Plenty to love about Week 3's best matchup, plus 10 things to watch
Mike Singletary once played against Brett Favre; now he's coaching against him
In 2007, the Niners defense bottled up Adrian Peterson, holding him to 3 yards
Titans defensive coordinator Chuck Cecil is under pressure to perform
Three great angles to my pick for the compelling game of the weekend, San Francisco at Minnesota, Sunday, at the Metrodome:
1. Mike Singletary, 7-4 since getting the San Francisco coaching job, takes his NFC West-leading Niners to play a true barometer game.
2. Adrian Peterson has played 10 years of high school, college and pro football, and the 49ers, in the last meeting between these two teams, gave Peterson his least-productive day as a running back.
3. Singletary called signals as the Chicago defensive leader in 1992 in two games against Green Bay in Favre's first year as a starting Packer. Now Singletary oversees a game plan as a head coach trying to beat Favre. He played against Favre in the QB's fourth and eighth career starts. He's the opposing head coach in Favre's 272nd start.
Last angle first. Singletary is 50. It's interesting that he was out of football for a few years, then began to climb the coaching ladder, and ascended to the perch of NFL head coach while Favre didn't miss a Sunday, so that now it's Singletary coaching against Favre, 17 years after they first played against each other.
"I remember the second game we played the Packers that year vividly,'' Singletary recalled from his office Thursday afternoon. It was Nov. 22, 1992, Packers-Bears at Soldier Field, and only six games remained in his Hall of Fame career. Singletary told the Bears before the season this would be it for him.
"Cold. Very cold," he said. "They were marching down the field, and if you're asking me what I remember about him, I could literally hear the ball whistling by me. I got my hands on one and [it] about tore my fingers off. I couldn't see how his receivers were going to catch the ball.''
He said he "hadn't thought about that [the Favre angle] a whole lot. But it is an interesting thing. I've always admired him. Always thought he played the game the way it was meant to be played.''
The 49ers have taken on Singletary's persona in his short time there. Jim Trotter wrote an excellent piece on Singletary's Niners in this week's SI, and one of the points he makes is how the team feels like a legitimate brotherhood. He writes that, in Singletary's image, when they break the huddle post-practice, they say in unison, "Am I my brother's keeper? Yes I am!''
"We got a good chance to see how Mike operated when he was interim coach last year,'' GM Scot McCloughan said Thursday night. "We got very comfortable with who he was as a coach and a leader. If you come onto this team, you're going to become a better football player and a better man.''*
*Are you listening, Michael Crabtree?
These 49ers are a physical group. The classic 49ers teams won five Super Bowls with three Hall of Fame aerial marvels -- Joe Montana, Steve Young, Jerry Rice -- but there's not a Hall of Fame runner or run-stopping force on defense (Ronnie Lott not included) from those championship teams who will go down in history. This team has one of the most lightly regarded quarterbacks in the game, Shaun Hill, with no big-time receivers, with the possible exception of one who is holding out. The two best players are Frank Gore, a tough-as-nails runner, and Patrick Willis, a linebacker who tries to play with the toughness and physicality of Singletary.
"Football,'' said Singletary, "is a game of toughness. Or at least it should be. That's what it was created to be.''
I told Singletary that one of the things that stands out about him -- and Trotter reflected it well in his story -- is that he's not enamored of great talent as much as great effort players. He wants talented players who love football. He'd rather have a bunch of fifth-round hard-tryers (like his fifth-round, undersized linebacker from Pitt this year, Scott McKillop).
"I want to say this: You have to have to have talent to win in the NFL," Singletary said. "But it has to be the right talent. Football is supposed to be fun. I want to be able to coach guys who can really appreciate the game, who love the game, who know it's a team sport. The team that wins the Super Bowl every year is not necessarily the most talented team. It's the best team.''
Now for the Peterson side of the story. In December 2007, the Vikings traveled to San Francisco, with Singletary on the 49ers defensive staff and Peterson the runaway rookie star of the league. He rushed 14 times that day -- for three yards. The current San Francisco defensive coordinator, Greg Manusky, showed the tape of that game to his players this week.
"You've got to go back and look at that tape,'' Singletary said. "But he's a much better runner now. There's no way we can contain him like that. I remember us going out and playing lights out that day ... The only way you can play him is to play a gang-tackling game. People have to just swarm to the football.''
Peterson, who has been limited in practice this week with a sore back, has heard that defensive strategy before ... about a hundred times. So far, the Niners have played two average running teams, Arizona and Seattle, well. There's much to be learned about the Niners defense, and the team as a whole, in this telling game. But I could sense Singletary was trying to straddle the line between humble and we've-done-a-little-something-here when I asked him about the importance of Sunday's game.
"Do you consider this the way I do -- sort of a barometer game for your team?'' I asked.
"Well, when I look at our first game, the Arizona game, that was a barometer too,'' he said, sending a not-so-subtle reminder that the Niners went to the defending NFC Champions in Week 1 and wiped the sod with them. "Minnesota's a barometer too, but we've got to keep it in perspective. We can go to Minnesota and win a football game, but if we haven't played well, I'm not going to be happy.''
Classic Singletary. Surprised his players are buying in?
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