Monday, August 23, 2010

Hope Springs Eternal

So after two weeks of the NFL's exhibition (sorry, preseason) schedule, the Bay Area teams are a combined 4-0. The 49ers have beaten the Colts and the Vikings; the Raiders have dispatched Dallas and Chicago. So what?

It's hard to know. These games don't count, and it's dangerous to draw any conclusions from what you see. But: it's better to be undefeated than the other way around.

The 49ers' opening-series drive against Minnesota was impressive and clearly gave quarterback Alex Smith a shot of confidence. The Raiders defense went all sack-happy on Bears' QB Jay Cutler, led by Tommy Kelly and Kamerion Wimbley.

I happened to be in a favorite watering hole during that Raiders game and watched as Raider Nation watched. Remember, these are fans who haven't had much to cheer about in recent years. It started with Kelly's sack of Cutler on Chicago's second snap of the game, and as the Silver and Black built a lead, I kept hearing variations on the Butch Cassidy theme: "who are those guys?"

The Raiders seem to find ways to beat themselves in recent years, and huge questions remain about the offense. But it's not too big a stretch to see this as a team that can win a few 13-10 games and surprise a few people.

The blitz by the Niners' Patrick Willis that knocked Brett Favre out of the game is another of those meaningful moments in a meaningless game. The fact that San Francisco was blitzing Favre says coach Mike Singletary means it when he talks about toughness. The 49ers were an 8-8 team last year and it's not too far-fetched to see them as a playoff team this year.

Again, it's early. These games don't count. But there's a spring in the step of Bay Area football fans this week, and that beats the alternative.

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