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Article Title: Reaching a Milestone
Article Date: November 20th 2003
By Sydney

The San Francisco 49ers have reached a crest in their 2003 NFL season by achieving the five hundred mark with a spectacular victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday Night Football 30-14. How they reached that milestone is a bit of a story but one that intrigues me because of all the personnel that are involved in that achievement.

It starts with Jeff Garcia’s high ankle sprain that he incurred while in the Arizona loss at Sun Devil Stadium and the reality that set in on the franchise that he would be out for the up and coming St. Louis game at 3-Com Park. A Cardinal offensive line had shred the 49er defense and running game that rang up 165 rushing yards and the 49er special teams obliterated any hope of success in this game by a kicker named Owen Pochman.

It was a loss that rang inside every player in the San Francisco 49er locker room and back home again. Over and over the reality of their season sank deep within their minds as to where they truly were in the division and the uphill war they would have to wage in order to be a contender ever again.

Jeff Garcia was out and so was Eric Heitmann yet again. Injuries bit at the wide receivers and defensive secondary yet again. The new starting quarterback for the up and coming St. Louis Ram game a pivotal game in the division would be Tim Rattay in his first NFL start. Controversy and uncertainty swirled throughout the franchise and the league as a whole as to how the 49ers would be able to resurrect anything left on their season.

Said Rattay, “Jeff and I are really close. Obviously, I don’t want to see him hurt. But it’s an opportunity. I’m excited to get to play.” “The fact I can’t be out there contributing to helping our cause is the most disappointing thing for me,” Garcia said.

After seeing doctors they discovered partially torn ligaments and other strained ligaments and muscles causing rising pain into his calf. If anyone knows Jeff they know about his internal drive to be the best he can be and the unbelievable will this man has to play this game and contribute to a team he considers above everything else.

Injuries from the Arizona game and beyond signaled concern over every coaches mind in the organization as the St. Louis date approached and it was a long one indeed with defensive end Andre Carter suffering from a lower back sprain.

In the secondary as it was last season injuries have rattled the defense with Jason Webster, Zack Bronson and Ronnie Heard all out to various injuries. Safety John Keith was reactivated from the team’s practice squad to play in a starting role in the 49er secondary.

When the St. Louis game was all said and done the San Francisco 49ers defeated their arch rival in their division 30-10 and sent a message to Mike Martz and his high flying offense that we have a defense that is your equal in every category.

For years the 49ers have been drafting under the tutorship of Bill Walsh and Terry Donahue to establish a speed presence in the defensive secondary to compensate against an offense like the St. Louis Rams. Well on this given Sunday they did just that and more with turnovers and precision tackling like you’ve never seen before.

The 49er defense suppressed the highflying circus to a tempo that was truly inspiring to say the least as I watched this game. It inspired every 49er fan that I knew and talked to because they played their hearts out to win this game. Tim Rattay’s opportunity to shine came full speed and helped inspire a healthy quarterback controversy in San Francisco and beyond as every 49er fan and just your all around average football fan talked about the performance of this seventh round pick out of Louisiana Tech.

Tim Rattay was able to throw the ball downfield all day long and connected with many different receivers as well, paying no particular mind to just one receiver but spreading the ball like a veteran quarterback can.

Tim Rattay even called audible at the line of scrimmage and on two touchdowns, a 5-yard pass to Tai Streets and a spectacular 27-yard pass to Brandon Lloyd. “It was a basic run play, but they stuffed some guys in the box,” Lloyd said. “Tim called my number and threw it where I was going to get it.”

Tim shows a presence in the pocket like I have never seen before something that is unrelated to the 49er offense because we’ve been so used to seeing our quarterbacks scramble and make plays while on the run. Tim Rattay shows just the exact opposite in getting rid of the ball very quickly and making the players work hard after the catch.

Jeff Garcia while on the sideline has been Tim’s biggest fan believe it or not and has been contributing to what calls that are being processed to Tim from the sideline with offensive coordinator Greg Knapp.

“It was great for this team to see Tim play and to know the ability he has,” Garcia said. “It’s a confidence breeder for everyone. I’m not going to be the one to try and put this team in a difficult position by being selfish and trying to rush back.”

There were many stars in that St. Louis game and third string wide receiver Cedrick Wilson was one of them with a 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown that he said he was going to break for on that very catch for a touchdown.

And then there was linebacker Julian Peterson who just awe strikes you like there is no one else. Under defensive coordinator Jim Mora Jr., Julian Peterson has been the center of his masterpiece new and revamped blitz packages that accounted for five total sacks in this game against St. Louis quarterback Marc Bulger.

“He’s the nest linebacker in the NFL, in my opinion,” defensive coordinator Jim Mora said. “There might be guys better at run defense and as pass rushers, but nobody can do all the things that Julian can do.”

“We did particular things to get different match-ups and it worked to our advantage,” Peterson said. “We brought heat sometimes by blitzing three times in a row and sometimes we dropped back into zone. We tried to confuse them.”

And the defensive revolution lives on with key individuals all buying into Jim Mora’s plan and executing it to it’s maximum potential. I see this defense as being one of San Francisco’s best that I’ve ever seen since the glory days of old. It is a defense that held the Rams running games to a mere nine-yards on that given Sunday.

“The sky is the limit,” defensive end Chidi Ahanotu said when asked about the defense’s potential. ‘I’ve been saying that all year. We’ve got athletes. This is the smartest defense I’ve ever played with. We’re like a family. We’ve got components to be a great defense in this league.”

So was the San Francisco stomping that they gave to the St. Louis Rams 30-10 and the roar of the crowd that is like music to my ears whenever I hear it. The gathering of momentum really started here folks and it continued right into Monday Night as the 49ers began to prepare for a defense that is equally as compelling in the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The news leading up to the game of course was the impending question of who would start this game in way of a quarterback. With damage to his ankle so severe the prognosis was not good for Jeff Garcia and seeing that Tim Rattay had played so exceptionally against St. Louis the obvious choice had to be Tim once again.

“We’ve got to play that by ear as the week goes on,” Erickson said. “Like I said last week, unless (Garcia) is 100 percent (or) we feel he is 100 percent, Tim will be the starter.”

The fact that such a quarterback controversy is brewing is understandable given the performance that Tim Rattay has shown that he can. Everyone is ecstatic about winning and the success we have had on offense with Tim Rattay at the helm, but all people must understand that Jeff Garcia has not been healthy since day one of the 2003 season due to reoccurring injuries on a weekly basis. Everyone must understand as well that he has been playing with most of the time a makeshift offensive line riddled with injuries itself.

And on the other side Tim should be happy and comfortable with his position over the long term because he has solidified his presence in this quarterback lineup and can be counted upon to come in and get the job done whenever Jeff incurs trouble or injury.

Rehabilitating from injuries is no different for a quarterback as it is for any other player as a starter. When a premier defensive lineman is out for a limited amount of time due to an injury, he is expected to comeback and takes his rightful place as the starter. Should the substitute play well then that is a bonus and his playing time is only increased over the long haul of the season.

The same consideration should be granted to Jeff Garcia as well despite the successes that Tim Rattay is having. It is tempting to stay with a hot hand such as Tim and can find myself saying let’s stay with Tim sometimes. But we all really owe it to Jeff a three-time Pro-Bowler to get healthy and for him to come in and prove he is still our No.# 1 man.

Overall Game Statistics

The San Francisco 49ers took up right where they left off after a bye week against the Pittsburgh Steelers and notched their overall record to (5-5) inside their division with a 30-14 victory. This was a game that was won once again on both sides of the ball with both offense and defense contributing equally to the equation. It further defines the team as a whole as being back on track and focused as it stares down the remainder of its schedule.

The San Francisco quarterback in Tim Rattay had another great start going 21-of-27 for 254-yards and 2 touchdowns and posting a quarterback rating of 130.6%. He showed comfort in the pocket and was never sacked once by the Pittsburgh defense that claimed to be a ferocious quarterback killer in the league. His passes showed pin point accuracy and spiraled like a veteran quarterback’s passes on any given Sunday, except this was one up better in Monday Night.

“The main thing in this game was my protection. I don’t think we were even close to a sack,” said Rattay. “Those guys did a great job against (blitzing linebacker) schemes they don’t see a lot. You know, when your getting hit a lot, or getting pressured, it’s easier to stand back there and go through your reads.”

And I must say I was impressed with the way that the offensive line really came together, in unison they played their hearts out and gave Tim Rattay every opportunity to throw the ball downfield and for the running game to prosper. It is without a doubt their best performance on the season in this game.

The line was healthy all for one person in that was left guard Eric Heitmann where Kyle Kosier has been an anchor since he has gone out for several key games. The line played with a happy step in its feet all throughout this game and proved that as a healthy unit they can more than just get the job done, they can win games.

“With the bye, a lot of the guys on the line had a chance to get a little healthier, and we had a little longer to prepare for the kind of pressure defense they bring,” Jeremy Newberry said. “I mean, the Steelers blitzed us like crazy in this game. But each day, we did something in practice to get us ready for almost every look they could give us.”

In the running department Kevan Barlow was a superstar in this game as he ran for a 78-yard touchdown in this game that was assisted with by Terrell Owens throwing a block downfield that helped spring him against two Steeler defensive backs.

“Without those blocks, I wasn’t getting in,” Barlow said. : He was out there having a great game. Everyone knows he’s a great receiver, but he’s much more, too. His blocks were big for a lot of players.”

Barlow had eight carries for 98-yards averaging 12.3-yards per carry and Garrison Hearst had a whopping 20 carries for 67-yards and averaged 3.4-yards per carry. Fullback Fred Beasley was equally as impressing with two carries for six-yards but two receptions for 28-yards and one for a touchdown.

In the receiving department we have Terrell Owens with probably his best game of the entire season as he showed in true form what he is really all about. He threw a fantastic block downfield against two Steeler defensive backs to spring Barlow for a touchdown and had eight receptions for 155-yards and a 61-yard romping touchdown of his own.

This was a great reception folks one that’s me right up and started cheering like all of you. Right in the first quarter he set the tone of the game with a hit from Tim Rattay and him out-sprinting Pittsburgh Steeler cornerback Chad Scott for the touchdown.

“He’s certainly one of the best players on our team, so you want to get him the ball as much as possible,” tackle Scott Gragg said. “When he’s best, other phases of our football game work well.”

“Terrell Owens played really well. The block he made on Barlow’s run might be as impressive as anything I’ve seen him do,” Erickson said. “He’s made some great plays in his life, but that was something. He just stayed with them and blocked two guys. It was an impressive night by Terrell Owens.”

Tight end Jed Weaver had a productive night with four receptions for 28-yards and Brandon Lloyd had three receptions for 15-yards. In all the 49ers had 254-yards in just passing and another 169-yards in rushing the ball. This offense had no trouble in moving the ball up and down the field. In fact the only real weakness we had was on special teams in kicking and punt returns where Jimmy Williams struggled too often for comfort.

Penalties did not play a factor in this game as the 49ers had but four for 20-yards and time of possession was almost equal with the 49ers having 30:27 to the Steelers with 29:33.

Turnovers though did play a significant part in our victory as the Pittsburgh Steelers lost a fumble and was picked for an interception with safety Tony Parrish doing the honors. On the punting end Bill LaFleur should be recognized for having an average punt of 41.3-yards and a long one of 50-yards. Kicker Todd Peterson was equally as impressive with him making all three of his field goal attempts that helped win this game.

On defense cornerback Ahmed Plummer showed exceptional skills as a premier cover corner with a high of nine tackles and linebacker Derek Smith following with seven known tackles himself. Both linebackers in Jeff Ulbrich and Julian Peterson were credited for a sack as was defensive end Andre Carter.

First Quarter Game Highlights

With 8:16 left to play in the first quarter and on their second possession in this quarter the San Francisco 49ers drove the ball down to their 39-yard line where Tim Rattay found Terrell Owens for a 61-yard touchdown pass that made the score 7-0 49ers.

From here on the 49er defense held their own against Tommy Maddox and the Pittsburgh Steelers as the closest they came to our end zone was the San Francisco 38-yard line. They did start their last drive of the quarter on their 25-yard line and began driving down the field as time expired in the first quarter and the second opened.

Second Quarter Game Highlights

Tommy Maddox and his Steelers drove downfield to their own 37-yard line where he was looking for his tight end but was intercepted by 49er safety Tony Parrish who took the ball 48-yards to the Pittsburgh 19-yard line. However on three unsuccessful downs the 49ers kicked a field goal from 32-yards that Todd Peterson made good to make the score 10-0 49ers.

With 6:36 left in the first half on a Josh Miller punt for the Pittsburgh Steelers to 49er cornerback Jimmy Williams he muffs the catch and watches the ball travel out of bounds and is credited with a fumble. Both teams prove unsuccessful in later drives in the quarter and it ends at halftime 10-0 San Francisco 49ers.

Third Quarter Game Highlights

Tommy Maddox starts his drive from their own 27-yard line with mixtures of running and passing down to the San Francisco 1-yard line after completed passes of 21 and 24-yards consecutively in their drive. From here running back Jerome Bettis gets the call and crashes in for a touchdown to make it 10-7 San Francisco 49ers.

With 6:10 left to play in the quarter Tommy Maddox is sacked for a loss of 10-yards by linebackers Julian Peterson and Jeff Ulbrich forcing them to punt the ball. On San Francisco’s second drive from their 22-yard line Tim Rattay hands off to running back Kevan Barlow who with some expert blocking finds a hole and runs 78-yards for a touchdown to make the score 17-7 San Francisco 49ers.

On the kickoff Todd Peterson kicks 54-yards to wide receiver Randle El who brings it out 12-yards before getting popped by special teams star Dwaine Carpenter who causes him to fumble the ball and it is recovered by 49er defensive end Sean Moran at the Pittsburgh 28-yard line.

From this mark on the 28-yard line Tim Rattay comes out and assembles the 49er offense and hits fullback Fred Beasley in the end zone for a 28-yard touchdown on the turnover to make it 24-7 San Francisco 49ers. The Pittsburgh Steelers go three and out in their next series and the 49ers begin driving from the Steeler 43-yard line.

Fourth Quarter Game Highlights

From this great field position Tim Rattay drives the 49er offense down to the Pittsburgh four-yard line where Todd Peterson kicks a 22-yard field goal to make it 27-7 San Francisco 49ers. On their next possession the 49ers start at their own 35-yard line and drive down to the Pittsburgh 26-yard line where Todd Peterson attempts a 44-yard field goal that makes it in to make it 30-7 San Francisco 49ers.

With 8:29 left to play on a Pittsburgh Steeler drive Tommy Maddox is sacked for a loss of five-yards by 49e defensive end Andre Carter, but it isn’t enough to stop Maddox from hitting Randle El for a 32-yard touchdown to make it 30-14 San Francisco 49ers.

From here the San Francisco 49ers went about eating the clock with Garrison Hearst getting most of the workload, he was successful and the Pittsburgh Steelers were left with two minutes left to play. They reach the 49er 27-yard line but give the ball up on downs and the 49ers run out the clock for the victory.

Overall Game Analysis

The San Francisco 49ers need to stay with what works and it looks like the West Coast Offense works so don’t tinker with it. We have to run the ball in order to set up play action passes bottom line. We were successful because the offensive line gave Tim Rattay time to find his options and lay in strikes when he had to.

They also enabled the running game to take off and be successful in precision like blocking and pulling that is showing that the offensive line has probably never been as healthy as it was this day. Special teams tackling improvement is very much noticed as the Dwaine Carpenter tackle proved that turnovers are out there, just go and get them.

Both the kicking and punting in this game were finally very exceptional. If we have found some normalcy here it will no doubt help us win football games. The 49er defense held the Pittsburgh running game to just 44-yards but suffered in holding off passing yardage for 305-yards against an elite wide receiving corps. In Pittsburgh.

The real test is about to happen now as the 49ers face a long road trip to help round out their remaining games this season. It is hard to imagine that the season is fast approaching to its inevitable end already. We need to make the necessary adjustments on the road and find new ways in order to start winning on the road as a team.

We are now 0-4 on the road and we need to be concerned with that. However if all goes according to how we’ve been playing now we can be successful even in Green Bay where our track record there is just as scary. The San Francisco defense must continue to be strength the team can rely on and the offensive line must translate scoring into protection for Tim Rattay.

These are sound elements are we to succeed at the next level. It is now a make or break run at getting considered to be in the playoffs. We need to be ready like never before, as we know that our overall record does not do us any justice for what it stands for. We’ve been underdogs before we can do it again, so let’s continue the streak into Lambeau Field.