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49ers may be for real

San Francisco is 3-1, with defense and special teams picking up slack after injury to Frank Gore.

October 07, 2009|SAM FARMER | ON THE NFL

No team did more hitting in training camp than the San Francisco 49ers.

And, at least through the first quarter of the NFL season, that appears to be paying dividends. San Francisco (3-1) has won seven of nine under Coach Mike Singletary, and is coming off a 35-0 obliteration of St. Louis in which the 49ers scored two touchdowns on defense and one on special teams.

For them, Sunday's test is turning back the well-rested Atlanta Falcons, a team loaded with offensive weapons and coming off its open week.

Where the 49ers are falling short is on offense, especially without running back Frank Gore. Since Gore was injured on his first carry against Minnesota two weeks ago, San Francisco has averaged 77 yards rushing and 237 of total offense.

The 49ers could get an unexpected offensive boost if first-round pick Michael Crabtree winds up signing with the team this week, and there are strong indications he will. As a receiver, he could step in and make an impact right away.

Then again, maybe the 49ers don't even need Crabtree. After all, quarterback Shaun Hill is 7-0 in games he has started at Candlestick Park.

Are you ready, Grasshopper?

Turns out Josh McDaniels learned something more from Bill Belichick than simply how to be bland with the media.

McDaniels' Denver Broncos are 4-0, maybe the most surprising team in football, and the young coach seems to have patched his relationship with Brandon Marshall. The combustible receiver interrupted McDaniels at the podium Sunday night, after the Broncos beat Dallas, giving him a big hug.

The Broncos have the No. 1 defense in points allowed -- only 6.5 a game -- and No. 2 in yards allowed, quite a shocker for a franchise that has relied on its offense for so long. They also have a remarkably reliable and tough quarterback in Kyle Orton, who has played through a dislocated finger and has yet to throw an interception.

This week, it's student vs. teacher, as the Broncos play host to New England, where McDaniels was an assistant under Belichick (from 2001 through 2008) for all three Super Bowl victories. In the past, some Belichick assistants have tried to do too much when facing their former boss, and have gotten too clever for their own good.

If the difficulty of outsmarting Belichick weren't tough enough, McDaniels has another challenge this week: His undefeated team is on the front of Sports Illustrated. What's that they say about a cover jinx?

Healing the heel

Eli Manning's teammates seem to think the New York Giants quarterback will make his 83rd consecutive start Sunday despite the pain in his right foot. On Monday, Manning underwent an MRI exam that revealed he has plantar fasciitis, inflammation and swelling of the tissue on the bottom of his foot as a result of an injury in Sunday's game.

"Eli's a tough guy," receiver Domenik Hixon told the Associated Press on Tuesday. "Just from what I've seen and heard, he'll be out there."

If Manning isn't able to make it, however, the Giants are probably in good hands. He has a decent backup in David Carr, and the team catches a breather this week. It plays host to the struggling Oakland Raiders, who are averaging an AFC-low 10.5 points a game and an NFL-low 208.5 yards -- about as many yards as the Giants roll up in a typical half.

He's the Manning

Indianapolis' Peyton Manning is one productive game away from joining Kurt Warner and Steve Young as the only quarterbacks to begin a season with five consecutive 300-yard passing games.

What's more, Manning is doing that without his No. 2 receiver, Anthony Gonzalez, who has been sidelined with a knee injury he suffered in the opener. Colts receivers Pierre Garcon and rookie Austin Collie have stepped up in a big way, as has rookie running back Donald Brown.

On Sunday night, the undefeated Colts play at the winless Tennessee Titans in a game that might sound like a mismatch. Remember, though, that the Titans have beaten the Colts in two of the last three games in Nashville -- most recently a 31-21 victory last October in which Titans Chris Johnson and LenDale White combined for three rushing touchdowns.

With the way Manning is playing -- and considering injured safety Bob Sanders could be on his way back this week -- the Colts should win. But it isn't likely to be a breeze.


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