NFC West: Keena Turner
The 1989 team featured the 49ers' offense at the peak of its powers.
Joe Montana averaged 9.1 yards per attempt with 13 starts that season. The figure for three-game starter Steve Young -- 10.9 yards per attempt -- was even more ridiculous. Drew Brees set a career high at 8.5 yards per attempt last season. Tom Brady's average was 8.3 during his historic 2007 season. Dan Marino was at 9.0 in his 1984 career season. None could match the 49ers' top two quarterbacks during this special season.
This was the first 49ers team of the 1980s without Bill Walsh, but offensive coordinator Mike Holmgren was still there, as were nearly all of the team's iconic offensive players from the decade. Tight end Brent Jones emerged as a starter. Roger Craig topped 1,000 yards rushing. Fullback Tom Rathman caught 73 passes. Montana set a career high for passer rating at 112.1, completing 70.2 percent with 26 touchdowns and eight interceptions. Rice caught 17 touchdown passes while averaging 18.1 yards per reception.
The defense was typically overlooked except by those forced to play against it. John Elway completed only 10 of 26 passes for 108 yards and two interceptions against the 49ers in the Super Bowl.
"Their defense doesn't get enough credit," Broncos coach Dan Reeves said afterward. ''I can't say enough about them.''
Walsh later regretted retiring. This team made it easy to see why.
Most impressive win: Having already touched on the Super Bowl victory, let's focus on the victory that delivered the NFC West title to San Francisco that season. Montana passed for 458 yards, including 286 to receiver John Taylor, and the 49ers twice overcame 17-point deficits to edge the division-rival Rams, 30-27, on the road.
Transcending Walsh: This 49ers team became the only one in NFL history to win back-to-back Super Bowls with different head coaches. The change from Walsh to George Seifert might have actually helped this team, at least for a season. The offensive-minded Walsh left the defensive-minded Seifert with a veteran offense trained to function at a high level without much big-picture help. Holmgren took the best of what Walsh taught him and made it even better with his own tweaking. In that sense, the 1989 team might have gotten the best of what Walsh and Holmgren had to offer. Montana was also at his best. He never enjoyed a finer season.
1984: This was the team that knocked off Marino in the Super Bowl after the quarterback shredded defenses for a then-record 48 touchdown passes. This was a great 49ers team with a franchise-best 15-1 record, but the best group in 49ers history needed to include Rice, I thought. He arrived the next year.
1994: Proponents of this team will point to a defense featuring Deion Sanders, Rickey Jackson, Ken Norton, Merton Hanks, Eric Davis, Tim McDonald, Bryant Young and others. They'll point to Young's record six touchdown passes against the San Diego Chargers in the Super Bowl.
1948: Let's save some recognition for one of the early 49ers teams. This one outscored opponents by more than 17 points per game on its way to a 12-2 record. Frankie Albert put up modern-day numbers with 29 touchdown passes, 10 interceptions and a 102.9 rating.
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee quotes McCloughan's agent as saying the 49ers' GM does not plan to resign. There's obviously more to this story. Should be an interesting Thursday in Santa Clara.
Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says the Seahawks' gamble on Charlie Whitehurst resembles the chance they took on Matt Hasselbeck nine years ago. O'Neil: "Time will tell whether the sacrifice was worth it. Nine years ago, Seattle traded away a third-round pick for a quarterback who had never started a regular-season game and had attempted all of 29 passes in that time. Not only that, but Seattle gave that guy a new contract. The deal for Matt Hasselbeck didn't turn out to be so bad in retrospect. Will this one work out as well? We have our first yardstick for the Carroll era." More here.
John Morgan of Field Gulls projects which players the Seahawks might miss out on after moving down 20 spots in the second round.
Bob McManaman of the Arizona Republic says Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt offered a stronger endorsement of quarterback Matt Leinart after adding Derek Anderson. Whisenhunt: "Derek will get opportunities, especially with our first unit like we've done in the past. But I'm also excited about Matt and seeing how he handles this situation he's in right now."
Dan Bickley of the Arizona Republic says "circumstances have changed dramatically" for Whisenhunt to install Leinart as the starter. Bickley: "In this case, you want Leinart to believe that he's assuming the torch from a legend, and not struggling to win a starting job. You want him to believe this is a logical succession, that he's Steve Young taking over from Joe Montana. Whether it's true or not is highly irrelevant. All that matters is if Leinart believes. After all, he will dictate whether the Cardinals continue their playoff run in 2010, or slip back into the muck of mediocrity." Leinart still has to earn it on the field, but I also think it's important for the organization to support him in a way that gives Leinart his best chance at success. Whisenhunt seems to have a good feel for such things.
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says it was obvious Leinart would be named the starter. Urban: "Whether Anderson -– who had three touchdown passes and 10 interceptions in 2009 playing for the struggling Browns two years after his big Pro Bowl season -- can surpass Leinart at any point is an unknown. And Whisenhunt clearly didn’t think it was the time to get into the way Leinart could lose his spot."
ESPN's Adam Schefter says former Steelers running back Willie Parker plans to visit with the Rams beginning Thursday. If healthy, Parker could serve as an intriguing change-of-pace back behind Steve Jackson. He turns 30 in November, however, and that is often when running backs slow considerably. Parker missed five games in 2008. He started only three games last season, carrying 98 times for 389 yards and no touchdowns. He has caught only nine passes over the last two seasons and no more than 31 in any season. The Rams do need a backup running back. It's just important to accurately project what Parker offers at this stage of his career without getting caught up in what he once offered the Steelers.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
The latest in our periodic spin around the NFC West radio dials:
KNBR680: Keena Turner
KNBR680: Coach Mike Singletary
101ESPN St. Louis: Gary Plummer
azcardinals.com: Ken Whisenhunt
KJR950: John Randle
101ESPN St. Louis: linebacker Chris Draft
710 ESPN Seattle: D'Marco Farr
As always, please leave links to additional audio in the comments section. I'll add items as needed.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Dan from Knoxville writes: Mike, I have been a 49ers fan since birth. I think that Mike Nolan is a great coach. Think of that HUGE mess he had to fix when he arrived. He has drafted some fantasic players and has this team so close. I have been reading that many are troubled with the future of the staff. The offense will improve this year and the defense will be scary good, just wait. If Nolan leaves, just hire Martz as the coach/OC and its problem solved. I hope to be rollin' with Nolan for a long time. Great Job on the blog. By the way, Alex Smith should lose his job. He is terrible.
Mike Sando: Mike Nolan is obviously a very good football coach. The question is whether he's a good head coach in the NFL. That distinction stands until Nolan proves he can handle all aspects of the job. The situation with Alex Smith last season was unfortunate for all involved. The head coach ultimately bears more responsibility than the then-23-year-old quarterback.
Nolan isn't to blame for losing Norv Turner. That one change might be as responsible as anything for derailing Smith's career.
Sam from Springfield, Mo., writes: Mike - Now that Steven Jackson is ending his holdout, I am guessing that this will make Bulger a lot happier. Marc will now have Steven to get the ball to, and the opponent's defense will now have to worry about Jackson running over them, meaning that Marc will stay on his feet more often. I'm not too worried about him being able to turn on that 'NFL switch', I'm confident that he will be ready to go when we meet the Eagles. What I want to know is will Jackson being back in Horns make a difference in the NFC West standings?
Mike Sando: Yes, I do think Jackson is good enough to make that kind of difference. Without Jackson, I would put the Rams fourth in the division. With Jackson, I think the Rams have a chance to be better than that. Their depth still might be the worst in the division, but the Bulger-Jackson combination is a good one. Protection is always the key for Bulger. He's not the sturdiest guy and he's not the same when he's getting hit.
Jason from Greeley, Colo., writes: Hey, Mike great job with this blog. It's nice to have another source for great Cardinals info. With all of this hoopla about Q (Anquan Boldin), are there any developing stories flying under the radar this week? Any stories that might be more positive? It always seems that Cardinals fans only ever get bad news; (knocking on wood that there is no more serious bad news)
Mike Sando: Thanks, Jason. Much appreciated. The added depth on defense is certainly a positive story for Arizona. Travis LaBoy and Clark Haggans should help that team. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is a positive story. Tim Hightower's running has been another positive development for this team. I'll be at the Cardinals-Raiders game on Saturday night, keeping an eye out for other developments, good and bad.
Aaron from Redmond, Wash., writes: Hey Mike! I was wondering what your thoughts are as far as the current jogjam at running back. Do any of them have any trade value? I know you have stated, and I totally agree, that Justin Forsett has done enough to earn a roster spot. But if the coaches disagree, there isn't much chance of him clearing waivers and signing him to the practice squad, is there? You stated in your coverage of saturday's game that there were scouts from 11 teams at Qwest, not including the Bears (who really need a RB). Surely more than 1 of them would take notice if he became availible. Considering we got him in the 7th round, wouldnt it be better to try and at least get back our investment by trading him for a 7th round pick? Or maybe even get a better pick, since I'm sure if the draft was done over today, that he would not last till the 7th round this time. What do you think? Are there any trade possibilities for the Hawks at RB? (preferably Duckett if anyone would want him) Or will we have to risk losing a promising young guy to another team? Thanks!
Mike Sando: Forsett is an interesting case. No team is likely to sign him as a starter. He simply isn't big enough to be that 20-carry player, most likely. The most likely scenario, I think, would be to keep six this season.