Any pro athlete in the country will talk about the importance of finishing strong — be it in a game, a series or a season. But an abysmal season will often make the finish irrelevant, a situation the 49ers have been all too familiar with in recent years.
Rolling on the momentum of a stirring season-opening victory against the defending NFC-champion Arizona Cardinals, the 49ers hope to erase the miserable memories of past Septembers with a win against another tough division opponent, the Seattle Seahawks, in the team’s home opener on Sunday.
“One thing our coaches have really focused on this year is starting strong and staying strong,” said Pro Bowl linebacker Patrick Willis, who racked up 13 tackles and recorded his second career interception in the 49ers’ 20-16 win over the Cardinals. “Getting that win on the road was huge, but it’s going to mean a whole lot less if we can’t follow it up with another win against Seattle at home.”
The 49ers have begun the initial part of their past two seasons on decent footing — 2-1 each of those years — only to see their postseason hopes wash away with long losing streaks in late September and October.
Willis said the team is poised to stay on the winning track in 2009, due in large part to the makeup of coach Mike Singletary, who is in his first full season at the helm.
“Coach Singletary talks a lot about the importance of building a strong foundation first,” Willis said.
The team’s building process is being greatly aided by a stout 49ers defense, which, led by Willis and a storming group of defensive backs, held the Cardinals to just one touchdown in last week’s triumph.
Willis and his cadre of defensive compatriots will need to duplicate their effort against the Seahawks, who are coming off an impressive 28-0 rout of the St. Louis Rams, and boast a healthy Matt Hasselbeck at quarterback.
“They’ve got a great offense, no question about it,” Willis said. “This is the NFL, so every team you face is going to present a challenge. I’m just glad we get to play them at home, where we have the best fans in football.”