Despite critics, 49ers say 11-1 is mark of excellence

Week 14 Preview

November 28, 1997|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

The San Francisco 49ers are 0-1 against teams with winning records.

They're 11-0 against teams at .500 or with losing records.

That's why their game Sunday in Kansas City against the 9-3 Chiefs is an intriguing matchup.

Not since they lost to 8-4 Tampa Bay in the opener have the 49ers played a team that currently has a winning record. Their 17-10 triumph over 6-7 Dallas has been their only significant victory.

But they already have clinched the NFC West title and have a two-game lead on 9-3 Green Bay in the battle for home-field advantage in the NFC title game in January.

Since the 49ers play host to 8-4 Minnesota next Sunday and 10-2 Denver the following Monday night, the next three weeks will give San Francisco a chance to prove it's more than a team that has padded its record against soft competition.

The 49ers don't much care that their record hasn't awed anybody.

Wins are wins, and there are no asterisks for beating losing teams.

For example, the Miami Dolphins are celebrating the 25th anniversary of their 17-0 season. They beat only two teams with winning records during the 1972 regular season, but nobody remembers that -- although those Dolphins players still feel they don't get their due and are upset that they're often not ranked among the two or three best teams of all time.

That doesn't diminish their achievement, and if the 49ers go all the way, their schedule will become a footnote.

What will be remembered is that they survived the loss of Jerry Rice in the opener to rattle off 11 straight victories heading into Sunday's game.

"We've won 11 in a row so let them say what they want. That's the way it is," running back Garrison Hearst said.

The 49ers are so confident that they're publicly talking about the likely matchup with Green Bay in the NFC title game.

"Can we beat the Green Bay Packers?" coach Steve Mariucci said. "They played very well [last Sunday against Dallas], but the week before they lost to an 0-10 team [Indianapolis]."

That was a pointed reminder that the 49ers at least beat the losing teams on their schedule.

The Kansas City game is a good test because the Chiefs are tough at home and coach Marty Schottenheimer has squeezed out a pair of victories with Rich Gannon at quarterback.

The Chiefs upset the Broncos, 24-22, two weeks ago on a 54-yard field goal as time expired. Last week, they resorted to trickery, fooling the Seahawks with a fake punt en route to a 19-14 victory.

"I think we all become the product of our experiences. You either have positive reinforcement to what you can do or negative reinforcement," Schottenheimer said. "In our situation, it's clearly been positive."

Best of the rest

Packers at Vikings: The Monday night game features a rematch of two NFC Central rivals. After losing, 38-32, at Green Bay in Week 4, the Vikings ran off six straight victories. But they're coming off back-to-back losses to the Lions and Jets. They had a chance to send the Jets game into overtime but failed when coach Dennis Green made the curious decision to run on a two-point conversion. The Vikings have to hope that Green Bay has a letdown after its big win over Dallas, but the Packers haven't forgotten that they've lost five straight at the Metrodome. With a trip to San Francisco coming up next week, this is a critical game for the Vikings.

Bucs at Giants: With the Giants at 7-4-1 and the Bucs at 8-4, this is just one of three games this weekend to feature teams with winning records and it has a lot of NFC playoff implications. It's the first of two trips the Bucs will make to Giants Stadium in three weeks. They play the Jets there on Dec. 14. The significance of playing in cold weather is that the Bucs have never won a game in weather colder than 42 degrees. They kept that streak alive by losing in Chicago last Sunday. Coach Tony Dungy knows cold weather. He's a Michigan native who played and coached in Minneapolis and played and coached in Pittsburgh. Now he has to get his team to adjust to it.

Worth a look

Bengals at Eagles: This will be a duel between a quarterback (Boomer Esiason) whose best days are behind him and a quarterback (Bobby Hoying) whose best days are ahead of him. Esiason came off the bench last week to stun Jacksonville and will try to do it again in Philadelphia, where Hoying has shown in just two games that he's the Eagles' quarterback of the future.

Saints at Panthers: Mike Ditka, who recanted on Monday his emotional statement Sunday that he had lost it, will make this game interesting all by himself. There will be a camera on him at all times waiting for his next explosion. He's also starting quarterback Billy Joe Hobert, who was last seen exiting Buffalo after admitting he hadn't studied the playbook. Carolina is still alive in the playoff picture but has a tough road ahead with Dallas and Green Bay in the next two weeks.

Filling out the schedule

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