The 2007 NFL football season has been great. Although I can’t remember a football season that I didn’t enjoy, this year was so chock full of headlines and interesting stories, it would take days to cover them all. Throw in my first full season of NFL Sunday Ticket, and you’ve got yourself a good time. Anyway, I’ve taken it upon myself to pick a few random NFL teams, and take a look at their season as well as a look ahead to what’s in store for them next year. We’ve all been talking about the playoff teams so much; I’ve felt the need to write about some of the non-playoff teams. Call it a swan song of football before I jump into writing about basketball, if you will. Anyway, today’s team: The San Francisco 49ers.
The San Francisco 49ers started out the 2007 season as the trendy sleeper pick of the pre-season. They were coming off an improved 2006 performance and signed many key free agents including CB Nate Clements and WR Ashley Lelie. Frank Gore was coming off a fantastic year (1695 rushing yards, 8 TD’s) and Alex Smith appeared to be maturing into the starting QB role after an equally impressive 2 nd year in the NFL (2890 passing yards, 16 TD’s 74.8 QB rating).
The 49ers started out 2007 with an impressive come from behind victory over the Arizona Cardinals in the second Monday Night Game of the evening. Although the offense was stagnant for the most part, many were optimistic about it all, concluding that the Niners could come from behind and win close ball games. Not to mention, it was a divisional victory and who complains about divisional victories, right?
The optimism continued in Week 2 as the 49ers squeaked out another close win in St. Louis 17-16. Alex Smith again had a mediocre showing, but Frank Gore rushed for a respectable 80 yards and 2 touchdowns. The 2-0 49ers could easily have been 0-2, but they were not – and there defense was playing fantastic. 49er fans were beginning to think that all of the preseason hype was beginning to look legit and they did indeed have a playoff caliber team.
However, it was at this time boys and girls that the wheels began to fall off the 49er bandwagon. They dropped six straight leaving them at 2-6 and looking at a Monday Night match up against their division rival, The Seattle Seahawks. During this nationally televised game, the 49ers were shutout 24-0, in one of their poorest showings in franchise history. They would not win again until Week 12, an overtime thriller against the Arizona Cardinals. But by then, it was too late.
During the final five weeks of the season, the 49ers would go 2-3, beating the Cincinnati Bengals and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They finished the season 5-11 and are generally regarded as the biggest disappointment of the entire season, when taking into account pre-season predictions. After last years run at the NFC West title, the 49ers were outclassed by the front running Seattle Seahawks in both games this year, being outscored 47-3.
There is a lot to look forward to next year, though. Patrick Willis, the 49ers first round draft pick won defensive rookie of the year honors. Frank Gore, while not having his best of years in 2007, is still relatively young and can only get better. While the defense isn’t anything to write home about, you’d be a fool to think it can’t be tweaked a bit and be a top 10 unit.
2007 Team Leaders
T. Dilfer - 113 completions, 219 attempts, 1166 yards, 7 TD, 12 INT
F. Gore - 260 carries, 1102 yards, 4.2 average, 5 TD
A.Battle – 50 receptions, 600 yards, 12.0 average, 5 TD
P. Willis – 135 solo tackles, 39 assisted tackles, 4 sacks
One of the big questions going into the off season for the 49ers is what to do at the quarterback position. Will they stick with Alex Smith? Perhaps they will give Shaun Hill a chance? This is a topic in and of itself (one in which I will be writing about next) but you can’t rule out the 49ers taking a QB in the draft, either. Alex Smith has appeared to hit a stopgap talent wise, but he could still get better. It is however, a major concern that the organization will have to address for the team to live up to its true potential.
One of the most glaring needs for the 49ers is of course, the wide receiver position. Darrel Jackson is in no way a #1 receiver and Ashley Lelie did not live up to expectations at all in 2007. This could again be because of the inconsistency at the QB position (the team started 4 different QB’s during the season) or the 49ers could need better receivers. I believe it is a mixture of both.
If the 49ers focus on a promising younger receiver, possibly a quarterback and depth on defense in the draft, they have a realistic shot at accomplishing next year what they were supposed to this year. We’ll all just have to wait and see.