakup. The Falcons lone touchdown came thanks to a bad pass interference call on Jason Webster.

All in all, the 49ers broke even. The defense showed some signs of encouragement. But the offense cannot win with the way they ran the ball against Atlanta. The Falcons are one of the worst teams in the NFL. We’ll have a better idea of what kind of team these 2001 49ers are when they play New Orleans next week.