Where will the wins come from?
With the 49ers tied for the NFC's worst record at 1-5, there will be no talk of getting back in the playoff chase the rest of the way. It's already too late for any of that. The Niners need to forget about what's behind them in 2004 and think about finishing this disappointing season strong and building momentum for 2005. Now's the time to start. So where are those five victories going to come from the rest of the way? A close examination of San Francisco's remaining schedule suggests they definitely are out there to be had. For the sake of focusing on legitimate and practical opportunities, let's throw out a few games right away. The 49ers haven't won at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis since 1998. They probably won't win there this year, either. And that season-ending trip to icy New England on Jan. 2? Go ahead and mark that one down in the loss column, particularly if the defending Super Bowl champion Patriots still have something to play for at that point, which they very well might. The Nov. 7 game at home against Seattle also looks a little shaky, mainly because of the way the Seahawks manhandled the Niners when the teams met in Seattle on the final weekend of September. It should be different on San Francisco's home turf, but it's difficult to believe the Niners can turn the tables on the Seahawks after that embarrassing 34-0 blanking in Seattle. But every other game is winnable, and that includes road visits to Chicago, Tampa Bay and Arizona. We're not just making this proposition on a lark. We're expecting that the Niners will have things better sorted out come November, and that they will have learned from their previous 2004 mistakes to become a better team as their young talent grows and develops with on-the-job experience. That should leave the Niners quite capable of beating Carolina, Miami, Washington and Buffalo at home. When the Niners beat Arizona on Oct. 10 to drop from the small legion of winless NFL teams, they left behind the Dolphins and Bills as the lone remaining members of that sorry crowd. The Bills picked up their first win last week against the Dolphins, and Miami recorded its first win Sunday by upsetting the Rams. The Bills are 1-5. The Dolphins are an NFL-worst 1-6. They are in the same boat as San Francisco right now, and the Niners will face both of them at home. If you look around, the Panthers (1-5) and Redskins (2-4) also have struggled in degrees similar to the Niners. Let's figure the Niners to win three of those games, and maybe all four. That will leave them needing one or two road wins to break even after the bye. Counting on road victories is a little dicey when you're talking about the 49ers, who have lost 11 of their past 12 travels away from home. But when you look at the Bears, Buccaneers and Cardinals, you see three teams that could be in even worse shape than San Francisco by the time the Niners come to town. Those three teams combined to win just four of their first 16 games, so the Niners figure to be going to the right places to look for road wins. And who knows? If the Niners can win the games they should the rest of the way, and even score an upset or two while they are at it, they could be looking at an opportunity to finish better than .500 after the bye, which would leave them playing for a final record that looks much prettier than the one they're sitting on now. It might seem like a lot to ask for, considering the way the team has played so far. But the remaining schedule is set up for the Niners to still make something out of the season after beginning it with their worst start since 1979.
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