Challenging 2004 slate faces S.F.

It begins at home against the team's coordinators from last year, then ends in January at the home of the defending Super Bowl champions. The 2004 schedule promises plenty of challenges for the 49ers. Whether they'll be playing for something important against the Patriots in icy New England on Jan. 2 remains to be seen, but coach Dennis Erickson will worry first about the opener against Jim Mora's Atlanta Falcons. "I'm a little more concerned about that guy at quarterback," Erickson said.

Erickson was referring to Atlanta quarterback Michael Vick, but he'll also have to worry about his top two subordinates from 2003 when the Falcons come to San Francisco to begin the season Sept. 12. Mora, the Niners' defensive coordinator the past five seasons, now is running the show in Atlanta as the Falcons' head coach. He took Greg Knapp, the Niners' offensive coordinator the past three years, with him to Atlanta.

Nothing would make those two look better to their new bosses than to open the Mora era in Atlanta with a road victory against the team they coached for last year.

That's just one of many hurdles facing the Niners on their 2004 slate, which includes six games against 2003 playoff teams, including the season finale at defending AFC champion New England and a Nov. 14 home contest against defending NFC champion Carolina.

The Niners don't have any nationally-televised Monday night games on their schedule, but they will play Sunday night games televised nationally by ESPN at home against the Rams on Oct. 3 and on the road four weeks later against the Chicago Bears. They also play a nationally-televised Saturday afternoon game Dec. 18 at home against Washington.

San Francisco will have three two-game homestands and three two-game road trips with the Niners' bye week set for Oct. 24.

At that point, the Niners will have a pretty good idea regarding what direction their season is headed. In the first six weeks leading to San Francisco's bye, the Niners will have played five games against NFC opponents, will have played each of their three NFC West opponents (including home games against St. Louis and Arizona), and made three road trips, including two of their longest of the season to New Orleans and New York to play the Jets.

With 2004 opponents from the NFC South and AFC East, the 49ers travel will take the team to each region of the United States, and the Niners will log 29,078 miles before the regular-season is complete.

Niners Digest Top Stories