Moving on to the Rams
It's only the second game of the season, but Sunday's showdown between the long-time rivals could have long-term implications and also set the tone for who is the early frontrunner in the NFC West. The Niners, defending division champions, certainly staked their claim to that distinction during coach Dennis Erickon's debut in San Francisco by dominating the Bears 49-7 in the most lopsided season opener in franchise history. The Rams, picked by many as a Super Bowl favorite again this year after last year's disappointing finish, lost to the New York Giants in their opener while also losing two-time MVP quarterback Kurt Warner. The Rams might already be fighting for survival. That makes this game a much better measuring stick of how good the Niners really are. Erickson said that still was difficult to determine after an opener during which the Niners recorded their largest margin of victory since 1989 and scored their most points in a game since 1994. It also was an NFL high in points for Erickson, who coached the Seattle Seahawks from 1995-98. "Any time you win like that, you gain confidence," Erickson said. "But you just have to be very aware of where you're at because things change very fast from one week to the next. Things change awful fast in this league from one week to the next. You want to look at the positives, celebrate for a while and then the turnaround time is pretty fast. There were a great deal of positives to take out of that win, but there was also some things we didn't do well, too." There certainly were more positives than negatives. The Niners blocked a punt, forced five turnovers, had five sacks of Chicago quarterback Kordell Stewart and allowed the Chicago offense to convert on just three of 14 third-down opportunities. San Francisco emerged from Week 1 with the NFL's top-ranked defense and fourth-ranked offense. The 49ers ranked 25th in the NFL in sacks last year and were 32nd - last in the league - in allowing opponents to convert on third down. "(Coaches) really let us get after them," Niners linebacker Jeff Ulbrich said. "But there were a lot of missed opportunities. As good as it looked, it could have looked a lot better." The same could be said of a San Francisco offense that out-gained Chicago 391-127. The Niners drove inside the Chicago 16-yard line nine times, but produced touchdowns on only four of those drives. Kicker Jeff Chandler made five field goals of 29 yards or less on the other drives. "I don't think anybody is taking (Sunday) as if we're on top of the world, that we're the team to beat," quarterback Jeff Garcia said. "We realize there's plenty of room to get better. There are 15 more rounds, and we're facing a top opponent this week in St. Louis." The 49ers haven't won at St. Louis since 1998. The Rams snapped San Francisco's 17-game winning streak in the series between the two teams the next season at St. Louis' Edward Jones Dome. Only six players on the current 49ers roster have beaten the Rams in St. Louis. "It's good to be fired up and riding the wave of momentum after (Sunday)," Ulbrich said. "But the Rams are definitely a challenge, especially at St. Louis. We've definitely got something to prove." Said Erickson, "They're the guys in this division you have to beat to win it all."
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