Article Title: Reinvigorated with confidence.
The eight straight consecutive losses that the 2007 San Francisco 49ers has accumulated finally came to a screeching halt this past Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals in an overtime victory we barely got away with in dramatic fashion following a sack and a fumble inside the Arizona end zone with just a few ticks remaining over five minutes to play in overtime for a 37-31 victory.
I watched this game as if I was being catapulted like a roller coaster ride that had me hanging by a thread and upside down and every which way in that this game was both intriguing and very exciting to watch. The team as a collective body executed and played with hearts of conviction and an attitude that we havenít been privy to since September 17th of this year. It was a scoring fest if you ever saw one with the 49ers believe it or not hanging tough with the playoff contending Arizona Cardinals to the very point that we were forced to enter into overtime.
First and foremost I want to mention that the starting point for our success is entered with the offensive line being a cohesive unit that meshed together and actually made some big plays happen and provided our big time playmaker in running back Frank Gore to have the best day of the entire season with 21 carries for 116 yards on the ground averaging 5.5 yards a carry and two thrilling touchdowns to boot. The offensive line deserves credit for this as they worked in unison to create opportunities both with Frank and even allowed veteran quarterback Trent Dilfer to have his best day of the 2007 season as well.
Trent Dilfer has taken his share of lumps on this season failing miserably in a few contests he was the leader in following Alex Smithís shoulder and forearm injury that has sidelined him since the end of the first quarter on this long and anticipated season thought to be our fortune season by so many. He started that improvement back over a week ago in our last contest against the St. Louis Rams of being the kind of competitor and leader we havenít seen since the Jeff Garcia era where we always could count on a concerted effort each and every play from our quarterback no matter what.
Now this doesnít mean Trent Dilfer is any kind of the talent that Jeff Garcia is or was? But it does signal to me that he is the quarterback that should take us till the end of this 2007 season and help win us games in the process. I donít have any kind of faith in Alex Smith healthy or otherwise to lead this team into the next millennium. His injuries are merely a coat or a mask to the inevitable truth that is in identifying him as a collegiate player incapable of making the transition to the professional ranks of this well respected sport.
Trent Dilfer was noted by Mike Nolan in his post-game news conference along with Frank Gore as being the offensive leaders in this game and he signaled the need for all of the team to lean on them to carry this offense to where it needs to transition to. Nolan wants these two to help ignite a frenzy of success within the ranks of this team in order to salvage what is left of the broken and shattered dignity we have left as a well-respected franchise among many now.
Trent Dilfer was 25-of-39 for 256 total yards with two touchdowns and a quarterback rating of an unprecedented 99.9, which we havenít seen, in a very long time, especially from the likes of Alex Smith and most certainly was a turning point on the season for him. He was sacked three times for a loss of 19 total yards though but with no fumbles.
Frank Gore was back to the old self and to the delight of all of us we witnessed a 100-plus yard game on the ground that featured a lot of intensity on his part and his uncanny desire to push the inner-boundaries of himself as an athlete. He was as lethal with his legs as he was with his arms as he caught 11 receptions for 98 total yards averaging 8.9 yards a reception with one bomb of 21 total yards.
In the first quarter Frank got twisted up on an awkward tackle that looked to be the end of the game for him as he hobbled and stumbled right up to Mike Nolan and held on to him for support. It was at that time I can recall holding my breath because of the worry I had for Frank of potentially sustaining a season-ending injury to his tender ankle. He surprised all of us upon his return and acting like nothing ever even happened.
Equally as was impressive was Trent Dilferís pass to wide receiver Arnaz Battle in the third quarter that went 57 yards for a touchdown that was probably the best receiving touchdown on the season for me by far. Of all the receiving threats we have and believe me there havenít been that many Arnaz Battle has been the steadiest and most consistent of them all. Tight end Vernon Davis continues to improve from his diagnoses of dropped passes to redeem himself in the first quarter with a two-yard reception for a touchdown.
In fact Davis had six receptions for 45 total yards in this game and continues to fulfill promise that he will be an elite scoring threat because of his physical ability to break tackles and earn that hard yardage through intensive adversity by way of gang tackling that pinpoints him on many an occasion. I believe over the next five weeks we will see continued improvement on his behalf to be even more of a scoring threat with Darrell Jackson obviously not nearly one of those as anticipated to be.
Darrell Jackson has been one of the most disappointing wide receivers I have ever seen based upon his incredible tenure inside the NFL and coming here to be our potential number one downfield threat on the season. He has destroyed all sense of that with his inability to be on the same page as any of our quarterbacks and his route recognition has been suspect as well. Most importantly his greatest demise has been the butterfingers he continues to have in catching and holding on to the ball thrown directly to him and on occasion obtainable with some effort on his own. Seattle must have known something in allowing a deal to be done with us with him and within the same division.
Again I want to draw attention to the offensive line that operated fairly efficiently within this game and allowed production to happen because the blocking was a lot more sound and technique-wise executed with more of an intensity than I have seen as of late. If there is still anything I can see that stands out the most, it is Eric Heitmannís ability to diagnose and recognize the blitz formations more effectively and for Larry Allen to assert more help on the left side next to Adam Snyder and not get beat by speedier pass rushers.
Then you have the matter of Jim Hostler the offensive coordinator getting help for the first time from new offensive assistant Ted Tollner brought in specifically by Mike Nolan to help diagnose and make a plan of action to correct the bone-breaking mistakes and the inertia of gravity that has strained this last-place offense in every productive category there is within the framework of the NFL. Ted Tollner sitting next to Jim Hostler up in the overhead booth obviously was a welcomed sign by many fans including myself. Ted Tollner obviously had a direct affect on the offensive play calling within this game. You could see it out on the field and within the players themselves as they went to execute their assignments and if it didnít work they tried something else instead.
The players themselves noted the changes publicly and with the media that they felt a sense of confidence with what was being translated to them on offense and sometimes just psychologically knowing that there was someone else with immense knowledge and experience helping Jim call the correct plays compelled the players themselves to strive a little bit harder with renewed adrenaline to make that change universal throughout the team. You have to say that having Ted up in the booth was probably the hidden highlight of the game that had a direct bearing on everything done with the offense as simple as his role might have been with advice and suggestion.
Mike Nolan downplayed a little bit what Ted Tollnerís role was up in the booth next to Jim Hostler mostly in my view to make Jim feel comfortable and still in charge. However the evidence is overwhelming from just one game and one game only that his presence with his offensive counsel beside Jimís was a positive influence on the calling of this game. It isnít being taken lightly I hope and I am looking forward to see how the rest of the season unfolds with Ted there in the booth for the remaining five games we have left to rectify even more ailments with our offense.
I donít believe that the offense is fixed though. I still firmly believe that it remains broken until we see every individual player perform better and calculate that into positive yardage and points on the board. Win time of possession, securing the ball and limiting turnovers. Put more wins in the win column next to the eight straight losses on the season that destroyed our very high expectations for a playoff run like never before. Get back some respectability and inspire something to look forward to in next season after yet another draft and more free agency.
Defensively in this game we exploded in some areas and stunk it up in others. On the downside of the defense we allowed 486 total yards through the air from Kurt Warner to his many weapons of option. The main one being Larry Fitzgerald with nine receptions for 156 total yards and two remarkable touchdowns one being a ďHail Mary,Ē pass right at the end of the first half in this game. This one play that had the Arizona Cardinals go up 21-17 at halftime was like getting punched so hard you lost your wind for several minutes and couldnít breathe.
Yet inside the locker room after the play with all the Cardinal fans screaming as the players entered their respective tunnels, the 49er players collectively came together before Mike Nolan and voiced their intentions of coming back out and setting the record straight. They emphasized that it was just one big play, a big play that helped them take the lead and that now they needed to go out and make their own big play.
And that is what happened with the pass from Trent Dilfer to Arnaz Battle for 57 total yards for a touchdown that put the 49ers ahead 24-21. From there former 49er quarterback Tim Rattay would come out and assert himself in throwing a two-yard touchdown pass at our goal line to take back the lead 28-24. Yet we continued to fight and believe that we had every opportunity in the world to stay with them and did so right up until the overtime quarter had sounded.
Our secondary may have been torched a little bit for positive yardage and even a few touchdowns but made Kurt Warnerís afternoon stressful all at the same time by intercepting two of his passes by care of cornerback Walt Harris and Nate Clements punched a ball out of a receiverís hands that caused a fumble. On top of that cornerback Donald Strickland precisely calculated his knockdown of a pass that would have been a touchdown at the very end of the game causing the game to go into overtime.
In all the defense caused three fumbles on the Arizona Cardinals that lost two of them and sacked Kurt Warner four times for a loss of 30 total yards along with the two interceptions already mentioned. Individuals that deserve mentioning are 49er rookie linebacker Patrick Willis who plays the part of ďSuperman,Ē in his incredible ability to run ball carriers and or potential threats down and makes them pay a heavy price.
Willis had 18 total tackles in this game and played with a cast on his hand like it was simply a piece of his real body. Strong Safety Michael Lewis played like a man unleashed as well with 11 tackles and a sack credit. Roderick Green continues to prove his worth as a pass rusher and big Ronald Fields gets the credit in my book for the victory by sacking Warner in the end zone with Tully-Banta Cain falling on the ball for the victory.
Special teams cannot be forgotten especially within this game as punter Andy Lee continues to excel and prove Pro Bowl worthy with a long punt of 59 total yards and a net average of 47.7. Michael Lewis had four punt returns for 85 total yards with a long break of one for 51 total yards that was jaw dropping. He has more than accomplished what his goal was in coming in as an outsider and becoming a special teams ace on a team struggling to improve in this one area.
Although a victory we still cannot be satisfied with the actual facts that we almost lost this game several times while it was being played out. Donít misunderstand me the victory was long overdue and soothing to the wounds still wide open from two months of anarchy with this offense. This time both the offense and the defense worked together in winning this game, when in more instances than not it was all on the defense to find a way to win.
Mike Nolan still is on notice as a head coach and as someone that should remain accountable for where this team is at right now. Ownership has already hinted at possible changes should the season continue to run amuck and there is little inspiration in sight. Mike Nolan understands now more than ever that our voices are now being heard. Standing behind the logo of the San Francisco 49ers at every post-game news conference stating disappointment for yet another loss and the reasons for that loss are getting old.
He now can see that this is a franchise driven by its fan base and he is being questioned when the going is tough and must have more than just the politically correct answers to those topics of discussions that define where this team is at right now. As dreadful as the season has been I continue to watch and love my team. Five games to go and all will be over for yet another long seven months plus. Letís win as many of those as we can and enjoy 49er football in our collective seats once again.
Sources of Information: Mercury News.com, SF Gate.com, Inside Bay Area.com, NFL.com and my own personal analysis and opinion.