Former 49ers linebacker Keena Turner, a four-time Super Bowl Champion, understands what's going out on the turf better than most which is what he'll try to share with you in his column Turner's Turf. In this week's entry, Turner reviews the final game of the year against the Cleveland Browns.
Cleveland in December can never be fun weatherwise, so the 49ers going back there for the last game of the season and starting their fourth quarterback this year in Chris Weinke had to be tough.
Weinke really had only a couple of weeks to learn this offense, so that's a tough chore, just a little more than difficult to say the least.
The offense had a determined approach to this game but they only really had the one drive where they got into any rhythm. Frank Gore had 70 yards in the first half, but then the 49ers got out of the run game and unfortunately had to rely on Weinke. A few of his throws seemed to be a little off and then there were too many drives that came to end because of sacks.
Defensively, the guys really had a tough time stopping the run. Jamal Lewis is a nice, tough inside runner and he went for over a 100 yards. Walt Harris had a nice interception early on the game but the offense wasn't able to capitalize.
For the first time all season, the special teams really didn't help the 49ers in the game. Joshua Cribbs made a believer out of me. He's the AFC's version of Devin Hester. It's hard to say anyone is as good as Hester, but in this game, he made me believe he was. He had the two big punt returns, and then he also had the big kickoff return called back. He did most of the damage against the 49ers in this game. He reminded me of John Taylor, that long stride, a strong runner and fast.
It was a tough homecoming for Nate Clements, giving up the deep ball to Braylon Edwards. He did block the field goal and otherwise held Edwards, a Pro Bowl receiver, to only two other catches, but I'm sure he would have liked to have gotten a win back in his home state.
As a whole, I think obviously the team went in to try and finish the season off on an upswing, winning three in a row, but Cleveland had a very determined attitude and they held the 49ers off.
From free agency to the draft to the off-season training, all the work you do is all about getting better. At the start of the 2007 season, the 49ers looked better on paper. I think when you look at the three phrases, two of them were also better on the field.
This was a better defensive team, a better unit and the acquisitions showed up. The guys who stick out for me in particular are Nate Clements, Michael Lewis, and Joe Staley. The rookie was a heck of a fine, and so for me, there were lots of positives on defense. I can't talk about defense without also mentioning Bryant Young again. What an impact he had in his 14th and apparently final year leading team in sacks and setting the standard in terms of attitude and professionalism.
The Cleveland game was a tough one for the 49ers special teams, but I still think with Joe Nedney, Andy Lee and the way all the guys played in coverage for most of the year was excellent. I think special teams was definitely a season-long bright spot.
I think offensively, there wasn't as much progress made. Alex Smith started the year with two wins, had a loss and then was hurt and never really got back to form. The running game got off to a slow start with Frank Gore injured most of the year. There started to be some momentum out of the line and the running game as you got into the latter part of the schedule. Protection also seemed to have improved and Shaun Hill went in there and got the offense moving, but I think the 49ers will look at the offense and know without question they've got to get more consistent production out of that side of the ball to be successful.
Lastly, you look at wins and losses and 5 wins and 11 losses is where the biggest disappointment comes for this 2007 team.
For me, every season when I was playing where we didn't win the Super Bowl when I felt like this one – and that is that the expectations weren't met and it was a disappointment. That feeling - that sour taste tends to stay with you the whole off-season. What the team and the players have to do now is take the lessons from this past season, learn from them and look to build on them. You don't want to forget what happened, but you want to move on from it and come in to mini camp and training camp prepared and ready to get better individually and as a team.