You know, it was a huge win for us at San Francisco for a lot of reasons. It put us up a game in the division and we always have to think about playoff implications. The other thing is we were beaten twice by them last year. To play the way we played was encouraging on Sunday and for the rest of the season.
The jury is still kind of out on how much our great locker room chemistry will carry us because it's always about how that translates into how you perform on the field. But we've got early signs of a special group - especially defensively. They did pretty good against a great running back (Frank Gore) and didn't allow a powerful offense like Cincinnati's to score too many points either.
I feel like the way we lost the game to the Arizona Cardinals (23-20 on a botched handoff in the final two minutes) could turn out to be very much like the game we lost to the Washington Redskins two years ago on a field goal (that hit the upright and bounced off). I know the Arizona game was only the second game of the season, but it could be a turning point like the Washington game was (followed by 11 straight wins). Hopefully we can build on the wins the last two weeks and keep getting better and better.
One of the reasons our running game has started of a little slower is that it's a product of our success in the past. I don't look at it like, 'Oh my goodness, we don't know how to run the football anymore.' We've run the football well for many, many years and teams are obviously very much aware of that. We do have to figure out why we've struggled on third-and-1 when they've got one too many guys in the box. Remember, Shaun (Alexander) has a cast on his hand and it's tough for him to switch hands and change direction like he normally does. He's kind of a one-armed bandit right now. Mo (Morris) and the other guys are running hard too. We can't get discouraged. It's early and we have to keep building off what we are doing in the second half of games and get off to a better start.
Remember, the last two MVP's in the NFL have been running backs. That just shows how the running game has flourished in the NFL and everybody knows they have to be able to run the football to win football games. That's the mentality no matter who you are playing. You have to stop the run and that gives you the best chance to win. You can see around the league - whether it's Frank Gore, Shaun Alexander or LaDainian Tomlinson, things are changing the way defenses are playing the run.
Every defense is more cognizant that there are exceptional running backs in the league that can hurt you. The past 10-12 years there have been a lot more defensive schemes of eight men in the box to stop the run. The Cardinals put five men on the line against us and the Bengals did the same thing. Some teams may play four linebackers, two safeties and a corner in those situations. Teams are obviously making more effort to stop the run especially teams that are historically more one-dimensional. Fortunately, we are not like that.
We've had four games and Shaun has had two 100-yard games and he's averaging almost 90 yards, is tied for second in the NFC and ninth in the NFL. And yet, people are saying we have a problem with the running game. I think we've gotten spoiled - with the exception of last year - Shaun's been putting out 1,600 yards, 1,800 yards in a season and 175-yard games. People have gotten so used to it. They think it's automatic. It's not, especially when teams make it their goal to stop him. Add a broken bone in his wrist, and it's obvious why we aren't racking up huge numbers. But we can't get discouraged and we have to keep working hard each and every week to get better and it will come.
This week we have Pittsburgh and I remember (Super Bowl XL) too well. I'm sure a lot of people will hype that game for just that being rematch. The most important thing is it's our next game and we have an opportunity against a very good football team.
No question, this is a chance for us to gain major momentum as a team. We know Pittsburgh is going to bring everything to the table. All the chips are against us - flying across the country, playing in hostile territory and against a physical defense. We'll have to match their intensity, play physical and let the chips fall where they may. This is how we can prove we're a special football team.