Here is a link to my Sunday column. The full text runs below:
PITTSBURGH — All credit to the 49ers for beating the Vikings, for winning the first game of the second version of the Jim Tomsula Era. Time to move on. Time to be in Pittsburgh. Not a bad place to be.
Let’s talk opposing quarterbacks. It gets more difficult for the 49ers starting with the Steelers game. Way more difficult. But not insurmountable or even daunting.
Think of it this way. The 49ers’ win against the Vikings was impressive for sure, but they faced a novice quarterback — OK, a partial novice. We’re talking about Teddy Bridgewater, who was awed by the game, and awed by Eric Mangini’s game plan, including what they call “exotic blitzes.” The phrase exotic blitzes makes me think of exotic dancers, NaVorro Bowman in a tutu, but my mind will wander.
Bridgewater’s passes, especially in the first half, were floaters, dead ducks that wobbled in the air above the Levi’s Stadium sod. He looked like a pitcher who couldn’t find the release point on his throws and was all over the place. Mostly, he looked terrible. This is not an indictment of Bridgewater the person, who may be a prince of a man. It is an indictment of his work, which was a felony.
And one other thing. The Vikings have Adrian Peterson, a great, great running back. But Norv Turner, the Vikings’ new offensive coordinator, didn’t have Peterson last season — you know the story — and didn’t know how to use Peterson. The Niners enjoyed the good fortune of playing a team that didn’t know itself.
And didn’t know the Niners, either. Neither team had videotape on the other. Tape now exists. All the 49ers’ opponents from now on get to assemble a book on them, and the book gets longer, more comprehensive every week.
Starting with the Steelers game, the Niners probably won’t surprise opponents as much as they surprised the Vikings. Plus the Niners will be playing against the un-Bridgewaters of the world. In their next six games, the 49ers face some pretty good veteran quarterbacks who know their business and won’t feel a particle of awe.
A quick count reveals this about the 49ers’ next six games, including the Steelers game. The opposing quarterbacks have won seven Super Bowls. That’s an impressive un-Bridgewater number — he’s won no Super Bowls. And it indicates the degree of difficulty just rose exponentially for the Niners.
Let’s do the numbers. Ben Roethlisberger has two Super Bowl wins. Carson Palmer has no Super Bowl wins but he’s an outstanding practitioner of the quarterback art. Aaron Rodgers one Super Bowl win. Eli Manning two. Joe Flacco one. Russell Wilson one.
Those wins represent a lot of championship rings and indicate skill and self-confidence. Am I saying the 49ers will fall apart, will lose all or most of those games, should hide under the beds in the fetal position in their Pittsburgh hotel? Heck, no.
I’m saying the nature of this challenge is wonderful. It’s exactly the challenge a good team welcomes. Jim Tomsula and his team didn’t enter the season thinking, “If only we can get Teddy Bridgewater every week, we just may slide by and have a semi-respectable record and keep fans and ownership off our backs.”
That frail thinking is not how football people reason. Believe me. Real football people tell themselves, “Bring it on. We don’t care who you are. We’ll kick your butt.” It’s how football players and coaches must think.
So, please look at the Steelers game in a new and different way. It is not a game that puts the 49ers at a disadvantage because the poor put-upon guys played on Monday night and the Steelers have had lots of days off, and the Steelers get to play at home and the Niners had to schlep all the way across the continent. No, don’t think that way. Think this way.
If the Niners win — I do think they will win — their record will be 2-0. They will be the surprise of the NFL. No question about it. And fans and media will notice them for good reasons — not for reasons of offseason chaos — and will take them seriously. I’m saying this game is very big.
So are the five games that come after. Great opportunity if the 49ers can be opportunistic. The five succeeding games offer up Arizona, Packers, Giants, Ravens, Seahawks. Murderer’s Row. If the 49ers win the majority of the six games — say four — they are an important team, not some aberration that could send Bridgewater down the drain but went down the drain themselves against good quarterbacks. If the Niners start by beating the Steelers, everyone — and I mean just about everyone — will change their thinking about the 49ers.
Looked at the right way, the 49ers schedule, the schedule that includes six elite quarterbacks in a row, is a dream come true. If the 49ers do well, they deserve all our admiration. They will prove they can move on without Jim Harbaugh and Vic Fangio and Patrick Willis and Justin Smith and Aldon Smith. They will prove Tomsula and his coordinators know a thing or two.
Mostly they’ll prove they are a significant team worthy of respect. Imagine that.
For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at cohn.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at firstname.lastname@example.org.