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49ers Year-by-Year: 2000

After a relatively long hiatus, the Year-by-Feature is back with a vengeance. It has been a while since I've been able to give you one of these and it might be a few more weeks before I can give you another, but I wanted to strike while I had a little free time from the holiday season and my own ongoing grad school applications. We're finally up to the year 2000. With Steve Young's career officially over, this was officially the start of the Jeff Garcia era. The 49ers were in the middle of a massive transition period by this season, and their success was going to rely largely on the shoulders of Jeff Garcia and a retooled, but unproven defense.





Opponent's Record:

Sept. 3

@ Atlanta Falcons

L: 28-36



Sept. 10

Carolina Panthers

L: 38-22



Sept. 17

@ St. Louis Rams

L: 24-41



Sept. 24

@ Dallas Cowboys

W: 41-24



Oct. 1

Arizona Cardinals

W: 20-27



Oct. 8

Oakland Raiders

L: 34-28



Oct. 15

@ Green Bay Packers

L: 28-31



Oct. 22

@ Carolina Panthers

L: 16-34



Oct. 29

St. Louis Rams

L: 34-24



Nov. 5

@ New Orleans Saints

L: 15-31



Nov. 12

Kansas City Chiefs

W: 7-21



Nov. 19

Atlanta Falcons

W: 6-16



Dec. 3

@ San Diego Chargers

W: 45-17



Dec. 10

New Orleans Saints

L: 31-27



Dec. 17

Chicago Bears

W: 0-17



Dec. 23

@ Denver Broncos

L: 9-38



Head Coach:
Steve Mariucci

Key Losses: QB Steve Young, C Chris Dalman, DE Gabe Wilkins, LB Lee Woodall, SS Tim McDonald, DE Charles Haley, RB Lawrence Phillips

Key Additions: T Scott Gragg, DE John Engeleberger, LB Julian Peterson, CB Ahmed Plummer, CB Jason Webster, LS Brian Jennings, QB Tim Rattay, LB Jeff Ulbrich

In 2000, the 49ers were coming off of their worst complete season since 1979, and their first season to end without a playoff appearance since 1991. The team was in the middle of massive transition entering Steve Mariucci's fourth season as the head coach. Steve Young's career was over following one of many severe concussion suffered in the previous few years. A defense that had already said goodbye to players like Roy Barker, Chris Doleman, and Merton Hanks, would now have to deal with the losses of playmakers like Gabe Wilkins, Lee Woodall, Tim McDonald, and Charles Haley. More than that, the massive defensive overhaul was destined to continue with aging stars like Ken Norton and Winfred Tubbs remaining for the immediate future.

Things were just as tumultuous on offense. New starting quarterback Jeff Garcia was coming off of a somewhat uninspiring 29-year-old rookie campaign. Question marks hovered over the future of Jerry Rice, and it was unclear whether Charlie Garner - who had never run for more than 600 yards in a season with the Eagles - would be able to replicate the 1,200 yard season that had done so much a year before to relieve the sting of the loss of Garrison Hearst.

Understandably, the 49ers focused their efforts on improving the defense through the draft, grabbing seven defensive players in the first five rounds, including Julian Peterson, John Engelberger, Ahmed Plummer, Jason Webster, and Jeff Ulbrich. Many of these players would be thrust into starting roles almost immediately, including both rookie cornerbacks. This defense would be vulnerable through the air, and the rest of the NFL knew it.

Early on in the season opener, though, it looked as though the run defense cost the team the game. Falcons quarterback Chris Chandler struggled to find a rhythm early while Jamal Anderson, recovering from ACL surgery, ran with ease. Late in the sloppy game, though, it was two long touchdown throws given up by rookie Ahmed Plummer that sealed the loss for the 49ers.

The team's home opener in week two against the Panthers would provide a better test. The Panthers had recently gained the upper hand against the 49ers in the teams' meetings, and a victory over Carolina might signal a change in the tide for the struggling 49ers. Ultimately, the game raised more questions than it answered. The defense was again victimized, but this time so was Garcia - so much so that Steve Mariucci pulled him in favor of veteran backup Rick Mirer to start the fourth quarter. Mirer added fuel to the controversy by throwing for two touchdowns in the quarter.

Garcia would quell the controversy with a strong performance in a losing effort against the high-powered Rams a week later - momentum that the team hoped would translate into wins as the defense continued to cohere.

The team's trip to Dallas the next week proved eventful. Against their long-time rivals, the 49er defense stifled Troy Aikman, and Jeff Garcia tossed four touchdown passes - two of which Terrell Owens infamously ran out to the Dallas star at midfield in celebration - as San Francisco rolled over Dallas for the team's first victory of the year.

Unfortunately for Owens, the antics would earn him a week on the bench. And in the young receiver's absence, Jerry Rice reclaimed the spotlight, hauling in seven receptions and a score in a win against Arizona. His celebration following the score was pointedly reserved, a gesture that he later called "old fashioned."

With momentum seemingly on their side, the 49ers ran into a wall. They lost a tightly contested game against the Raiders on a late Sebastian Janikowski field goal. Then, against the Green Bay Packers, Bryant Young had to leave the field with torn cartilage in his ribs, only to watch the team lose the game on another late field goal. After losing again to the Panthers a week later, the team's frustration began to pour out.

Outspoken receiver Terrell Owens was seen crying at the end of the loss and openly questioned the hearts of some his teammates following the game. Soft-spoken running back Charlie Garner also spoke out, comparing the team to the 3-13 Eagles team that he had been a part of only two years earlier. Unfortunately, with the team battling injuries on an already depleted defense, things would get worse before they got better. With losses to St. Louis and New Orleans, the 49ers dropped to 2-8 on the season, ensuring that they would not finish the year with a winning record.

Then, suddenly, against the Chiefs things changed. Though players could point to a halftime speech given by Steve Mariucci in the loss to New Orleans as the turning point, it wasn't until facing Kansas City that the defense finally put together a complete game. Where the unexpectedly strong play of Garcia, Garner, Owens and company had previously been stuck chasing the failures of the defense, suddenly they had a chance to build on that unit's success while putting together an impressive 21-7 victory. The strong defensive play continued in a win against Atlanta and again in a blowout against the hapless San Diego Chargers. The victory over the Chargers was easily one of the team's most convincing wins of the season. However, while it ensured that the team would finish better than their previous year's 4-12 mark, it also bore the unfortunate distinction of including the loss of another key defensive player - safety Lance Schulters, who tore his ACL in the third quarter.

With a loss to the Saints in week 15, the 49ers were coming home for the last time in the year 2000. More importantly, Jerry Rice was coming to play at Candlestick in a 49ers uniform for what was likely to be the last time in his career. In interviews leading up to the game, he expressed a desire to leave the fans with something to remember him by, one final jaw-dropping performance. What ended up happening was quite different. The Bears targeted Rice on defense, and he went the whole first half with only two receptions. By the end of the game, while the 49ers were already ahead 17-0, he only grew more and more visibly frustrated. After fumbling late in the fourth quarter, he watched as Terrell Owens broke his team record of 16 catches in a single game, and later Tom Fears' NFL record 18, by hauling in a total of 20. Though Rice did make the final reception of the game, his role in the victory was bittersweet.

A week later the 49ers lost badly to the Broncos, and the 2000 season came unceremoniously to and end.

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