"Let me tell you something my friend. Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane."
-- Red, The Shawshank Redemption
"Remember Red, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies."
-- Andy Dufresne, The Shawshank Redemption
This has not exactly been an easy season for 49ers fans. A productive offseason and a 2-1 start to the season had some of us inspired to think that maybe things were finally about to turn around. Of course, things quickly changed and five losses later, the 49ers have reached what could be a final crossroad of this season. At 2-6, even the thought of a playoff spot is something only the most foolhardy of fans would consider. At the same time, I think this season can still be somewhat saved. Of course I have no idea what this saved season could possibly resemble. It could very well mean a playoff spot, but it could also mean only a few more wins all season. I really don't know, and I won't pretend to know the full extent of it.
However, one thing I do know is that this team needs to step up tonight in Arizona. Originally I was going to say any shot at redemption or respectability would require a win tonight. Now that I think about it, I simply want an all around effort from this team. The way I look at tonight's game, it's a perfect start to the second half of the season. A start of an entirely new season.
The 49ers are 2-6 but that doesn't matter. Mike Singletary's 49ers got beaten down by Seattle two weeks ago but that doesn't matter. I consider that last loss the final vestige of the Mike Nolan 49ers. The Mike Singletary 49ers take center stage tonight. If they come out and just get smoked by Arizona, then they are who we thought they were and that's that. The battle for a top 5 draft pick is on.
However, this team also has the opportunity to come out and make a statement tonight. My hope, which could very well be wildly misplaced, is that Arizona comes out just a little too cocky and the 49ers can give them a quick bloody nose. I think it's safe to say that I fall in the Andy Dufresne camp. I continue to hold out hope that this team can turn things around and finish this season on a respectable note. I realize there is some crazy talent at the top of the draft pool, but I'm sick and tired of high draft picks. If this team could go 5-3 the rest of the way (not likely but not entirely impossible) I'd be pleased as punch with that middle first round draft choice. I'm not saying it will happen, but I'd certainly be plenty pleased with it.
If they are going to try and make some sort of run at respectability it has to happen tonight. Give the explosive nature of the Cardinals offense, I'm quite content to have Shaun Hill leading methodical drives with 6 and 7 yard pass plays. In continuing the theme of a new season, it's rather fitting that Hill's first start of 2008 be against the Arizona Cardinals. The 49ers offense needs double digit play drives all night long. I have next to no confidence in the defense right now, so anything that can keep them off the field is a big plus as far as I'm concerned.
I realize many people have written off the season. The 49ers have done pretty much nothing to inspire confidence so it's entirely reasonable for people to be shouting out "2-14!" However, I believe tonight's game will really set the tone for the rest of the season. I realize they're all professionals, but obviously that hasn't been enough up to this point. Tonight's game will really show us what Mike Singletary brings to the table as head coach. He's had two weeks to regroup the team and prepare for the Cardinals. Maybe the team comes out fired up and throwing haymakers. Or maybe Coach Singletary lost them when he dropped his drawers. I don't know and I won't pretend to know. However, tonight will tell us a lot.
So what will it be? Will the 49ers use this second half to show the league and the fans they're a better team than we've seen so far? Or will they show the league and the fans exactly what people have come to expect from the 49ers the last few years? It's certainly dangerous to hope, but I guess I'm just a sucker.