Erickson will sleep well after huge win in debut
A 49 spot in Dennis Erickson’s debut as 49ers coach. And then a standing ovation from a satisfied sellout crowd at 3Com Park. The Niners couldn’t have done much better to begin the Erickson Era on Sunday afternoon, when they recorded one of the biggest blowouts in franchise history and also their largest margin of victory ever in a season opener.
This had all the looks of the start of something big, which of course it was, even if the Chicago Bears dutifully complied with a horrible effort that helped wax the shine on San Francisco’s most lopsided victory since 1989.
The Niners harassed, hammered and ultimately humbled Chicago 49-7, giving Erickson his highest point total as an NFL coach in his very first try with San Francisco. It also was the most points scored by the Niners in a game since 1994, and their second-most ever in a season opener.
That’s a lot of milestones bottled into one early September afternoon for the Niners, who outgained the Bears 391-127, forced five turnovers, blocked a punt deep in Chicago territory and also got a 68-yard interception return for a touchdown from cornerback Ahmed Plummer that settled the issue before halftime, when San Francisco held a 33-7 lead.
The 23 points the Niners scored in the second quarter were the most they’ve scored in that period since 1994, and their 33 points at halftime were the most they’ve scored in a half since 1992.
How’s that for an auspicious beginning to your new job, Mr. Erickson?
“My first game as 49ers coach was a great deal,” Erickson said in something of an understatement. “To be honest, you can’t ask for a better start than what happened to us. It’s always nice to play your first game at home, and win, and pretty much dominate.”
Even dominate might be an understatement. The 49ers unveiled a quick, aggressive, blitzing defense that set the tempo and constantly hit and harassed Bears quarterback Kordell Stewart into mistakes. Stewart was sacked five times, lost a fumble and was intercepted three times.
“It was just about going out there and making plays,” said Plummer, who finished the afternoon with two interceptions and also knocked down two passes. “That’s the one thing the coaches wanted us to do – be aggressive and go out there and make plays on defense. And that’s what we were able to do today.”
The Niners did it over and over again. If it wasn’t Plummer running back one of his picks for a TD, it was rookie Brandon Lloyd blocking a punt to set up a touchdown. If it wasn’t Jimmy Williams knocking the ball loose from Bobby Wade on a punt return and then recovering it to set up a Niners touchdown, it was Williams intercepting a Stewart pass with 18 second remaining before halftime to set up one of Jeff Chandler’s five field goals – all of them 29 yards or shorter.
The Bears recorded just eight first downs and drove past midfield only once the entire game. Even their lone score was set up by one of San Francisco’s few mistakes when Mike Brown intercepted a Jeff Garcia pass early in the second quarter, setting up the Chicago offense at the San Francisco 16-yard line. The Bears were able to move that distance for a touchdown, but it was all San Francisco after that, just as it had been all San Francisco before that.
It wasn’t just all about defense for the 49ers, of course. Garcia passed for 229 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 36 yards and a touchdown in three quarters of action. Terrell Owens had 112 yards receiving on seven receptions, Tai Streets caught a touchdown pass, Kevan Barlow rushed for a game-high 62 yards and Garrison Hearst had 56 yards rushing and 41 yards receiving while scoring a TD both on the ground and through the air.
That left Erickson with a rather comfortable feeling to begin his tenure in the pressure-cooker that is his position with the Niners.
“Last night, I didn’t sleep worth a hoot,” Erickson said. “But I will tonight.”