NINERS LOOKING FOR FIRST-QUARTER POINTS

The 49ers finished the first quarter of their 2001 season without scoring a point in the first quarter. That's eight possessions and not even one measly field goal to show for it.

The Niners have been outscored 23-0 in the first period of their first four games. They'll be looking to change that quickly today in the Georgia Dome against the Atlanta Falcons, who shut them out 7-0 in the first quarter of the Sept. 9 season opener between the two teams at San Francisco's 3Com Park. The Niners went on to win that game 16-13 in overtime. But they had to overcome a 13-3 deficit entering the fourth quarter as their offense started very slowly. That, obviously, has been the case in every game this season.

"We'll be OK," Niners coach Steve Mariucci said. "It's just purely coincidental that we haven't had any points in the first quarter. There's been years where we are very good on opening drives and then we can't make a first down later in the game. Who knows what's better? Who cares what is better as long as you get the 'W.' "

The slow starts haven't stopped the Niners from getting some of those. They take a 3-1 record to Atlanta, which has San Francisco tied for the second-best mark in the NFC. The home team has won the last eight meetings between the Niners and Falcons. The 49ers are having a rough time getting their offense started in more ways than one. On first downs, San Francisco averages just 3.86 yards, which ranks 29th in the league.

"We aren't starting games off the way we want to start them" Niners quarterback Jeff Garcia said. "We did a great job last year of opening games with scoring drives. We haven't been able to get that going as of yet. Fortunately for us, we've done enough good things throughout games to overcome that and we've able to win games. But, yes, it's something that's on our minds and something that we definitely plan on bettering ourselves at and working on and improving." Mariucci said the Niners will continue with their standard practice over the years of scripting the first few series of plays.

 "It's not like we're going to change what we're doing," he said. "We'll keep installing the first 15 (plays) like we do. We script plays early that we like, that we think will work because they are very well practiced and we feel good about them. We're just going to keep doing it the way we do it. Hopefully, we execute better sooner."


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