The Oakland Tribune

Shaking off 'MNF' meltdown
January 01, 2003
Niners try to forget their latest fourth-quarter folly, focus on playoff vs. Giants

By Glenn Reeves STAFF WRITER

SANTA CLARA -- It won't be known until Sunday just how much or how little the 49ers' Monday night meltdown against the Rams meant.

Conventional thinking says you want to go into the playoffs on a positive note. Call that lay-a-foundation thinking.

But last season the 49ers did that with a 38-0 win over Saints in the regular-season finale, only to lose to Green Bay 25-15 in the first round of the playoffs.

And after seeing a 20-3 fourth-quarter lead turn into a 31-20 defeat Monday against the Rams, the 49ers would prefer to subscribe to the notion of getting a bad game out of their system while it still means nothing before taking on the New York Giants in the first round of the NFC playoffs on Sunday.

In 1988 the 49ers finished the regular season with a stinker of a 38-16 loss to the Rams to conclude a 10-6 campaign, only to turn around and go 3-0 in the postseason to win their third Super Bowl. That's some history the current 49ers (10-6) would love to repeat.

"I was really pleased with our first three quarters," 49ers coach Steve Mariucci said of Monday's game against the Rams. "We were playing dominating football. It was an ugly fourth quarter."

As far as the fear of that negativity carrying over against the Giants, Mariucci addressed the issue in what he called "a frustrated locker room."

"You're tempted as a coach to keep starters in longer," Mariucci said. "But we had a plan that was well thought out, and we had to stick to it. When you do that, you're not going to be playing your best football. You're just hoping it's good enough."

Jeff Garcia played one series. Terrell Owens didn't even make the trip. But with a 45-man roster it's impossible to rest all the starters and keep them away from injury. And more than a few guys got nicked up on the artificial surface in St. Louis.

Starting cornerback Jason Webster went down with a left ankle sprain and was termed questionable for Sunday's game by Mariucci.

"He said he felt the swelling went down some (Tuesday)," Mariucci said. "We'll see toward the end of the week if he's available. He's a tough guy. We'll work around the clock to try to get him back on the field."

Linebacker Jeff Ulbrich (left ankle sprain), according to Mariucci, says he's going to play, that he'll find a way to be on the field.

Defensive end Sean Moran (right Achilles' tendon strain) is in a boot and will be limited in practice.

Wide receiver Cedrick Wilson (right ankle sprain) is walking without too much of a limp and is expected to play.

Left tackle Derrick Deese and right guard Ron Stone both sat out Monday's game to rest ankle injuries. Both are expected to start against the Giants. Stone's injury, what is termed a high ankle sprain, was the more serious of the two. But the Giants are his former team.

"Ron is not going to miss the game," left guard Eric Heitmann said. "He's fired up to play those guys."

Owens will play after resting and rehabbing his injured groin for two weeks.

Linebackers Jamie Winborn (knee) and Saleem Rasheed (thigh) are both unlikely to play. Winborn had a good day of practice last Thursday but didn't feel as well the next day. Rasheed, mostly a special-teams player, is listed as questionable.

In one piece of good news from the injury front, free safety Zach Bronson is expected to play after missing 11 games with a broken foot.

Sunday's game against the Giants will be the 22nd game of the season for the 49ers counting exhibitions. That's a big change for Heitmann, a rookie out of Stanford where the most games he'd ever played were 12 in a bowl season.

"I haven't even had time to think about hitting the wall," Heitmann said. "As much action as I've had, I haven't had an opportunity to hit the wall."

Heitmann is among those discounting Blue Monday.

"We've known our playoff situation for a couple of weeks," Heitmann said. "Our team is looking forward to a real positive surge going into the playoffs. I feel like our best football is ahead of us."

EXTRA POINT: The 2003 opponents list was released Tuesday. The 49ers will play all four teams in the AFC North next season. Cleveland and Pittsburgh will come to Candlestick. The 49ers will play at Baltimore and Cincinnati. The 49ers will also play all four teams in the NFC North as well as the two other first-place teams from the NFC, Philadelphia and Tampa Bay.

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