49ers can expect win total to multiply within division Week 5 Preview

September 26, 1997|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

Steve Young likes to compare the San Francisco 49ers to a horse that tripped out of the gate.

"We've started to run again and we're running pretty good," Young said in a conference call this week. "We've got a long way to go."

The 3-1 49ers will find out how far they have to go when they meet the Panthers in the first Monday night game at Carolina's Ericsson Stadium.

Although the 2-2 Panthers have stumbled even more than the 49ers, they swept San Francisco last year and won the NFC West title.

If the past three Monday night games -- each decided on the last play -- are any barometer, this should be a close game as the 49ers shoot for a fourth straight win since their devastating opener in Tampa Bay.

The 49ers tripped in their opener over a 290-pound wrecking ball named Warren Sapp.

The Buccaneers' defensive tackle knocked Young out for a game with a concussion and knocked Jerry Rice out for much of the season -- if not the entire year -- with a major knee injury.

The one thing that saved the 49ers is that they met three hapless division foes -- St. Louis, New Orleans and Atlanta -- in their next three games.

They beat St. Louis with rookie Jim Druckenmiller at quarterback and then crushed New Orleans when they got Young back. He has completed 35 of 45 passes for 556 yards and five touchdowns the past two weeks.

If they get by Carolina, and with rematches against St. Louis, Atlanta and New Orleans coming up the next three games, the 49ers could be 7-1 without beating a team with a winning record.

Young said the 49ers' goal, with or without Rice, is still the Super Bowl.

"That would have to be proven [that they could win it all without Rice]," he said. "We believe we can do that."

Another intriguing aspect of this game is that linebacker Kevin Greene, who was such a big part of Carolina's success last year, is playing for the 49ers. He was cut after a long holdout and then signed with San Francisco.

"I can't give you any fire," said Greene, who can expect a hostile reception. "I'm not going to give them bulletin-board material."

Panthers nose tackle Greg Kragen said, "I know how the fans are going to be. They are going to want to hang him."

Best of the rest

Jaguars at Redskins: If the 3-0 Jaguars lose and the Ravens beat San Diego, the Ravens will be in first place in the AFC Central. But that won't stop most Baltimore fans from rooting against the team they love to hate -- the Redskins. The Redskins are favored by 1 1/2 points even though Mark Brunell is back at quarterback for the Jaguars and torched the Steelers for 306 yards on Monday night. The key for the Redskins is not to let Gus Frerotte get into a shootout with Brunell. They want to run Terry Allen against the Jaguars the way Jerome Bettis did in the second half for the Steelers when he rushed 16 times for 97 yards.

FTC Packers at Lions: With Tampa Bay coming to town next week, the 3-1 Packers are running out of time to get their game in gear. The Lions won't have much of a home-field edge because thousands of Packers fans are expected to make the trip from Green Bay. The Lions are coming off one of the most frustrating games of coach Bobby Ross' career, a loss to the woeful Saints in New Orleans. The defeat obscured the fact that Barry Sanders gained 113 yards to become the sixth player in NFL history to reach 12,000 yards. He needs 69 more to pass Franco Harris. The Packers have won eight straight division games and need to keep that string alive to keep pace with Tampa Bay.

Worth a look

Ravens at Chargers: The 1-3 Chargers are favored by 1 1/2 points over the 3-1 Ravens mainly because they have the home-field edge. Since San Diego's anemic offense -- 29th overall and 24th passing -- doesn't figure to be able to exploit the Ravens' secondary, the Ravens should be able to control this game. But it's always difficult to win four straight overall and three straight on the road, and the Ravens have to avoid the trap of looking ahead to the Steelers game next week.

Cardinals at Bucs: This figures to be another victory for Tampa Bay, but it's actually a challenge for coach Tony Dungy to keep his surprising team on an even keel. This game is sandwiched between the emotional victory over Miami and next week's trip to Green Bay. The Bucs have to realize Arizona is better than its 1-2 record indicates. The Cardinals are two fumbles away from a 3-0 mark, and the Bucs can't afford to overlook them. It has been a long time since Tampa Bay had to worry about overconfidence.

Broncos at Falcons: At first glance, this shapes up as another routine rout for the Broncos. But there are a lot of subplots because quarterback John Elway has made it obvious he was unhappy with coach Dan Reeves' offensive philosophy when he was the Broncos' coach. Current Broncos coach Mike Shanahan also clashed with Reeves. The Broncos would like to run this one up to tune up for next week's game with New England, which has a bye this week.

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