December 13th, 2001
By Bryan Hersh of 49ers Paradise
The ĎP-Wordí When the 49ers started winning this season, nobody dared say that the playoffs were a possibility. After all this was a team that was struggling with the salary cap, that was so young, and that was coming off successive losing seasons. Now that the 49ers have secured a winning season, and have tinkered with having the best record in the NFL, the playoffs are more of a certainty than a probability.
Of course nothing is for sure yet (though it could be after this weekend), but at this point itís hard to imagine that the 49ers wonít be a playoff team. Still while some ďfansĒ are jumping ship after the loss to St. Louis - itís rather unlikely that the vastly improved 49ers will fall out of playoff contention with four games remaining.
With the playoffs thus established as a virtual certainty in San Francisco for the first time in three years, there are a few refreshers that are worth stating. First of all, with such a young team, the 49ers canít afford to coast into the playoffs. They need to end the season running on all cylinders. They need to find the balance of staying healthy, and staying powerful and that means playing each game as if it was their last.
Itís essential that the team not slack off because they need the extra practice. The opposition in the last four games of the 49ers season is the toughest they have faced all season. Providing they can get through these games successfully it should lead to a rather good playoff run.
Of course no 49ers fan in their right mind would want to see this team slack off before they visit Dallas to take on the much maligned and ever evil Cowboys. Iím not sure if anything would hurt this team more than a loss to their arch nemesis.
In all seriousness though, this is the time where teams make last minute adjustments, slight lineup changes that could make a difference both positively and negatively in the chemistry of the team. Look for the 49ers to try and improve in every way possible, and they may mix it up a little to see what the results will be as they head into the home stretch.
Regardless of any switches Mariucci and his staff try and make in the final quarter of this season, itís essential that the 49ers finish the season on high note in order to have success in the playoffs.