The 49ers Quest to Finish .500

January 3, 2010 by

Oh, I can recall a time not too long ago when I didn’t even imagine this article would need to be written. Looking back to week four, the 49ers were looking good. They sat at 3-1 and nowhere to go but up. They controlled their own destiny. Nobody was telling us anything, they were showing us. So what happened?

The Niners season has been plagued with what are called “morale victories”. Basically, this team finished 7-9 last season under Mike Nolan and naturally, some time for improvement was needed. The team could handle a loss every now and then so long as this looked like an improved unit when all was said and done.

And they did. In week three the 49ers got their first loss of the season, but what did it take? It took the play of a safety who likely won’t even be back come next year to get just a single step behind a wide receiver catching a pass from the legendary Brett Favre. It was a loss that you look at and say “Wow. Really?” Something that was entirely upsetting, disheartening and downright horrifying to watch as a 49ers fan. But it was the Vikings, right? Brett Favre threw a miracle pass with almost no time left and this team couldn’t stop it. These are the same Vikings who are looking to be a playoff juggernaut, the same Vikings who went on to win about six games before finally losing one.

It was a morale victory because this team played well above its expectations. The defense was solid, the offense didn’t quite produce but it did almost enough to win the game, and against the Vikings—that was OK. The 49ers played the Colts this season and lead for much of the game. Everything was clicking and this team was surely playoff bound. Then of course, something happened on the sidelines and Peyton Manning remembered that, well, he was Peyton Manning. I suppose Peyton decided that he was going to make fourth quarter comebacks an art form this season.

Because he did it, he came back and lead his Colts to victory… one of 14 they’ve achieved this season, not such a bad thing to lose to them, right? It was a moral victory because this team played, again, above expectations. So while the 49ers were losing to teams they should and beating some others that they should, the Cardinals came up and decided they wanted real wins and not morale wins, went ahead and started winning some games.

Before the 49ers knew it, they no longer had the division under wraps, but surely they’d be fine. They’d already beaten both the Cardinals and the Seahawks once, and could then surely beat them again. Wrong. The team failed to beat Seattle, a game which would have had the 49ers controlling their own destiny against the Cardinals on Monday Night Football. A game which the 49ers eventually won in a pretty grand fashion. But they failed to complete their sweep of the Seahawks and because of this they’re not going to be making the playoffs.

Still, they have a chance to finish .500, 8-8, for the first time in seven seasons. The way goes through the St. Louis Rams come tomorrow, in a game the 49ers should by all means. It will be a continuing audition for QB Alex Smith and several other younger players on the team. So what happens if the team finishes 8-8?

Certainly it is disappointing—what looked to be a quest for 11-5 and a shot at the playoffs turned out to be a quest for one more win than last year, breaking even at 8-8. Still, watching this team all season it’s easy to tell they are much different in attitude and even skill. Mike Singletary didn’t vastly improve the 49ers record this season, but he’s brought enough changes to the team to warrant another season or two to sort things out. After all, 8-8 is always better than 7-9.

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