Every season has a defining moment, and for a team like the San Francisco 49ers, that moment does not come in those joyous, memorable final seconds in their thrilling comeback win last week in Philadelphia.
No, a defining moment is one where a team comes off a critical win or loss and then confirms to itself its abilities and resourcefulness. Looking over the last three Super Bowl champions it is possible to see where crucial games rose on the schedule for Pittsburgh (2008) and Green Bay (’10).
It wasn’t that they won the big game. More importantly, it’s that they kept the momentum and kept on winning. Consider:
Steelers, November 2008. Their record is 6-2. They’re in control of the AFC North, but Indianapolis came in for a crucial showdown. At stake was the right to lay claim as the conference’s best. Indy won 24-20, but the Steelers bounced back the next week with a scrappy 11-10 win over San Diego. That win invigorated the team, which went on to win nine of its last 10 games, capped by the Super Bowl victory over Arizona.
Green Bay, November 2010. They lost three of four, the only win over an overmatched San Francisco team. After a 7-3 loss to the Lions and then a 31-27 setback to the Patriots, they were in danger of missing the playoffs.
A 45-17 win over the Giants helped, but it was the 10-3 win over the Bears in the final week that cemented their place in the playoffs. More importantly, it was the game in which they proved to themselves they had what it took to win any game any way.
You could argue that the 2009 Saints were an exception to the rule. Opening the season with 13 straight wins, the league’s best offense was in high gear. A closer look, however, revealed that four of their last six wins in getting to 13-0 came by five points or less. The Saints were vulnerable, and Dallas, Tampa and Carolina proved it by beating them successively to end the season.
If anyone needed a clutch win, it was the Saints, and they got it with a 45-14 first-round playoff victory over the Cardinals. But the Saints still needed Brett Favre to bonehead his team’s chances during the NFC Championship game, sending the Saints to the Super Bowl.
If the 49ers are to continue their transformation from doormat to playoff-caliber team, a win over the visiting 3-1 Buccaneers on Sunday is the place to do it. Here are five reasons why San Francisco will win.
(Note: all quotes courtesy of transcripts provided by 49er PR department.)