The San Francisco 49ers are going to win the NFC West title. Go ahead and write it down, take it to the bank and keep a record of this column so you can try to say “I told you so” at the end of the NFL season.
The time has finally come for the 49ers to take a step towards the glory years of Montana, Rice, Young and Craig. The building blocks are in place for a franchise that has been in dire need of rebuilding.
What’s that you say? We’ve only played one game out of a 16-game 2009 NFL schedule? You are correct about that fact.
But here are a few facts that give credence to my bold San Francisco prediction following their 20-16 season-opening win over the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday:
- Shaun Hill isn’t that bad. Heck, I’ll go as far as to say that Hill is a pretty decent quarterback. He’s not ever going to win a Drew Brees look-a-like contest, but Hill is poised and accurate. He was far from his sharpest against the Cardinals, yet he still completed more than 58 percent of his passes and didn’t have any turnovers.
- Isaac Bruce must have discovered the fountain of youth. Bruce is old, gray and slower than you would like your leading receiver to be, but all he does is catch everything thrown his way, run precise routes and help provide leadership to a core of green receivers. Bruce led the 49ers with 74 receiving yards against Arizona and had a 50-yard catch.
- Patrick Willis is the best defender in the NFL. OK, that might be a bit of a bold statement; but show me a linebacker you would rather have over Willis and I’ll let you have him. Against the Cardinals, Willis had a team-high 11 tackles and picked off Kurt Warner. The next best San Francisco tackler brought down four Cardinal ball carriers.
- The competition in the NFC West isn’t good. The Seahawks also won, but they were playing the lowly Rams. The Rams…well, let’s move on to another worthwhile subject. The Cardinals might make some NFC West noise before it’s all said and done, but they just don’t look as fresh as they did last year. Warner is a year older, as is Anquan Boldin. Seattle will give the 49ers the most fight in the West, but San Francisco is better defensively than the Seahawks.
Are there areas for improvement for the 49ers? Most definitely.
Frank Gore is going to have to do better than carry the football 14 times for 30 yards when the games start to mean more later in the season.
The offensive line is going to have to protect Hill better and not allow him to be sacked four times like he was against Arizona. The 49ers are not going to be able to win games in which they gave up more rushing and passing yards than they gained.
However, there was still much more to celebrate after Sunday’s season-opener than there was to bemoan. Singletary has the 49ers focused and disciplined, and the very near future (as in this season) is bright in the Bay Area.
Perhaps Tony Bennett will make a reprise of his famous song that says something like this: “I left the playoffs, in San Francisco.”