You had to be wondering about Jeff Garcia again on Sunday. He was off with his passes, his decisions weren't sharp, and he underthrew the ball on practically every deep pass, one of which was intercepted in the end zone. But then you learn after the game that Garcia was socked by a flu virus that shook the entire team, and you understand why he wasn't up to his usual standards. Give Garcia credit for taking himself out of the game when he realized he wasn't helping the team. Tim Rattay stepped in and did an adequate job in his first significant regular-season action in three years as a 49er, but coaches didn't give him much of a chance to do anything with the game in hand in the fourth quarter. Bottom line: A poor day statistically, but both Garcia and Rattay were sick and neither did anything to prevent the Niners from winning.
So that's where the running game went. Garrison Hearst and Kevan Barlow were back to being a magnificent 1-2 punch at tailback, and they were the story of the game as the Niners controlled the game and clock and sat on their lead. Hearst had 97 yards on 19 carries, and frankly, he was both due for and desperately needed that kind of breakout game after his slow start. Barlow continued to display that he is the better player at this point, breaking loose for 94 yards on 15 carries, averaging 6.3 a pop, and nearly breaking away for more yards on several of his runs. It was the first time since 1978 that the Niners had two players rush for 90 or more yards in the same game. Bottom line: Barlow, Hearst both superb as running game makes dramatic return.
If you can't throw the ball to Terrell Owens, then hand it to him and give him an option to throw it. Then watch him turn a pass-option reverse that didn't fool anybody into a weaving, tackle-breaking touchdown run that altered the course of the game. Only Owens can make that play, and all he needs to do so is to get the ball in his hands in the open field. The 38-yard scoring play was the longest run of Owens' career, and was a vivid display of his extraordinary talents. Unfortunately, he again didn't get much of a chance to show that as a receiver with just two receptions for 33 yards. Owens was the only San Francisco receiver to average more than nine yards per catch on a very quiet day from the receiving corps. J.J. Stokes had four catches and Tai Streets had three, but those two combined for just 47 yards receiving. Bottom line: Best contribution of day from this unit came on a running play.
There were some problems in pass protection, and quarterback Jeff Garcia paid for it by taking some pretty heavy blows. But this unit made up for that by pounding on – and then wearing down – the Washington defense with tremendous run blocking. Everybody got in the act, and 11th-year tackle Derrick Deese continues to get out on running plays as quickly as he ever has. When a team rushes for 252 yards, the offensive line is definitely doing something right. This unit took a major blow when guard Dave Fiore went down with a knee injury in the third quarter, an ailment that could force him to miss the rest of the season. Bottom line: The Niners desperately needed to get their running game going again, and that all started here on Sunday.
A very strong all-around effort. Tackles Dana Stubblefield and Bryant Young did their job by clogging the middle, and this time they got some help from third tackle Jim Flanigan. Ends Andre Carter and Chike Okeafor were even better, combining for three sacks and eight tackles. Carter also forced a fumble on one of his sacks. The Niners got 10 hits on Washington quarterbacks, and that's a lot. Most came from this unit, which was very disruptive to a Washington offense that managed only 217 yards and 12 first downs. Bottom line: Great day by defense started here.
It's official now. Julian Peterson is coming into his own. Peterson had his second consecutive outstanding effort, making plays all over the field as the Niners continue to move him from side to side. He had six tackles, forced a fumble that set up the Niners' first touchdown and also had some heavy quarterback pressures that produced errant throws. Derek Smith also had some nice blitzes and emerged as a tackling force again with a team-high seven after producing just four in San Francisco's first two games. Jeff Ulbrich returned from his knee injury and had a feisty effort with five tackles. Jamie Winborn was lost with a knee injury, and if he is out for an extended period, it will be a big blow to this unit. Bottom line: Solid performance across the board.
Several players were ailing with the flu virus that swept through the team, but it didn't show in their performance. The pass-minded Redskins did nothing significant through the air, and the longest pass to a receiver went for just 16 yards. Safety Zack Bronson, who was doubtful for the game with a shoulder stinger to begin the week, answered the bell and performed superbly with four tackles, an interception and a pass defensed. Tony Parrish also continued to display his nose for the football, recovering a fumble that was turned into a San Francisco touchdown. Bottom line: Flu-ridden unit made Redskins passing game look sickly.
Jimmy Williams responded from a shaky start in San Francisco's first two games to not only display sure hands, but also some breakaway ability returning kicks. He had a career-best 25-yard punt return and averaged 11.3 yards on his four returns. Jason Baker had a few wobbly punts, but he boomed some others and averaged 40.3 yards on his seven kicks, putting three inside the Washington 20-yard line. Kicker Jose Cortez drilled two routine field goals, and the coverage units – which rank statistically among the best in the NFL – continued to excel. The Redskins started their 11 offensive drives, on average, on their own 29-yard line, including five times inside their own 20. Bottom line: Units contributed to victory in all phases.
Imagine what it's like to wake up on game day and half your team is walking around – or laying around – with a flu virus. And then you have it, too, as was the case with coach Steve Mariucci and a few of his assistants. The Niners fought through that adversity, and then played it smart by keeping their players fresh and playing it conservative at the end to get out with the victory. Defensive strategy was exceptional to thwart an ostensibly dangerous Washington passing game, and finding different ways to get the ball in the hands of Terrell Owens obviously is a wise thing to do. The Niners also stuck with their running game, and that's what was needed to finally get it going. And, for that matter, get the team going. Bottom line: The circumstances surrounding this game could have been disastrous for the Niners. Instead, the coaches played it just right, and the team is 2-1 and on the upswing entering its bye week.