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Article Title: Football Is Officially Back
Article Date: September 11 2003
By Bryan Hersh

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If defeat stinks, what does uncertainty smell like? The 49ers are coming off one of the most lopsided wins in team history, after punishing the Bears in the season opener. The 49-7 victory was certainly an amazing way for Coach Dennis Erickson to begin a new era of 49ers football. And while most fans are ready to right off the off-season, and coaching changes as a grand success, I have to remind everyone that as encouraging a performance as it was, it was only the Bears, and it was only one game.

That of course is not to say the game was not exciting. It was one of the best 49ers games I have watched in a long time. Not because of the huge win, I typically find those boring, but because the 49ers were playing like a special team. They had some moxie that admittedly has been lacking recently. In fact, not since the 49ers of 1994-1995 have I seen what I saw last Sunday. The Bears were defeated before both teams ever took to the field. The 49ers dictated the game; they did what they wanted to do. They played with the confidence of Champions and that perhaps has been what I have missed the most.

Worth mentioning from last weeks game:

How about Jimmy Williams? Between his special teams play, and defense, this youngster looked very encouraging. If he hadnít fumbled his lone punt return Williams would have had the game of his career, in his first outing back from a kneed injury.

Terry Jackson, this weeks NFC Special Teams Player of The Week, was tenacious on the field. He made crucial hits, forced and recovered a fumble and flat out ignited this unit.

Brandon Lloyd, the rookie wide receiver had a beautiful punt block. The rookie may not have been a threat as a receiver yet, but he was certainly key on special team.

Punter Bill LaFleur had his best outing with the team yet. Aside from Jeff Chandlerís missed extra point, he had one of his better days with the team.

Truth of the matter is the entire special teams unit did an amazing job. Clearly the coaching staff and the time dedicated to the special teams this off-season has made a difference.

Jeff Garcia didnít light up the board, but he didnít leave the field on a stretcher either. Despite taking punishing blows from Brian Urlacher, Garciaís back seemed to hold up, allowing him to get the job done.

Both running backs, Garrison Hearst and Kevan Barlow looked good. The team didnít commit to the run, but both were quite productive.

Terrell Owens had a big day despite no touchdowns. Fellow receiver Tai Streets scored a touchdown and took a killer hit in the process.

Despite not recording a sack, Bryant Young got good pressure and disruptive. Rookie Anthony Adams played well at tackle too. But the best part of the defense was the blitzing. The linebacking unit was absolutely on fire. Derek Smith and Jamie Winborn do have to wrap up better on their tackles though. Both are always in position, and get the first hit quite often, if they could bring their men down, it would be amazing.

Ahmed Plummer had the game of his life recording two interceptions, one of which he ran back for a touchdown. Fellow corner Mike Rumph looked 100 times better than he did last year. Of course neither of them were facing great receiver or a great quarterback.

The coaching staff are clearly getting this team in great shape. The units are disciplined and aggressive, and the coaches are doing a very good job of being unpredictable. Third down efficiency was magnificent, though again it is only the first week, and only the Bears.

I am still worried about the injuries on the team, things are beginning to clear up a little though. Getting the offensive line close to perfect will be key too. The line played well last week, but certainly could benefit from the return of health.

After the game I really only had three areas of concern. First, the worry that despite our win, it was only the Bears. Second was with regards to our tight ends, and simply not seeing them all game. They were good in pass blocking, but where were they when it came time to catch the ball? Finally was with regards to red-zone efficiency. The team needs to score touchdowns and not field goals in real games.

Heading into St. Louis to face the Rams, I as a 49ers fan, remain cautiously optimistic. The Rams are in a tough place right now, so even if the 49ers beat them I am likely to remain cautiously optimistic. Jeff Garcia has never beaten the Rams in St. Louis, that will surely compound the issues.

I am a firm believer that winning the battle of the trenches will win you almost any football game. And so we have to control the line of scrimmage. Unfortunately the team will not be able to utilize the blitz on defense to the same extent as they did against the Bears. The Rams are to potent to do that. This means that the front four are going to have to really collapse the pocket around whoever is quarterbacking the Rams, and control Marshall Faulk at the same time.

Naturally our defensive backfield has to have a great game. The Rams have fire power. Loads of it and the 49ers are known for a week defensive backfield. The team made strides last week, but they will have to build on that performance before the league beings to respect them.

Offensively the team needs to establish a running game. They simply didnít need to do that against the Bears, and as a result they suffered in the redzone. If the team can get the rushing going, without Garcia leading the charge, it should bode well for the redzone offense.

Naturally the team can not make mistakes, and needs to be efficient on third downs on both sides of the ball. Providing the team can do all that Garcia should finally be able to get a win in St. Louis.