Time for Niners to take charge of their season

The St. Louis Rams lost Sunday. Again. To the Dallas Cowboys. At home. To fall to 0-4. That means only one thing for the 49ers: When the Rams leave San Francisco this coming Sunday, they must be 0-5.

A new season began for the 49ers on Monday when they returned to their Santa Clara headquarters to resume preparations for their much-anticipated "showdown" with the Rams. And the time has come for San Francisco to stand up and take control of its season.

It's pretty simple, really. The Niners can bury the Rams in the first week of October. They cannot let the opportunity slip by. They will never have a better chance to do it. The Rams are befuddled on offense like they haven't been since before their stunning return to prominence in 1999. And they won't have quarterback Kurt Warner - the NFL's reigning MVP - to run their offense.

It couldn't be a better scenario for the 49ers, but they obviously have to worry about themselves. Despite their unimpressive start - let's face it, their 2-1 record looks much better than they have - they can grab a stranglehold on the NFC West with victories over the Rams and Seahawks the next two weeks. It's something of which they might never let go the rest of the season.

We've seen the Niners struggle big-time out of the gate on offense, but none of that really matters now if they can get their act together this week. The promise and potential for big things that were so ominipresent entering the season still are there.

It's a fresh start for the Niners, a new season if you will. And they get to release any unpleasant memories from the first stage of their season while holding on to a first-place record.

"I still think it's just like I said this summer," Niners tackle Derrick Deese, the senior statesman on the roster, said Monday. "I said then that this team has a chance to shock the world, and I still believe it does. I still think this team has a good chance to take it all the way."

The Niners will have to be a better team for that to happen. Everybody knows that. But that's the point: By the standards they're expected to live up to this season, they've been less than satisfactory, yet everything is still out there for them entering October. Every goal still is within reach with a month of the season behind them.

That would mean the Niners actually are now closer to those goals. And, if anything, they're read to take the next step.

"That's a good start, men!" coach Steve Mariucci barked at his players as the team huddled after Monday's morning practice, the first time the team had been together after five days off.

That's what this for the Niners: A new start. Now it's time for them to take it to the finish, beginning Sunday against the Rams.


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