Dilfer was the "game manager" at quarterback for that Ravens team. He finds quite a few similarities and a few important differences. Dilfer also explains how both teams played to their strengths even when it meant sacrificing big plays on offense.
My initial reaction to the Ravens-49ers premise: Baltimore was better on defense. Those Ravens also struggled to find their identity early in the season, winning only five of their first nine games before closing the regular season with seven consecutive victories. The current 49ers are who they thought they were -- a team that could win with defense, special teams, the running game and efficient quarterback play.
That Baltimore team faced relatively weak quarterbacks at a time when defenses could get away with more menacing play. Former Ravens coach Brian Billick addressed this during an NFL.com column addressing the Ravens-49ers comparisons.
"When we won our championship, there was a void of great quarterback play in the league," Billick wrote. "Running the ball well, and not turning it over, was enough to augment our great defense. At the time, the Elways, Marinos, Montanas and Aikmans of the world were transitioning out of the game, and we were a few years away from the emergence of the great quarterbacks of today."
Those Ravens lost games against Jay Fiedler, Brad Johnson and Kordell Stewart. They went 1-1 against Steve McNair and 2-0 against Mark Brunell. They beat Vinny Testaverde and a young Jake Plummer. They also collected victories against an over-the-hill Troy Aikman, plus Kent Graham, Tim Couch, Scott Mitchell, Akili Smith, Doug Pederson and Ryan Leaf.
The current 49ers have gone 8-1 against a mix of opposing quarterbacks. They lost in overtime to Tony Romo, but also defeated Eli Manning and Matthew Stafford when those quarterbacks were at their best. They beat Michael Vick and Josh Freeman, who have subsequently struggled. They beat Andy Dalton, who appears promising, and also collected victories against Tarvaris Jackson, Colt McCoy and John Beck.
How these 49ers finish will ultimately determine whether the comparison holds up. My favorite line from Dilfer's column: "When I was asked this week if the San Francisco 49ers of 2011 reminded me of that 2000 Ravens team, I wasn't offended. I get it: great defense, good coaching, quarterback you hope doesn't ruin it."
Smith is playing better than that, and Dilfer says so. But that line captures the feeling quite a few 49ers fans had early in the season, if not as much lately.