Walcoff: Raiders, 49ers could rebound from poor starts

I was the 49ers’ radio sideline reporter in October 1994 when the Red and Gold suffered one of the worst home losses in franchise history, a 40-8 drubbing by the Philadelphia Eagles.

It was a dreadful showing by a proud San Francisco team that featured a rare on the field outburst from Steve Young. Angry at being pulled from the game, he yelled at coach George Seifert, “You’re showing me up.” Call it a wake-up call or a rallying cry, Young went on to lead the Niners to 10 straight wins and capped off the season throwing a record six touchdown passes in winning the MVP of Super Bowl XXIX.

The 1976 Raiders also bounced back from an early-season pummeling, losing 48-17 to the New England Patriots and then reeled off 13 consecutive victories, including Super Bowl XI.

Following Monday night’s Broncos stampede in Oakland, my radio partner on the Raiders’ postgame show, George Atkinson, reflected on his lone championship season with the Silver and Black, saying the team truly came together after that ugly defeat to the Patriots half a lifetime ago.

As inspiring as those stories are, the current era of revolving rosters makes midseason turnarounds much harder to achieve. I know I wrote glowingly last week of the expected return to respectability for both Bay Area teams, but after a pair of dismal openers, obviously the learning curve is steeper than anticipated. I still believe the 49ers’ defense is better than most, however J.T. O’Sullivan, fresh off his first NFL start, won’t be able to match throws with more experienced quarterbacks around the league. Maybe I also forgot how much the moxie of offensive coordinator Mike Martz has undermined him in the past. So convinced he can design the most daring aerial attack, Mad Mike overlooked his most effective weapon: Frank Gore. How many carries did Gore have after halftime in Sunday’s loss to the Cardinals, three?

Monday night, the Raiders wisely protected JaMarcus Russell, making only his second NFL start, by running the ball almost twice as often as they put it in the air in the first half of their opener against the Broncos. But defensive coordinator Rob Ryan is probably working overtime trying to figure out what happened to his supposedly stellar secondary and suddenly non-existent pass rush. Ryan prefers to let opposing quarterbacks throw into coverage, believing his front four will provide enough pressure without blitzing. After watching Denver’s Jay Cutler play like John Elway, shredding the Raiders all over the field, it may be time to rethink that strategy.

Bill Walsh used to compare the NFL season to a heavyweight bout. He would say losing one game is just like losing one round of a 16-round fight. Actually, we’ll know in a few short weeks if team chemistry, character and coaching can take these proud franchises off the ropes. Hopefully they’re both tired of getting hit.

KGO (810 AM) Sports Director Rich Walcoff  can be heard weekdays from 5-9 a.m. on the KGO morning  news and  is also the co-host of  “Raiders Gameday” and “Recap” talk shows on KSFO (560 AM). He can be reached at richwalcoff@gmail.com.

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