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Article Title: Stairway To Nowhere
Article Date: October 15 2003
By Bryan Hersh

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I do not know if it is considered throwing in the towel, but I have indeed come to the conclusions that this 49ers team is not a very good one. The season is far from over, and that could change as early as this weekend with an upset over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but if the status quo remains prevalent, I highly doubt my opinion will change. Nevertheless, the lack of discipline, poor execution, and lack of being prepared have contributed to a very ugly season.

After firing Steve Mariucci this off-season, I was quite upset. Most of you know that I am a huge fan of his. Nevertheless, I was willing to give our new coach – whoever it might be, a chance to improve this team. Dennis Erickson was by no means my first choice to replace Mariucci, but I felt that hopefully with the talent on the roster, Erickson would at least be able to keep the ball rolling. I guess Mariucci was a better coach than even I gave him credit for, because Erickson is a long ways away from keeping the ball rolling.

Now I am not throwing in the towel yet, I am not saying that Erickson will not turn this team around towards the end of this season, or even next season (I can not imagine Terry Donahue and John York admitting defeat after just one season with Erickson – though at some points I certainly wish they will). I still have hope for the team that they can improve, but I have indeed come to the realization that this is not a very good team.

At only 21 years old, I certainly have not lived through the worst days of the 49ers history. Most of the seasons I have been a fan for the team won at least 10 games. In fact, I have really only suffered through 2 losing seasons. Aside from saying a whole lot about our history, my point here revolves around my limited knowledge of a losing season. I can take losing; I can take knowing that my team is an under-dog. I can live with these facts if my team is showing improvement each week. If the team is minimizing errors, and making strides to get better each week. Any improvements I have seen from this team though, have been baby steps not long strides. And unlike in our most recent losing seasons, when we had a slew of young talent on the team that was improving with each week, I have really only seen two players improve over last season, and have not seen anything tremendous from our rookie class yet. Those two players surprisingly are Mike Rumph and Bill LaFleur. Neither of which is a superstar, but both of which are miles ahead of where they were last season.

Facing the Buccaneers this weekend the 49ers have a chance to turn their season around. The team can still string a series of wins together and be a long shot for the playoffs – this is mainly because of the weaknesses in the NFC this season. Still it is possible, but the wins need to start this week, and the turn around must start now.

The 49ers will need their run game to slow down the pressure on Jeff Garcia. The team is averaging about 130 yards per game on the ground this season, and is ranked about 10th in the league in rushing. Those stats seem impressive on paper, but really when you consider the team ranking in the top 5 in this area in seasons past, it is actually quite a down turn. The running game needs to get going again. Protecting Jeff Garcia is a must and Fred Beasley will be a key to helping out the left side of the line, where once again the 49ers are expected to be without the starters on that side of the line. The team also has to get back into the short to medium range passes, and to keep the chains moving and the ball in their hands. Tampa’s defense is very strong and the 49ers may be forced to take what is given to them – which is fine as long as they can keep the ball moving and score touchdowns in the redzone.

Defensively, the 49ers have played pretty well this season. I am still hoping to see greater pressure from the front four on the line, but other than that if the team can keep up its performance against a superior Tampa team, that would be encouraging. Of course I’d like to see a little improvement from the defensive backfield too.

I still want to see Terry Jackson returning kickoffs for our special teams. The units also need to bounce back from a missed extra point and two weeks with missed field goals in a row. The coverage units have preformed quite well this season but the return units could certainly improve.

On paper the 49ers are clearly outmatched in this game. Tampa Bay is a Super Bowl winning team, and are talented from the top down. They appear to be more vulnerable this season, but even still their losses came against two very good opponents. It will take a near perfect four quarters of football in order to pull this one out.