The folks at Football Outsiders put together articles for ESPN from time to time and they decided to kick 49ers fans (and other fans) in the junk with a look at the ten most disappointing NFL teams of the past 25 years. As they describe it, this list looks at teams that came into a season with high expectations and saw those expectations come crashing to the ground.
In assessing the ten disappointing teams, FO didn't really qualify what caused the expectations to crash down. That makes it all the more difficult to look back at the number three team on their list: the 1999 San Francisco 49ers. That 49ers squad came in third behind the number one 2003 Oakland Raiders and the number two 2002 St. Louis Rams.
It's not a pretty list to be on, but it probably is safe to qualify that season as a disappointment. Last week we had a post discussing the defining moments in 49ers history. While I stick with the hiring of Bill Walsh for franchise history, the loss of Steve Young in 1999 was certainly one of the defining moments of the last 15 years.
FO hits all the high points (or should I say low points?) in what was a fairly disastrous 1999 season. The season came following the 49ers finally breaking through against the Green Bay Packers on The Catch II. Unfortunately, the downhill slide that we saw in 1999 began in the second round playoff matchup when Garrison Hearst went down with a brutal ankle injury. That would foreshadow a 1999 season that was a major turning point for the 49ers franchise. As FO put it in the Insider-protected article linked above:
Week 3 of the 1999 season. It's not always possible to pinpoint the exact moment when a dynasty comes to an end, but in the case of the 49ers, it is simple. When a blitzing Aeneas Williams slammed Steve Young into the turf, it ended the longest sustained period of team excellence in modern NFL history.
Although Jeff Garcia would go on to do some impressive things with his relatively limited skill-set (at least compared to what had come before), this was not going to be that year. However, FO made a good point that a brutal decline by the defense was a significant problem:
The real problem was a defense that gave up 453 points just one year after surrendering only 328 and that allowed offenses to top the 40-point mark five times. San Francisco 's defensive DVOA was first or second in the league from 1995 to 1997, thanks in large part to a superlative pass defense. But injuries forced starters Darnell Walker and Ramos McDonald in and out of the lineup; the pass rush dried up; and the pass defense DVOA plummeted to 37 percent, worse even than that of the first-year Browns.
The poor season did result in the draft picks that acquired the likes of Julian Peterson and Ahmad Plummer (at least for a short while), and we also saw Charlie Garner step into Garrison Hearst's shoes in impressive fashion. Unfortunately, this 1999 49ers squad was snake-bitten and they were unable to build on getting past the Packers the year before.