The 49ers set out to win the NFC West at the start of the season. It was an accomplishment that would have stopped the franchise’s streak of seven consecutive seasons without a playoff appearance. But on Monday, one day after the team finished at 6-10 and out of the postseason, players packed up their lockers and did their best to come to grips with a season that got away from them.
For most, the reality of packing up their belongings so early was a concept they never envisioned.
The 49ers finished one game short of accomplishing their goal. With a 4-2 record in the division, they tied with Seattle for the best mark in the NFC West. But it was their 0-5 start, along with a Week 16 loss in St. Louis that ultimately left the 49ers on the outside looking in.
However, disappointment will be turned into fuel for the offseason. The players have no other choice but to look it as such.
Players like cornerback Tarell Brown have circled the upcoming months as a chance to strengthen their skills. Brown said he normally would take a couple of weeks off after the regular season ends, but that’s not the case this year. The fourth-year cornerback will take one-week break and then get back to training for the 2011 season.
“I’m taking it to the next level as far as my workouts are concerned,” Brown said one day after he finished the season with a 62-yard interception return for a touchdown. “I enjoy doing it, so for me, I’m going to take my regiment to the next level.”
Also unhappy with how the season went, second-year wideout Michael Crabtree said his goal for the offseason is work his way on the NFC’s 2012 Pro Bowl roster. “If I’m playing in the Pro Bowl, I guarantee we’re going to have a great season,” he said.
Preparation is something the players can focus on at the present time. There’s a lot of uncertainty for the 49ers heading into the offseason. No general manager has been named and that same hire will select the 49ers next head coach.
Coupled with a potential labor stoppage, the players aren’t sure how the next few months will unfold. All they know is that whoever enters the 49ers organization in those unfilled roles, they’ll inherit a talented and hungry roster.
“Whoever gets the job is going to be extremely proud of the guys we have in this locker room and what we bring to the table,” defensive captain Patrick Willis said.
The future head coach will already have a perennial Pro Bowl linebacker to lead the defense, but faces uncertainty at the quarterback position. Alex Smith enters free agency this offseason and said he will evaluate his future based on what happens with the 49ers GM and coaching searches in the coming weeks.
“I’ll wait for that stuff to get ironed out and then make a decision,” he said.
Smith had a tumultuous run as the 49ers starting quarterback over the course of six NFL seasons, but never let it get the best of him. Asked to describe his time in San Francisco, Smith replied, “Ups and downs. But I think that’s everywhere. Most of the places in the NFL, you’re going to have ups and downs.
“I’ve been around a lot of great people, made a lot of great friendships, a lot of great relationships, ones that I’ll carry with me for the rest of my life.”
Smith spoke confidently of his development with the team this season, after he completed 14 touchdowns and threw 10 interceptions in posting his best quarterback rating (82.1).
“I feel like I’m in the best place I’ve ever been. This is the best quarterback I’ve been, the best I’ve felt physically. I feel like I’ve continued to grow… I still have a lot of football left ahead of me.”
Players under contract with the 49ers undoubtedly feel the same way, that’s why packing up right after Week 17 is so difficult to grasp.
“You see the potential that we have on this team, to let it go to waste is frustrating,” Willis added. “But it wasn’t just one person, one group. We all had a part in this and we have to find a way to get it right.”
2011 Opponents Uncovered
The dates and times of the 2011 NFL regular season schedule will be released at a later date, but the 49ers know who they will face home and away next season.
At home, the 49ers will host the Arizona Cardinals, St. Louis Rams, Seattle Seahawks, Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Cleveland Browns and the Pittsburgh Steelers. On the road they’ll square off against the Arizona Cardinals, St. Louis Rams, Seattle Seahawks, Philadelphia Eagles, Washington Redskins, Detroit Lions, Baltimore Ravens, and the Cincinnati Bengals.
Odds and Ends
The 49ers defense finished second in the NFL holding opposing rushers to 3.5 yards per carry. The unit finished as the league’s 13th-overall defensive unit, allowing 327.8 yards per game.
Tight end Vernon Davis finished 2010 with five catches of 40 yards or more. No other NFL tight end had more than two this season.
Willis posted a career-high 6.0 sacks and finished tied with James Farrior and Kevin Burnett for most sacks by an inside linebacker in the NFL this season.
Tags: Alex Smith, Michael Crabtree, Patrick Willis, Tarell Brown
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