Perhaps it has dawned on the rest of the National Football League by now. Perhaps not. All it takes is a quick glance at the schedule. The San Francisco 49ers, the team that is doing in opponents as well as ABC's Monday night ratings, may not lose a game this season.
Has anyone looked at the 49ers' schedule following their 31-10 victory over the New York Giants Monday night at the Meadowlands? It is easy, very easy. The 49ers are 6-0 now, and they do not face a team presently playing above .500 the rest of the season. The composite record of their 10 remaining opponents is 22-38 (.367), and the toughest teams they play have 3-3 records, including the Los Angeles Rams, whom they must play twice.
In fact, in the next five weeks, the 49ers, already three games ahead in the NFC West, play teams who have won a total of eight games. They get to play the entire AFC Central -- Pittsburgh (3-3), Houston (0-6), Cincinnati (1-5) and Cleveland (1-5) -- with the Rams thrown in for competition in the middle.
When 49ers Coach Bill Walsh was told of his good fortune in the locker room after the Giants' game, he gave the typical coach's response: "We'll play them one at a time."
They probably will win them that way, too.
This is the 49ers' best start since 1948, when they won their first 10 and finished 12-2 in the next-to-last season of the All-America Football Conference. "I'm not surprised," Walsh said sternly, the way he always talks when he is discussing football.
"We make a real effort, a project, out of each game."
The goal against the Giants was to beat the linebackers, led, of course, by Lawrence Taylor. The Giants (3-3 after losing three of their past four games) had been having trouble with their running game and special teams. When all else failed, they turned to the linebackers.
Monday night, the linebackers failed. But the 49ers forced them into it. "We knew the type of defense they play is very aggressive," said San Francisco fullback Roger Craig, "and we just took advantage of it. When they showed blitz inside, we went to our swing-pass game."
Craig turned into the 49ers' main weapon, catching seven of Joe Montana's passes for 95 yards and a touchdown. As he cut back across the grain several times with the ball, he easily ripped out of the grasp of defenders, including the linebackers. "They left me open," Craig said, adding that the linebackers were caught either "way inside or real deep."
The Giants' fear of Montana and the 49ers' deep threats (Dwight Clark, Renaldo Nehemiah, et al.) had something to do with this. Their blitzing did, too. But, most importantly, Craig's speed was too much for the Giants to handle, especially when they weren't in position to make a tackle.
The 49ers play on natural grass at Candlestick Park, and Craig said he prefers that. Maybe he will change his mind. "The turf here is kind of quick. It's a fast turf. When I was left open, one on one, I'm supposed to be able to break it open. The turf helped."
The 49ers are masters of the quick strike. That means Montana to Nehemiah for 59 yards with 2:32 gone in the game; that means outscoring their six opponents, 114-38, in the first half. The 49ers have taken the suspense out of Monday night football, outscoring the Redskins, 27-3, in the first half of a 37-31 victory last month, outscoring the Giants, 28-3, in the first half.
"I think the Redskin game rivaled this one with that first half," Walsh said.
The 49ers are making winning look ridiculously easy, especially with a quarterback who is wearing a flak jacket to protect still-bruised ribs. "But," Montana cautioned, "the teams we play in the next 10 games will have so much more incentive to beat us."