Article Title: From a choke to an embrace.
It had all of the tell tale signs of the Miami Dolphins defeating us by a score of 14-9, as the San Francisco 49ers by the narrowest of margins defeated the St. Louis Rams with their beloved Isaac Bruce being a main factor 17-16. It was a stressing three quarters and a half of play where Shaun Hill was literally on the brink of being benched three days before Christmas.
In fact going into the locker room Mike Singletary was asked about certain personnel and he referred to wanting to “choke Shaun Hill,” should his performance out on the field continue in decline. Playing in front of his entire family as the starting quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers compelled him to make those adjustments and come out a hero.
Shaun was beside himself as he was nabbed for three interceptions and posted a quarterback rating of 55.5 at the end of the game. Add to that two more fumbles one of which was lost and you’d think that the game was in the bag for St. Louis with a 49er defense gasping for air due to loss of time of possession by our beleaguered offense.
Despite the mistakes the team never quit, it never gave up hope and Mike Singletary continued to coach the only way he knows how. With fire and brimstone the overwhelming respect that each and every player on the roster has for this inspirational leader is unconditional. He has this team believing that they are something special in the making and his doctrine is being executed to the letter within his realm of expectations.
Shaun Hill so close to being choked out and benched in favor of J.T. O’Sullivan did not waver and instead led the offense within the fourth quarter on two big successful scoring drives with touchdown passes to Isaac Bruce and Josh Morgan. The embracement from both coaches and players shortly after the game speaks volumes about an athlete that is fighting to solidify his status as the leader of this offense.
Again without Frank Gore the San Francisco 49ers managed to win a game with Shaun Hill lifting this team upon his back and carrying it with the help of others. There has been no quarterback since Jeff Garcia left at the end of the 2004 season that has captured that magical sense of accomplishment other than the glimmers of hope that Shaun Hill tries to justify.
Shaun Hill deserves recognition for taking this offense to the next level and winning despite being put up against the ropes by a team that took advantage of four total turnovers and thought it had victory staring them right in their face. Shaun didn’t give up; he went back out on the field with ears ringing from the coaches concerned on the sidelines and led the offense away from the jaws of death.
Shaun completed 18-of-34 passes for 216 total yards and two touchdowns but was sacked four times for a loss of 26 total yards. Missed blocks on the right side in conjunction with mistakes by rookie Chilo Rachal and Barry Sims continues to be a concern along with tight end Vernon Davis missing a block or two that opened the levee to disaster.
Vernon Davis continues to confuse and disappoint us with losing a crucial fumble by having the ball yanked from his grasp and dropped passes. Davis was drafted to provide that flex edge of a big time talent fast enough to stretch the field vertically once called upon, but so far it continues to be only a fantasy with hands as soft as a butterball.
On the other side of the spectrum we had wily veteran Isaac Bruce who was welcomed back into the Edwards Jones Dome in St. Louis after 13 seasons of service and broke two career milestones in achieving 1,000 receptions as only the fifth wide receiver to do that. He also placed second-place overall on the league’s all-time receiving yards list.
I’m sure the notion and sight of observing Isaac Bruce in a 49er uniform brings back memories of seeing Jerry Rice play against us in an Oakland Raider uniform. Despite the comparison Isaac displayed no age other then his youthful self in seven receptions for 61 total yards and a critical touchdown to boot.
For three and a half quarters of play we lost time of possession 21:22 to the Rams 38:38 because our offensive line was not able to win the war in the trenches. Shaun Hill’s ability to break free of the pocket and rush four separate times for a total of 45 yards tells you enough about how dire our situations were. His feet kept hope and drives alive as we struggled to capture any hint of sustained momentum.
Our inability to establish a sustained running game also spelled doom for keeping our defense off the field with DeShaun Foster having only 12 carries for a total of 36 total yards with 3.0 yards per average carry. The St. Louis Rams despite being the cellar dwellers of the division played as if this was a do or die game.
Making adjustments and executing big plays helped us win this game in the end, but let’s not forget the 49er defense that had the monumental task of lasting through a marathon of countless St. Louis Rams offensive drives with veteran Marc Bulger at the controls. Rams running back Steven Jackson also tore up 32 carries for 108 total yards helping the Rams accumulate 21 total first downs.
Both linebacker Patrick Willis and safety Michael Lewis played their hearts out with 13 and 12 total tackles respectively. Corner Walt Harris also did an exceptional job of being in the right place at the right time to ward off the big play. More and more you can see that the autonomy that Greg Manusky is now getting as a defensive coordinator is starting to pay off.
Still the 49er defense has its moments with jumping off sides four separate occasions that allowed the Rams offense continued opportunities. In the end though 49er defensive back Tarell Brown intercepted a Marc Bulger pass to wide receiver Donnie Avery to seal the 49ers victory before a hostile crowd looking for retribution on a season turned south.
The San Francisco 49ers of 2008 are a team with a real identity to them now. Had Mike Singletary been named coach at the beginning of this season, I believe there might have been a possibility of us winning the division right now. Instead we had to exorcise ourselves from the Mike Nolan ideologies and philosophies that had created lines of division here and there amongst the players.
But we cannot dwell on what is already done. As a die-hard realist in 49er history I believe we must embrace what we have discovered thus far. Mike Singletary for 2009 and beyond will signal the desire and will of a franchise ready to breakout. Christmas is a time of reunion of family and spreading goodwill to others less fortunate than us.
I commend what the franchise has done in retrospect in giving us hope on a season thought lost. It has been a long road of despair and frustration since the removal of Steve Mariucci and the last goodbye to Jeff Garcia.
The Dennis Erickson and Mike Nolan of old left us with coal in our stockings. But now the genuine rush of 49er gold may be coming back to the Bill Walsh Field we know and love near you. Mike Singletary wants what was us so many years ago. May God be with him and those above him as we near the finish line of a season filled with hope.
Sources of Information: Mercury News.com, SF Gate.com, Inside Bay Area.com, NFL.com and my own personal analysis and opinion.