Scott Ostler
Monday, September 27, 2004



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Seattle -- Now that the pressure of the Streak is lifted off their backs, maybe the ***** can settle down and play some football.

As everyone who ever labored in the trenches of a singles bar knows, you hate to walk into a building thinking, "Gotta score! Gotta score!"

The sad truth, though, is that the ***** were unaware of the Streak. Now that it's too late, they are painfully aware of it.

The Streak was 420 games denting the scoreboard. The ***** were shut out by the Falcons 7-0 on Oct. 9, 1977, and scored in every game since, until Sunday.

The 420 is regular-season games. If you count playoff games (you sadist, you), the Streak was 457.

If you were watching Sunday's 34-0 loss to the Seahawks on TV, that fizzling sound you heard late in the second half was Bill Walsh's spirit being sucked up through the ozone layer. Ladies and gentlemen, the Genius has left the building.

While ***** coach Dennis Erickson and most of the players were unaware of the streak, the Seahawks went into the game sniffing like hungry dogs at the fresh bagel dangling over the end of the tunnel, to coin a catchy metaphor.

Seattle's defensive-line coach, Dwaine Board, planted the (Caraway? Poppy?) seed. Board, of course, played for the ***** for 10 years.

"Dwaine Board, he let us know about the Streak on Friday," said Seahawks' defensive end Chike Okeafor. "After you hear that, you take it as a big challenge. You always want the goose egg, the shutout."

When ***** kicker Todd Peterson clanged a 46-yard field-goal attempt off the crossbar in the second quarter, the Seahawks knew fate was handing them a golden opportunity to place a goose egg on a bagel on a doughnut.

Thus it was that Okeafor, who left the ***** two seasons ago feeling greatly disrespected and unappreciated, still was in the game late in the fourth quarter, still breathing fire. And thus it was that Okeafor blindside- swatted the ball from the hand of ***** quarterback Ken Dorsey, when the ***** were in field-goal range.

And so in one pleasantly sunny afternoon in one of the nicest football stadiums ever built, the *****' 0-2 season took a sharp turn for the worse. They went from being regarded as one of the league's best 0-2 teams, to ranking among the worst of the 0-3 teams.

A week ago the talk in 49erland was about the team's upside. Now the chat is all about the team's downside, or backside, or upside-down side. In a league where parity runs deep, the ***** now seem to have a chance to be really bad.

Sunday's disaster can't be heaped entirely on Dorsey's shoulders. Starting only his second NFL game, he did have some good moments, but the coaches won't be dwelling on those moments in today's film-study sessions.

More attention will be paid to Dorsey's first interception, which led to a 3-0 Seahawks lead, and his first fumble, which led to a TD and a 17-0 Seattle lead.

Apparently Erickson wasn't impressed with the good things Dorsey did, because the coach said after the game that Tim Rattay will start next week if his injured pincushion -- I mean, shoulder -- is healthy.

Erickson said Sunday that was the plan all along, to go back to Rattay regardless of what happened in Seattle. But that seems to be a reversal of Erickson's earlier statements that Rattay's return as a starter wasn't a lock.

Apparently Erickson no longer subscribes to the adage: Don't change horses in the middle of the Johnstown Flood.

Rattay, Dorsey, Cody Pickett -- will it make a difference? Of the three plucky seventh-round draft picks with scant combined game experience, none of them seems capable right now of carrying Jeff Garcia's old jock.

Fans who howled about Garcia's "happy feet" might now be wondering if that condition is preferable to Dorsey's (or Rattay's) "Mann's Chinese Theatre feet." You know, imbedded in concrete.

Dorsey is tough, no question, he'll stand in the pocket, but that means that the bad guys know exactly where to find him. And since he doesn't have one of those little bicycle rear-view mirrors attached to his helmet, Dorsey can't see the bad guys coming, and thus the two crucial hit-while-****ing-his- arm fumbles.

If there is a silver lining for the ***** -- and there is not -- it's that they might have badly disrupted the Seahawks' season plans. Seattle's offense sputtered in its first two games, and fullback Heath Evans said last week that it's OK because, "In this offense, you never want to peak too early."

Oops.

The ***** will now endure a week of talk of the Streak. There will be retrospectives, interviews with '77 quarterback Jim Plunkett and coach Ken Meyer.

That 420 (or 457) wasn't a sexy number, like baseball's 755.

But the Streak was meaningful. It symbolized an era, a team pride carried over decades, an astoundingly high level of week-to-week competence and competitiveness.

The ***** say their goal is to put this game behind them. They won't want to talk about the old streak. They probably won't want to talk about the new streak, either.

Consecutive bagels: 1.

E-mail Scott Ostler at sostler@sfchronicle.com