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Article Title: Winning Isn't Good Enough
Article Date: September 20 2003
By Bryan Hersh

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I guess I should begin by apologizing for the tardiness in this particular article. Most of you likely have realized that I’m back at school, and that’s pretty much my explanation for the delay this week. I will certainly try and make sure that this does not become a habit. This past week, where I had about 200 pages of readings in 5 subjects, I am hoping will not become the norm. So all that in conjunction with the responsibilities surrounding my part time job has certainly kept me busy. Nevertheless, I’ve found some time to cram out the article below…

Had Cederick Wilson gone down at the end of the Rams game and the team had enough time to call time out, I have little faith that kicker Jeff Chandler would have made the game winning field goal from outside 40 yards (apparently the team feels the same way, having released him in favour of left footed kicker, Owen Pochman); but if he had and if the 49ers moved to 2-0, I still would not be satisfied with this game. There were simply too many things that went wrong in this game, too much lack of discipline and too many bad plays to walk away from this game smiling, even had victory come our way.

Many fans will point to how we ‘almost beat the Rams’ and much of the media is protesting that the logical step between losing to the Rams and beating them consistently is ‘sticking with them’ which is what we did, and we should be happy with that – especially considering almost losing Jeff Garcia and Terrell Owens in the same game. To them I have two counter arguments. The first is that not all victories are sweet, and so winning this one, would have been a great win to have, but the team was certainly not playing well enough to deserve it. Second I remain unconvinced that the Rams are anything but a shadow of their former selves. We will certainly get a good indicator this weekend when they face the Seahawks (who themselves have lots to prove). The Rams have not shown me anything over the past two seasons to indicate that they are the team to beat, and while that may change, at least for the time being, I do not take this loss as ‘sticking with’ one of the top teams in the NFL, I take this loss as being beaten by a playoff contender at best.

That is not to say there were no positives in this game. There were, and plenty of them. Our defense was the best I have seen it in quite some time in the first half of the game. Our running game continues to be a threat, despite the appearance that we never make a concrete effort to establish it. The Special Teams coverage units still look pretty good, and punter Bill LaFleur is not as bad as many of us were anticipating. Our fourth down offense was perfect on converting to first downs, the defense held all the Rams receivers to under 100 yards, five sacks – primarily from the linebackers was a good sign – as much as I wish they came from the defensive line more, and the offensive line despite being banged up from toe to knee played well (despite the penalties and considering their state). Finally I would be remised if I didn’t mention the improvement Mike Rumph continues to show. Despite being lost on a touchdown pass to Isaac Bruce, the young cornerback had one of his best showings on the team to date.

Despite all these positives there was still so much that went wrong in this game. It starts at the top down. I do not believe the coaching staff had the team prepared to win this week. The team was obviously having a hard time dealing with its first week blow out victory, and the coaching staff were not able to restore discipline (see over 100 yards of penalties). Hence the penalties. Perhaps even worse is the refusal of the coaching staff to keep Jamie Winborn on the field at all times. The guy is an awesome presence on the field, and should be starting on this team, not coming off the bench. Even worse still was the coaching staff’s inability to adjust to the half time adjustments made by the Rams, that would eventually allow them to come back and win this game. Finally it has become clear that Erickson’s coaching staff is not going to turn this offense into the dynamic threat we have been hoping for. After two weeks the 49ers have not completed a pass greater than 30 yards, and to my recollection they have not attempted one either. This may not be the coaching staffs fault, it could be Jeff Garcia’s nature, but it is frustrating and it something that has to change.

The problems at the top trickled down to the players. Jeff Garcia threw two ill-advised passes in scoring position. One was intercepted. Largely ineffective for most of the day, Garcia’s struggles were especially present in the redzone. Garcia sited the crowd noise as a reason for his inability to audible, the question is they, why didn’t he use hand signals to change the plays? Miscues were everywhere, as even veterans like Zack Bronson and Bryant Young were getting penalized on key plays and it came down to a terrible mistake by Cederick Wilson with seconds left on the clock in over time. Third down efficiency was far from impressive on both sides of the ball. There is clearly lots of work to get done.

This week the 49ers face the Browns at home. They have a new kicker to their team, and Jimmy Williams will be in charge of the punt return duties (snaring the job from Arland Bruce who is now on the practice squad). Cederick Wilson will be returning kickoffs aided by either Arnaz Battle or Brandon Lloyd, two rookie receivers. The offensive line will be a game day decision but its likely to be thrown together out of whatever healthy bodies the team can dig up.

The Browns should be an easily beatable team. Their defense will certainly be looking for some vengeance after giving up the single game rushing record last week, and may be able to contend with the 49ers receivers, after shutting down the Colts Marvin Harrison in week one. Still they are not expected to be that challenging of an opponent, which is what worries me more than anything.

Even after this third game of the season, the 49ers will not really know where they stand in relation to the rest of the league (unless of course they lose… the most undesirable of all results). That means they will be facing off against a fairly strong Viking team the following week with a real team identity. Winning big could give the 49ers a false sense of confidence as I believe it did in week one, and a close game certainly would not be overly encouraging at this point.

In this game I am hoping the 49ers escape without injury, but I hope that every week. The team must focus on cutting down their mistakes, be it poor throws, bad clock management, or penalties. The coaching staff must be able to make the necessary adjustments to the Browns. I would like to see the defensive line start to add a pass rush. Redzone offense to finally get on track, and an improvement on both sides of the ball on third downs. Finally I would like to see an improvement in the kicking game with our new kicker.

Those will be the subjects of how I evaluate this week’s game. Winning is not good enough (as I have explained in reference to last week’s game), and losing should not be tolerated.