49ers Blog and Q&A

News, notes and reader questions about the San Francisco 49ers

October 31, 2008
49ers quarterly report (Spoiler alert: It's not good)

It's that time again, 49ers shareholders. I've been crunching the numbers and, well, you took it on the chin again this quarter. Not good. Short of a buyout - don't hold your breath, York haters - the best you can hope for is that Mike Singletary's soaring rhetoric starts to sink in and that Shaun Hill's right arm is more stout than advertised. Here's the report for the last four games starting with offense and defense ...

Offense: At the end of the first quarterly report, we mused whether Mike Martz's offense was giving off a Lions like vibe. That is, it was gobbling up lots of yards through the air and putting points on the board. But it also was giving up too many sacks and J.T. O'Sullivan was throwing too many interceptions. Like the Martz-led Lions, the 49ers weren't winning consistently, either.

The likeness grew stronger over the last four games - all losses - until Mike Singletary gave O'Sullivan the hook before halftime on Sunday. The move wasn't just a rejection of O'Sullivan, who leads the NFC in interceptions and the NFL in fumbles and sacks, but also of Martz's high-risk approach.

The buzzword now is "game management" and that's Shaun Hill's forte. Consider him the John Stockton (Ok, the John Crotty) of offense: Smart and efficient, but there won't be a lot of slam dunks. The risk of going with Hill is that defenses no longer will fear the downfield pass. They'll crowd the line of scrimmage, gang up on Frank Gore and the offense will relapse into its newborn-horse-learning-to-walk form from 2007.

Here are two reasons why that won't happen. The main one is Martz. If the brilliant offensive coordinator is indeed hoping for another head-coaching gig, consider the first half of the season a flop. It was further evidence that the high risk vs. high reward approach may work in spurts but fails over the long haul. The Greatest Show on Turf has become a second-rate attraction. The Vegas days are over; it's playing Tahoe now. But if Martz can adjust to a more conservative system with a quarterback with a limited arm, he will have broader appeal. Martz's creativity will be tested by Hill's hesitancy to throw downfield. If he succeeds, the "genius" label will live.

The second reason for hope is Hill. Last year, he was 2-0 as a starter while playing with a broken and very swollen forefinger on his throwing hand. Next to the thumb, that's the most important digit for a QB (We're looking at you, Tony Romo). That finger is back to normal now. No one should look to Hill and the 49ers to blow anyone away over the last half of the season. But the days of catastrophic fourth-quarter disasters probably are over, too. Grade: D.

Defense: It's not the Yorks' style, but a gallon of Breyer's vanilla would have been an appropriate going-away present for Mike Nolan. The defense, which steadily had been gaining big, expensive pieces for three years - Manny Lawson, Nate Clements, Patrick Willis, Justin Smith - has been as riveting as a Ken Burns miniseries on the history of yeast. Over the first eight games, the unit has had one big play, Willis' interception return for a touchdown.

One of the problems is that the defense has shown zero ability to stop opponents when they have to. Sunday against Seattle, for example, the offense showed signs of crawling back into the game in the second half. Every time the 49ers scored, however, the Seahawks answered with a Seneca Wallace-to-Leonard Weaver touchdown. Brady to Moss or Manning to Harrison is excusable. Wallace to Weaver is ridiculous.

The 49ers need an identity. As has been written before, the problem is that after four seasons under Nolan and Scot McCloughan, the 49ers still don't have the personnel to be a true 3-4 or 4-3 team. Instead, they're some amorphous half man, half horrible beast. Singletary spoke the other day of moving talented Ahmad Brooks to defensive end. It's a nice idea, but it sounds like so many other 49ers' schemes over the years that involve switching a player to a different position. How many have been a success?

The 49ers need to ask themselves a question in the offseason: Are we a 3-4 or 4-3 team? If it's the former, they need a nose tackle and a pass-rushing linebacker. If it's the latter, then they need a stud defensive end. And, oh yeah, they should think about a play-making free safety in either case. Grade: D


Next: Special teams and an overall look at the team.

-- Matt Barrows

October 30, 2008
Singletary's full-moon fever?

Mike Singletary didn't just bare his soul Sunday. According to Dan Bickley of Azcentral.com, the new 49ers coach used a visual aid during his halftime speech - he took down his trousers and pointed to his backside. According to a team spokesman, it wasn't as if Singletary disrobed entirely. His underwear prevented a full mooning of the locker room. The coach was merely trying to make a point -- that his team was getting its tail kicked 20-3 at the time.

Said Singletary on the team's in-house blog: "I used my pants to illustrate that we were getting our tails whipped on Sunday and how humiliating that should feel for all of us. I needed to do something to dramatize my point; there were other ways I could have done it but I think this got the message across. I am excited about having the team back at practice on Monday so we can get back to work."

For a while there, Singletary's passion following the game made the 49ers relevant again. This latest item, I fear, makes them the, ahem, butt of the league. In fact, this item is screaming out for a headline contest. No Bee t-shirts at stake, mind you, but rather the admiration of smart a--'s like me.

My submission (and let's face it, the winner): Singletary calls out tight end during half-time speech.

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The Chiefs have released former Cal offensive lineman Brian de la Puente, who spent the offseason with the 49ers. At one point, it seemed as if de la Puente (know in the media tralier as BDLP) was destined for the 49ers' practice squad. However, it seems like he'll wind up on the Chiefs' practice squad instead.

-- Matt Barrows

October 29, 2008
Singletary searching for a spot for Brooks

Here's the beauty of the bye week: It not only allows teams to recharge their batteries and heal nagging sprains and pulls, it gives them a little freedom to experiment. "It gives us a chance to really put players in situations where maybe if it were a regular practice we wouldn't have that time to make those changes ...," Mike Singletary said today.

One of those players being worked into a new position is Ahmad Brooks. When Brooks first arrived early in the season, the 49ers mostly played him at "Mike" linebacker behind Patrick Willis. They then moved him to "Ted' linebacker when Takeo Spikes seemed to struggle early in the season. Spikes, however, started to excel once he mastered the defense, and now the 49ers are trying to find other ways of working Brooks, inactive for the first half of the season, into the game.

At 6-3, 260 pounds, Brooks is among the team's biggest linebackers and also one of the most athletic. "He could be an outside linebacker, he could be rushing," Singletary "But we'll figure that out. We're figuring out the best way to get him out there and to make sure that he enhances (the defense) and we don't have to take anybody else off the field that's helping us right now," Singletary said. The coach said Brooks is currently being eyed as a defensive end. "We put him out there and he looked pretty good. But we'll see where he's most comfortable."

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When Delanie Walker injured his elbow Sunday, he said he was worried that the injury was similar to the dislocated shoulder he suffered his rookie season. It's not. Walker is out of the sling he was wearing early in the week and said he'll definitely be ready for next Monday's game in Arizona.

-- Matt Barrows

October 28, 2008
King of the Hill once again

The 49ers usually have Tuesdays off, but with a bye week coming up, they had a short practice in the morning. It's an advantage for Shaun Hill, who as the backup over the last eight weeks, hasn't had a lot of chances to throw to the team's top receivers. In fact, Hill hasn't practiced with the first-team offense since Aug. 6.

When Hill entered the game Sunday, he seemed to get the 49ers into the same methodical rhythm that was his calling card last season. Hill, however, noted that with a big second-half lead, the Seahawks were taking away the deep passes and allowing him the underneath options. He disagreed with the notion that Martz will have to alter his downfield offense to fit Hill's strengths.

"No," Hill said. "Everything's going to be the same. We're going to game-plan around our opponent the same as we always have."

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Mike Singletary was asked today why he chose to be so public with his rebuke of Vernon Davis this week. Indeed, Singletary's oh-so-direct approach was a surprise to Davis. "Well, it was different," Davis said Monday afternoon. "I didn't expect him to come at me the way he did. I guess that's his way of coaching. You know, some coaches they'll say something to you discreetly and handle it when they get inside (the locker room). I guess he wanted to handle it in that fashion. I guess that's the way he does it."

Here's what Singletary had to say on the subject:

"You know what, I've got to be very honest. This is a day and time where everybody wants to be so private, and this is my business and be nice to these guys ... You know what, I love these guys. I really do. And at the same time, I know Vernon wants to win. And at the same time, I know that he wants to be a man. So the comments that I made, there's nothing about the comments that I wouldn't have said to him. So for me to say, 'Well, that's a private matter.' That's the way I felt and I wasn't thinking about being politically correct. Now if it was something private that he did and it was no one else's business, that's something I would not do. But to me, the team needs to know that it will not be tolerated. Everyone needs to understand that if this is the course that you want to take, chances are this is the way we're going to deal with it. Nothing big and bad and bold - it's nothing like that. To me it's just carrying out the nature of events and just being real."

Is that how you were coached?

"Oh, I'm a lot nicer than I was coached in Chicago," Singletary said with a big smile before mentioning Buddy Ryan's name as evidence...

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Controversial player + personal blog usually = disaster for a team's PR staff. (See: Owens, Terrell, circa 2003). But the 49ers' PR staff must be breathing a sigh of relief after logging into Vernon Davis' Yardbarker blog this morning. Davis says many of the same things he told the media yesterday afternoon and comes off as (mostly) contrite following his early trip to the showers Sunday.

-- Matt Barrows

October 27, 2008
Singletary taps Hill as starting QB

The verdict is in. Mike Singletary told Shaun Hill this afternoon that he would be the starting quarterback for the team's next game, which is a Monday night affair Nov. 10 in Arizona. "We're going to go in that direction," Singletary said before getting in his car and leaving for the day. "We just felt like right now Shaun gave us the best chance of winning. ... It's just a good decision all around right now."

Hill started two games -- both wins -- last year in relief of Trent Dilfer. He also had two of the longest drives of the season for the 49ers yesterday, one that stretched 14 plays and another that went 15 plays. Singletary stressed the importance of game management before Sunday's game, and it seems as if Hill, not J.T. O'Sullivan, is stronger in that regard. O'Sullivan has thrown 11 interceptions this season, including one Sunday that was returned for a 75-yard touchdown.

"J.T. just needs to take a little time and gather himself," Singletary said. "And it's a long season. ... We may need to use both of them before it's over."

Singletary said there were no hard feelings from Mike Martz, who picked O'Sullivan as the winner in a three-way quarterback competition this summer and who as recently as Thursday was resolute in sticking with O'Sullivan.

"He was good," Singletary said of Martz. "I told you guys before we would come up with a decision we both agree with."

-- Matt Barrows

October 27, 2008
Singletary: Vernon is not a problem guy

Mike Singletary spoke a lot today about Vernon Davis. And he spoke a lot of about cancers in the locker room and how they can damage a team. But he was careful to separate the two. "Vernon is not a problem," Singletary said. "Vernon is not a problem guy. Vernon forgets sometimes that the team is more important. ... You have to be able to separate the two. He is not a guy who's a distraction on the team."

Which is not to suggest that Singletary isn't still steamed over Davis' performance yesterday. To recap: Davis was hit with a 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty when he flicked the underside of Brian Russell's facemask. Singletary said he saw the whole thing and thought Davis was "kidding when he did it." What seemed to upset Singletary more was Davis' reaction. He tried to talk to Davis as he came off the sideline and Davis was defensive. When he looked behind him a few seconds later, Davis was being demonstrative on the bench.

Singletary said he had a conversation just last week with Davis in which he urged the talented tight end to be a leader on the team. His actions on the sideline were entirely opposed to what the new coach was looking for. "It just hit me the wrong way," Singletary said. He said he hadn't yet spoken with Davis and didn't mention any disciplinary action. He said he was not the type of coach who plays psychological games with players and would not give Davis the silent treatment. "It's not that he's out of my good graces," Singletary said. "Not at all. I don't have a doghouse." Which leads one to believe that Davis won't be subject to any disciplinary action ...

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As for the quarterback situation, Singletary said no decisions have been made. He said he and Mike Martz looked at the game film together and that Martz "pointed out some things about both quarterbacks." He said he was leery of stepping on Martz's toes and said that "we're going to come to a decision, and it will be unanimous."

Yesterday, Singletary said he had been stressing game management heading into Sunday. Asked if J.T. O'Sullivan had done a poor job of managing the game over the last few weeks, Singletary said: "If he had done a good job of managing the game, we wouldn't be talking about what we're talking about."

He said he wasn't looking for the quarterback with best arm or the best running ability. And he recalled games in which his Bears team had to contend with Joe Montana. "How can this guy beat us?" Singletary recalls asking. "And he was wearing our tails out every time he played us." ...

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Singletary gave good marks to guard Davis Baas, who started at left guard in front of Adam Snyder. He also mentioned Tony Wragge ... He did not have any injury updates, although he said he hoped to have Jonas Jennings back for the Nov. 10 game in Arizona ... Defensive coordinator Greg Manusky called Sunday's game from the field, not his usual spot in the coach's booth.

-- Matt Barrows

October 26, 2008
Seattle 34, SF 13 -- night notes

Mike Singletary may have lost the game, but he definitely won the post-game press conference. Leaving the field, Singletary took off his red cap and apologized to the fans. In a lengthy closed-door meeting in the locker room, he apologized to the players. And before reporters could turn on their tape recorders, Singletary burst into the post-game interview room and in a booming voice apologized to us. Singletary owned the room. His deep, tones filled every inch. He had everyone mesmerized ...

... Which makes you wonder how a team failed to perform for him. The 49ers played as poorly - at home, at least - as they have all season. After all, they were done in by a backup quarterback, Seneca Wallace, and a fullback, Leonard Weaver. The 49ers, especially the defense, was pancake flat. They recorded one sack for zero yards and forced no turnovers. Some guys played well, namely Justin Smith and Manny Lawson. But if the unit can't get up for Mike Singletary, it makes you wonder whom they'll play for.

... As for quarterback, it's my opinion that the 49ers are better suited for Shaun Hill than they are for J.T. O'Sullivan. O'Sullivan certainly will supply more big plays, and the 49ers can score quickly with him under center. But the mistakes O'Sullivan has been making have been fatal. Hill didn't have any turnovers (though he did fumble once). Moreover, he directed the 49ers on two of their longest drives of the season. One of the reasons why the defense has been so poor is that they've had little time to rest. Hill also seems to utilize the running backs and tight ends in the passing game more than O'Sullivan. And that's where the 49ers have their most talent.

It seems to me as if Singletary is a Hill supporter while Mike Martz is an O'Sullivan guy. There might be a disagreement between the two men on who the starter should be, but as we clearly saw today, Singletary is not afraid to have that argument.

... Vernon Davis ... Wow. Davis' has been cruising for something like this for a while, whether it was his penchant for practice-field fights or his penchant for excessive end-zone celebrations. The most he received from Nolan was a stern talking to. Singletary has already signaled that too much attitude won't be tolerated on his team.

... Injuries. Davis' banishment was stunning because Delanie Walker already was out with an elbow injury. He, Arnaz Battle (foot), Barry Sims (ankle) and Allen Rossum (hammy) are tentatively listed as questionable for the Nov. 10 Monday nighter in Arizona.

-- Matt Barrows

October 26, 2008
49ers-Seahawks game-day blog

1Q

-- David Baas is at LG in place of Adam Snyder; Josh Morgan starts ahead of Bryant Johnson. ... And O'Sullivan already has fumbled (2nd play from scrimmage), recovered by Heitmann ...

-- On defense, the 49ers start in a true 3-4 defense; Parys Haralson and Manny Lawson are the OLBS

-- Lawson seems to be having a good game early. This is what the 49ers missed the first time these teams played.

-- End of 1st Q. 6-0 Seahawks. Story of the game so far -- more JTO fumbles, tho the second one really was due to poor blocking by Joe Staley than O'Sullivan's fumbletitis ...

2Q

-- Seahawks run twice inside the 4 and score first TD of the game. NT Aubrayo Franklin crumples like a Suzuki Aerio on both runs. Seattle 13; SF 0

-- Barry Sims is injured; Adam Snyder is in. Meanwhile, Seattle LB Lofa Tatupu has a groin injury and is out. Also, it seems as if Bryant Johnson has taken over for Morgan. Sims is questionable to return w/ a left ankle injury ...

-- Niners might have another injury. Delanie Walker clutching left shoulder after the latest punt return. He may have born some of the brunt of Michael Robinson's hit on the return man...Walker's injury is to his elbow and he is questionable to return ...

-- Well, Mike Singletary's first big decision -- to go for it on 4th and four from teh Seattle 29 backfires when JTO throws a pick that's returned 75 yards for a TD. The pass was intended for Battle. Ball was thrown too far inside and picked off by Josh Wilson.

-- Shaun Hill is now in the game, hands the ball to Gore to kill the half. Is it a signal from Singletary to Martz? -- I'm in charge, buster, and your guy is killing us.

END OF 2Q

3Q
-- Hill gets nice ovation as he trots out with offense. ... Will Martz mesh offense with hill's strengths?

-- Battle handled Seattle's first punt of the half; that's because Allen rossum is out w/ a hamstring injury ...Rossum, Walker and Sims are all out for the rest of the game ...

-- Hill's first drive ends in a field goal. It goes 14 plays (season-high?) and eats up 7:22 .. Both are indeed highs for the season ....

-- Ouch. Quick pass to Leonard Weaver and the fullback outruns the 49ers' D -- including Patrick Willis -- for a 43-yard score. Seattle 27; 49ers 6.

-- Arnaz Battle is questionable with a right foot injury. Jason Hill is filling in ...

-- Speak of the devil. Hill to Hill for two-yard TD that brings score to 27-13 w/ 9:57 to go ...

-- Leonard Weaver -- the fullback -- just scored his second touchdown of 40 yards or more, this one a short pass that he took up field for 62 yards .. Also, it looks as if vernon Davis is in the locker room (tossed by Samaurai?) meaning the 49ers have one tight end, Billy Bajema ...

First off ... there's nothing to those Condoleezza-to-San Francisco rumors that were flying this morning. The 49ers were asked if they'd be interested in adding Rice to the organization. They replied that they'd certainly take a call from the Secretary of State. But there doesn't seem to be any burning desire...

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No suit for Mike Singletary. The new coach of the 49ers is wearing a red polo shirt over a long-sleeve white shirt. I call it "coach classic."

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The 49ers will have a half-time ceremony Dec. 7 in honor of newly inducted hall of famer Fred Dean

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Here are the 49ers' inactives:
Jamie Martin - 3rd QB
CB Reggie Smith
S Dashon Goldson
LB Ahmad Brooks
C Cody Wallace
T Jonas Jennings
T Kirk Barton
DE Ray McDonald

Still no word on who will be starting for McDonald, who is out with a knee injury.

For the Seahawks:
No 3rd QB
K Brandon Coutu
QB Matt Hasselbeck
CB Kevin Hobbs
G Mansfield Wrotto
WR Deion Branch
TE Will Heller
DE Baraka Atkins
DT Howard Green

October 26, 2008
Nolan, Condoleezza Rice are news on NFL Network

Mike Nolan appeared on NFL Gameday Morning on the NFL Network today a little after 7:30 a.m. He, of course, was asked about his Monday dismissal, his tenure with the 49ere and whether he wants to continue coaching. A: "Oh, very much so."

The host, Spero Dedes, obviously hadn't been following the week's news and didn't listen to Nolan's opening statement in which he identified Jed York as the person who fired him. Because Dedes' opening question was this:

Q: Was that exchange awkward, because after all you were the one who brought general manager Scot McCloughan into San Francisco and he's the one who brings the news ...?
A: "To be perfectly honest, Jed was the one who came into the office and we sat down and spoke, you know, Jed York. Scot was somewhere else at the time. He came in after a little while. We came and got him because there were some things we had to get straight, get some things ironed out."

Q: Was the writing was on the wall going into the Giants game?
A: "Yes it was, and it had been that way for a few weeks. It really all started at the end of last season. There were some changes made at the end of last year, I think it was kind of lines drawn on what we needed to do on this and that. So I knew we had to win early...

Q: Looking back, any regrets on selecting Alex Smith?
A: "Honestly, I haven't really looked back until this week. I've had time to reflect on certain things. And it's hard to say if the information were different what we would have done, maybe choosing Aaron Rodgers or that kind of topic. Things that were brought to my attention. At the same time, we made a decision based on the best information we had at that time. It's been unfortunate in Alex's case, he's been hurt for two of the years now of his first four seasons in the NFL. He did play a lot early. But we never seemed to really get over the hump. He's had some outstanding coaches. I know that he's had different coordinators. On one hand you can look at that as being a negative. On the other hand, when you've had coordinators like Mike McCarthy and Norv Turner and most recently Mike Martz, you've had outstanding coaches. So that can only bode well for you and make you a better play."

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The NFL Network also had an item on Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice potentially joining the 49ers as team president. Reporter Adam Schefter said he had spoken to a 49ers official who said that was a possibility. Rice went to Stanford, she is friendly with former 49ers receiver and current league director of football operations Gene Washington and she's expressed interest in joining the league in some capacity. But how would she be welcomed in San Francisco? Her politics don't exactly scream "Bay Area." The prospect of Rice joining the 49ers got a chilly reception from show co-hosts Marshall Faulk and Warren Sapp, and I imagine it would get a similar response from most 49ers fans.

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Speaking of 49ers officials, here's the story I wrote today about Jed York. I met York in his very modest-sized office Friday and he was nice enough to show me the photographs and memorabilia that are important to him. It is clear that he is very much a DeBartolo and very much a York and that he is very much the future of the franchise..

-- Matt Barrows

October 25, 2008
Ranking the NFL uniforms 1-32

The 49ers are set to break out their throwback unis Sunday against Seattle. I've made no secret of my admiration for these threads. To me, they are distinctly San Francisco and hearken to the days when the 49ers were, you know, good. I did an impromptu locker-room poll this week - 15 or so players - and each preferred the throwbacks over the every-day uniforms. If the 49ers went with their throwbacks permanently, they would be Top 5 in the league in my book. As it stands now, I'd put the Niners unis somewhere in the middle of the pack. Here's the ranking from best to worst:


  1. Colts. The horseshoe is as simple and enduring as the blue and white color scheme. Note to teams considering a redesign: Come up with half a dozen design elements and then drop five.

  2. Raiders. Football is an aggressive game and the Raiders' threads smack of aggression. North Korea's Red Guard army said to be considering switch from red berets to Raiders caps.

  3. Bears. The "C" on the helmet stands for "classic." The Minute Maid-inspired alternative jerseys, however, have to go.

  4. Giants. Usually three or more colors are a disaster. The Giants, however, make it work. Their red jerseys are particularly smashing.

  5. Browns. Imagine the owner of an expansion franchise holding a press conference and announcing that his new club's main color will be brown and that the team will be know as the Browns? Bold ... and beautiful.

  6. Cowboys. The only think more presumptuous than a star on your helmet would be loaves and fishes. Still, the Cowboys own the logo. As much as it pains me to say it, the Cowboys' duds still will be fresh in 2079 when Jessica's great grandkids are making crappy music.

  7. Steelers. NFL 101: Black + one other color makes for an excellent combination so long as that one other color isn't purple. (See: Ravens, Baltimore).

  8. Saints. The team's emblem, the Fleur-de-lis, translates roughly to "lily flower." It comes from "France," which translates roughly to "lily flower."

  9. Chargers. The powder blue and yellow combo is a little light in the loafers, but it works for sunny San Diego. The "Bolt" logo is solid, and the move to a white helmet really makes it pop.

  10. Jets. Good choice, Jets - always go with the uniform in which your franchise had its proudest moment. (And burn anything associated with Rick Kotite).

  11. Packers. Imagine the owner of an expansion franchise holding a press conference and announcing that his new team's main color will be yellow and that the team will be known as the Packers...

  12. Seahawks. Unis perfectly capture the city, from the Northwest tribal art-inspired logo to the "looks like rain" color scheme. Ok, the Mr. Yuck neon has to go.

  13. Redskins. Darken the burgundy and lose the broad helmet stripes and you have a Top 5er, Mr. Snyder. Oh, and you might want to do something about the patently offensive mascot. It's 2008.

  14. 49ers. One of the classic teams should have one of the classic uniforms. The 49ers found their glory in the early 1980s; they'll find their true uniforms there, too.

  15. Lions. The Rorschach lion resembles a coat of arms and thus connotes history and nobility. But how is it that the most blue collar of Midwestern cities has "Honolulu blue" as its dominant color?

  16. Eagles. Eagles recently changed to a more menacing green. Yeah, that's what the city of Philadelphia needs - to be more aggressive.

  17. Dolphins. A colorful uniform for a colorful city. I guess aqua and orange is better than mesh tank tops.

  18. Chiefs. In 1963, a proud franchise chose red and yellow as its color scheme. That franchise? McDonald's.

  19. Texans. Sure the logo is a rip off of the University of Texas', and Houston is to cattle ranching what the Arkansas River is to yachting. (Maybe an Enron "E" would have been more appropriate.) Still, the scheme is tasteful, though the logo would look better on a white helmet.

  20. Jaguars. Maybe you should highlight your numbers with a fourth color. We can't quite see them from Sarasota. Teal is for ducks.

  21. Falcons. You had it right in 1990 when you went to the black-and-white theme. The red striped epaulettes look like something hanging in the closet at Neverland Ranch.

  22. Broncos. Better color scheme than the Craig Morton-era duds. But the swatch of color up and down the side of the uniform - the armpit orange - is a fad that won't last.

  23. Titans. I like the blue on blue concept, but the logo looks like some 7th grader's dreamy doodle in sixth-period pre-Algebra. The old Oilers symbol was far superior.

  24. Rams. Perhaps the coolest helmet design of all. But you lost me when you went from old-school yellow and blue to glittery gold. Who did the re-design, Liza Minelli? The team should go back to the cream and blue of the early 1970s.

  25. Cardinals. Why? You had one of the cleanest and simplest unis in the league and an ornithologically correct northern cardinal (Cardinalis, cardinalis) to boot. Then you went all Arena League 2 on me. P.S.: Cardinals aren't native to Arizona.

  26. Vikings. The Vikes fell into same trap as the Cardinals and Rams by "modernizing" what was a timeless uniform. It's like rewriting "Moby Dick" and having a kind dolphin rescue Ahab from drowning.

  27. Buccaneers. The old colors weren't imposing, so the team went to ... pewter? That sounds like an option in a J.Crew catalogue. Hi, I'd like to order the slim-fit chinos in rustic wheat and the merino wool sweater in Buccaneer pewter.

  28. Panthers. Carolina boo. Too much tinsel on that Christmas tree.

  29. Bills. Wow, what a contrast between their throwbacks, which are awesome, and their regular unis, which look like jammies. Buffalo Sabres logo is better

  30. Bengals. You have a freakin' tiger as your mascot and this is the most imposing design you can come up with? It looks like a bad combover.

  31. Patriots. Like Uncle Sam threw up all over these uniforms. Hey, Boston - the USFL called. They want their uniforms back.

  32. Ravens. Purple and black? You look like bruises. And that "scary" Raven looks like an October display at Target. The uniforms also have a "B" (for busy?) as well as the Maryland state flag, giving them an over-the-hill-hooker-with-too-much-makeup-and-plastic-jewelry look. Baltimore was shooting for Poe but should have gone with Thoreau: Simplify, simplify, simplify.


Where's the Q&A? Good question. When the redesign occurred, it wiped the Q&A portion away (from a page that is called "49ers Blog and Q&A"!?!). Anyway, we're figuring out the best alternative. Any suggestions or complaints about the uniform ranking? Please feel free to use the Q&A portion of this blog ...

-- Matt Barrows

October 24, 2008
Nolan: This is how the dismissal went down

*****Update at 6:45 p.m.***** I spoke with Jed York today and I brought up how Nolan said he was one-on-one with him when the firing took place. York said that was indeed the case. He said that GM Scot McCloughan was somewhere else in the building when he and Nolan first sat down and that McCloughan joined them later. York said that the decision to fire Nolan was made Sunday night and that his mother and father each had input. When the ESPN story broke Monday, John York was in San Francisco and Denise DeBartolo-York was in Ohio. Jed said he thought the news of a potential firing would undermine the team's preparation for Seattle. So with the blessing of his mother and father, he gave Nolan the bad news.

Mike Nolan was on Sirius NFL radio today and was asked about his Monday firing. A few things stand out. First, Nolan said that Jed York fired him. He did not mention GM Scot McCloughan, who, according to McCloughan on Tuesday, also was in the room when he was fired. "Jed York was the one that told me and he told me in a one-on-one conversation in my office," Nolan said.

He also talked about the awkward and difficult situation Mike Singletary also spoke about during his Tuesday press conference. The two men were close friends, Nolan hired Singletary in 2005 and Singletary would not take the job without Nolan's blessing.

Here's what he told host John Riggins:

"He (Singletary) came down after they spoke with him and he came to me and we sat down and I said, 'Well, what's up?' And he told me what they all said, and he said, 'I can't do it.' He says, 'You're my friend and I can't do that.' And I said, 'Well Mike,' I said, by choice I chose a table other than my desk to sit down with Mike in my office, and I pointed to the desk and I said 'Mike, I just want to tell you something,' I said, 'You see that desk? There's no one sitting in it.' I said, 'I'm not the coach of the San Francisco 49ers. Right now they don't have a coach.' I said, 'So for you to say you can't do it because you're going to take my job, you're not taking my job.' I said, 'That job's already been vacated.' I said, 'Mike, you need to take that job.' I said, 'We came in here together. You know how important these players are to us and I think you'd do a hell of a job of keeping them together because right now that's the most important thing, is just keeping them together.' It's not X's and O's, it's not new ideas, everything's kind of on autopilot as far as the schedule goes. I said, 'They need somebody to lead them.' I said, 'I think you'd do the best job because of your position with this team. You are the assistant head coach.' I mean, we exchanged a couple more times where he said he didn't feel right about this and that, but I just told him, I said, 'Look Mike, they don't have a coach, alright? You're not taking Mike Nolan's job. You're taking the 49ers job and they don't have a coach.' And so one thing led to another and it was emotional and it was not easy, but that's kind of proof in the pudding, that's how it went down."


-- Matt Barrows

October 23, 2008
Alumni Day roll call

Sunday is Alumni Day, which means throwback unis and all your favorite 49ers. The 49ers are recognizing two groups of players -- those who were members of the 1958 team and those on the 1981 squad who took part in the famous goal-line stand.


Steve Bono 1989-1993 .
Tim Anderson 1975
Randy Beisler 1969-1974
Dennis Bragonier 1974
John Brodie 1957-1973
Dan Bunz 1978-1984
Don Burke 1950-1954
Al Carapella 1951-1955
Ken Casanega 1946, 1948
Joe Cerne 1965-1967
John Choma 1981-1983
Elmer Collett 1967-1972
Tim Collier 1982-1984
Clyde Conner 1956-1963
Toi Cook 1994
Eric Davis 1990-1995
Fred Dean 1981-1985
Eddie Dove 1959-1962
Riki Ellison 1983-1989
John Faylor 1987
Russ Francis 1982-1987
Russ Francis 1982-1987
Willie Harper 1973-1983
John Harty 1981-1983-1986
Steve Hendrickson 1989
John Henry Johnson 1954-1956
John Keith 2000-2003
Jeff Kemp 1986
Allan Kennedy 1981-1984
Jim Kovach 1985
Charlie Krueger 1959-1973
Bobby Leopold 1980-1983
John Macaulay 1984
George Maderos 1955-1956
Saladin Martin 1981
W. Clay Matthews 1950,1953-1955
Milt McColl 1981-1987
Guy McIntyre 1984-1993
Dana McLemore 1982-1987
Jerry Mertens 1958-1965
Dale Messer 1961-1965
Dean Moore 1978
Ray Norton 1960-1961
R.C. Owens 1957-1961
James E. Owens 1979-1980
Earle Parsons 1946-1947
Lawrence Pillers 1980-1984
Darryl Pollard 1987-1991
Craig Puki 1980-1981
Eason Ramson 1979-1983
Rocky Rasley 1976
Archie Reese 1978-1981
Len Rohde 1960-1974
Bill Romanowski 1988-1993
Paul Salata 1949-1950
Jesse Sapolu 1983-1997
MIke Shumann 1978-1979,1981
J.D. Smith 1956-1964
Jim Sniadecki 1969-1973
Gordon Soltau 1950-1958
Bob St. Clair 1953-1964
Dana Stubblefield 1993-1997, 2001-2002
Daniel Stubbs 1988-1989
John Taylor 1986-1995
Aaron Thomas 1961
Keena Turner 1980-1990
Iheanyi Uwaezuoke 1996-1998
George Visger 1980
Jimmy Webb 1975-1980
Ken Willard 1965-1973
Jamie Williams 1989-1993
Billy Wilson 1951-1960
Mike Wilson 1981-1990
Llyod Winston 1962-1963
Pete Wismann 1949-1952, 1954
Lee Woodall 1994-1999
Eric Wright 1981-1990
Charle Young 1980-1982

-- Matt Barrows

October 23, 2008
Singletary learned from the master

It's been a Bear market for Mike Singletary over the last few days. The new 49ers head coach has been fielding plenty of phone calls since being named head coach, many of them from ex-Chicago Bears teammates.

"The guys that protected me - Dan Hampton, Steve McMichael, Richard Dent," Singletary said. "Those are all my guys. And of course on the back end Shaun Gayle, Leslie Frazier. Before it's all said and done, they'll all call ... and call me all kind of names."

Like what?

"Traitor," Singletary said with a chuckle. "No, it's all in good fun. Like I said they're a great, unique, group of guys. Unique group of guys."

Niners fans might feel like there's some treason in the air, too. After all, how is it that a member of the hated Bears, one of the 49ers' arch rivals in the 1980s, wound up as San Francisco's head coach?

What might make The Faithful feel better is the fact that before Singletary got into coaching he received plenty of advice and mentoring from the greatest 49er of all, Bill Walsh. Which is kind of like traveling to the Dagobah System and getting Jedi training from Yoda.

"I've got more notes from coach Walsh than I do any other coach," Singletary said today. "Bill Walsh was so ... to this day, I don't know why he took the time with me. But I remember calling him when I was in Chicago. He said, 'Hey, if you fly out, you got me. I'll spend all day with you. We'll go to dinner.' And he just walked me through everything. So I'm very appreciative of him and very thankful for him giving me that time."

*******************
Matt Hasselbeck did not practice for the second straight day, and the feeling in Seattle is that Seneca Wallace, not Hasselbeck, will be under center for the Seahawks Sunday. Also missing practice were G Floyd Womack (illness), WR Deion Branch (foot) and TE Will Heller (knee).

For the 49ers, Michael Lewis (knee), Josh Morgan (groin), Mark Roman (groin) and Allen Rossum (groin) were limited Thursday after not practicing Wednesday.

-- Matt Barrows

October 23, 2008
Martz: I don't feel passed over

Mike Martz speaks to the media every other week and it just so happened that this was a Martz week. One of the first questions, of course, was whether Martz felt he had been passed over when the 49ers were looking for an interim coach. Here's what Martz had to say on the topic:

"No. Not at all. I'll address this because it was kind of a question that I kind of expected from you, really. I didn't come here to do that. Let's understand that immediately. I came here because of Mike Nolan, and I think that Mike Singletary deserves this opportunity. We're all thrilled for him to have this opportunity, although the circumstances really diminished that part to some extent because Mike (Nolan) was such a good friend and is such a good friend. But at this point, we're all trying to help Mike (Singletary) in every way we can and help this football team move on to win. We were all hired to do a job and we're going to do it. In terms of this point? No. I didn't come here with any kind of a thought, nor did it pass my mind to be honest with you. I love what I'm doing, and that's why I'm here, and this is what I continue doing well. I've kind of had my moments in that respect, and it's time for all of us to get behind Mike and help him any way we can."

Though Mike Nolan seemed to be wavering on J.T. O'Sullivan the day before he was fired, Martz has not. And that should be no surprise. Martz's m.o. over the years has been to stick with one quarterback.

"I'll just lay it out for you real quick, and then really it's not an issue at all. J.T. is our quarterback. J.T. is going through a learning curve. He didn't have any preparation going into the league ... He is learning on the run, and we're trying to still come up with game plans that will challenge and beat teams that are really good, etc., etc. Right?"

Not much has been written about the 49ers losing fullback Zak Keasey for the season, but Martz said it has a big impact.

"We have not replaced him. We have not replaced Zak. So it does change. It does affect your running game dramatically."

Martz spoke about missed opportunities, such as the incompletion to Vernon Davis that would have gone for a touchdown against Philadelphia. I asked if those missed opportunities were typical for Year One of his offense.

"Way more than I'm used to. The plays that we normally make out here (at practice), we just sometimes don't make them. We put a lot of pressure on them. We've played some good teams, and when you play good teams like that it comes down to a couple of plays. You make them, you win. You don't, you don't win."

-- Matt Barrows

October 23, 2008
Seahawks to JTO: We won't be schooled again

In the first game between the Seahawks and 49ers this year, Seattle sacked J.T. O'Sullivan eight times. To put that in perspective, the most single-game sacks the 49ers ever have allowed in the history of their franchise is 10. And yet according to the Seahawks, their lasting impression of O'Sullivan was how elusive he was. And their emphasis heading into Sunday's rematch is to not allow the 49ers quarterback to slip away again.

Said defensive end Patrick Kerney: "I probably didn't appreciate his elusiveness going into the first game. I probably underestimated that. He played well in their opener, made some good throws, but wasn't making guys miss like he did against us. Going into (Sunday's) game, that's something, like I said, that we have to be much better prepared for."

Coach Mike Holmgren agreed: "He's a big, strong guy. So we have to go in there and grab things and make sure that we get him down. It's something we have to do better. There's no question about that."

Those Joseph Abboud suits aren't going to waste. Mike Nolan is scheduled to appear on "NFL GameDay Morning" on the NFL Network Sunday starting at 7 a.m. to talk about his ouster, his replacement and to help break down the Week 8 games later that day. Wonder who he'll pick in the Seattle game ...

Vernon Davis, an Under Armour spokesman, recently donated $7,500 in Under Armour gear to the San Francisco 49ers Academy. The academy is an East Palo Alto public alternative school supported by a private non-profit agency for sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders. The donation consists of shorts, shirts and socks for students who take part in the school's organized sports program.

-- Matt Barrows

October 22, 2008
Holmgren's ears burning in Seattle

The 49ers' mid-season coaching change was expected to be a big distraction in the Bay Area. But it turns out it's been nearly as disruptive in Seattle. The rumors that Mike Holmgren, who for years has openly expressed love for his native San Francisco, have been percolating for a while but this week have reached a boil. Fanning the flames even more is that the 49ers and Seahawks face each other Sunday.

"When I was in high school, Lincoln High School, for years that was my dream job and it never quite came to fruition," Holmgren said of being the 49ers' head coach. "But times change. And right now I think it's been stated and I stated it with my own guys (the Seattle press corps) again today for about the 27th time: The plan for me and Kath (wife Kathy) is to take a year off after this time in Seattle. We've been here 10 years. We love it here. And that's the plan. More importantly now, I've got to figure out a way to beat the 49ers."

Can he ever envision at some point returning to the 49ers in some capacity?

"If it's ok with you guys, I'm going to refrain from commenting on that. It would be unfair to a lot of people, Mike Singletary for one. And it's too much of a hypothetical. I mean things in this crazy business change on a day-to-day basis and I'm going to remain fairly consistent with that if it's ok."

*************
Holmgren was asked about Mike Nolan's firing. He said he's friends with Nolan, knows his family, and was upset at the news. "I don't like the in-season stuff, which shouldn't shock anybody. It's my profession and it's hard." He also was asked about his relationship with Scot McCloughan, who worked with Holmgren when McCloughan was part of the Seahawks personnel department.

"With Scotty? Or 'Scot' I should say now - he's an executive. I have a good relationship with Scot, I believe. He was really a very competent, hard-working personnel guy when he was with me. Really a good guy."

***************
Holmgren said there's still an outside chance that quarterback Matt Hasselbeck could play Sunday but that he expected it would be Seneca Wallace under center. Linebacker Lofa Tatupu, who suffered a blow to the head Sunday night, will play.

-- Matt Barrows

October 22, 2008
Interesting Day 2 press conference with Mike Singletary

When it comes to his offense, Mike Martz is as protective as that squirrel from "Ice Age" is with his acorn - no one touches it but him. Mike Singletary learned that lesson yesterday. Asked today at his 10:45 a.m. press conference how much influence he'll have on the offensive side of the ball going forward, Singletary said this:

"I'll put it this way - Mike Martz is very proud of his offense. And I went in yesterday to talk to him and we were going to talk about a couple of things, and he said, "Well, what do you want to talk about?" Why do you want to talk about that?" But we had fun going through that, and I'm enjoying him and we had another conversation last night. ...

Over the first seven games of the season, Mike Nolan gave Martz carte blanche to run the offense as he saw fit. And it was Martz on Monday who convinced Nolan to stick with J.T. O'Sullivan at quarterback. It seems that Singletary also will give Martz plenty of room to operate. But he also held open the possibility of reining Martz in as he sees fit.

"I trust him to do the things he has to do. And the bottom line is that I have full confidence in Mike Martz and his staff going forward ...I think the bottom line is that if I feel that something needs to be a little changed or adjusted or whatever, then I will meet with Mike and we'll talk about it and we'll go from there. But other than that, I think Mike is a great coach. I feel very fortunate to have him."

There have been lots of questions over the last two days about why Singletary, not Martz, was tapped as interim head coach. The official word from the front office is that Martz has his hands full directing a new offense and a first-time starting quarterback. Another view (mine) is that McCloughan never wanted him in the first place. Remember last year when Martz's name first surfaced as a possibility? McCloughan dismissed it outright at the time, saying that Martz's style did not fit the personnel McCloughan had been assembling over the past three seasons.

**************
On KNBR radio yesterday, McCloughan intimated that the team might started turning to some of its younger players, you know, the ones that McCloughan drafted and have yet to see playing time. Singletary said that when teams go that route it's usually because the season is hopeless and they want to give the youngsters seasoning.

"I don't think we're at that point." Singletary said. "We're at a point where we have to play better."

***************
Over the first seven games, the 49ers have used a 4-3 defense as much as they've used a 3-4, which ostensibly was going to be their defense of choice. Asked which is the 49ers' true defense, Singletary acknowledged the lack of identity. But he didn't tip his hand to the Seahawks, either.

"We'll see at game time," he said. "We're kind of schizophrenic. We don't know what we are. But at game time, we'll see."

*************
**UPDATE** Jennings said he will be out for Sunday's game against Seattle. Here are the 49ers' injuries. Lots of players not practicing today, but Dashon Goldson (knee) and Ray McDonald (knee) are the only ones out for Sunday. The others:

Walt Harris (veteran's day off)
Jonas Jennings (shoulder)
Michael Lewis (knee)
Josh Morgan (groin)
Mark Roman (groin)
Allen Rossum (groin)
Nate Clements (ribs)

-- Matt Barrows

October 21, 2008
49ers introduce Singletary ... and Jed York

The 49ers introduced their new head coach today and in so doing introduced their new owner. Whereas John York presided over the January press conference in which Mike Nolan kept his job but lost his personnel powers, today's presser was run by Jed York. The younger York, dressed in a power suit and red tie, was the first person to take the lectern. It was a signal that the son had taken over. "The San Francisco 49ers have a tradition of winning," York started out by saying. "I promise I won't rest until we reestablish a championship culture." It was also Jed York, with an assist from general manager Scot McCloughan, who gave Nolan the bad news yesterday. Jed York said that his mother and father helped with the decision, presumably via long distance from Ohio. All three are considered co-owners, although Jed is the only one continually at team headquarters.

*********
According to McCloughan, Nolan's job had been on the line for "a couple of weeks" and his fate was sealed with the loss in the Meadowlands. The original plan was to fire Nolan before the bye but when word leaked out yesterday - it wasn't from the front office, McCloughan insisted (yeah, right) - the 49ers decided it would be too big of a distraction, so they let him go Monday afternoon. Why did the team allow Nolan to run a press conference at 12:15 p.m. at which he answered half a dozen questions about his job status if they knew he would be fired? McCloughan said the priority was to win Sunday's game against Seattle, and that Nolan gave them the best chance to do that.

*********
As for interim head coach Mike Singletary. His voice filled the room today and he spoke passionately. But it didn't seem as if he was planning a whole lot of change. Both McCloughan and Singletary were hired by Nolan and both were careful to heap praise on the outgoing coach. Said Singletary: "There's not a whole lot of things I'm going to come in and change ... The most important thing is this (Seattle) game. I'm not creating something new and not reinventing the wheel." Later he said of Nolan: "He set the foundation. I'm going to build on the foundation."

***********
Nolan's defense has been criticized as passive over the past three and half years. Asked if he was going to increase the intensity level, Singletary said the 49ers wouldn't blitz willy nilly every play. But he intimated that the intensity level would increase. "See if we continue to be passive. I don't think so," he said.

***********
McCloughan confirmed that the team also had released offensive line coach George Warhop. Jason Tarver will take over the day-to-day coaching of the linebackers. Singletary said he wouldn't make any other changes to his staff.

*Update at 1:53 p.m.* The team just put out a statement from Mike Nolan:

"I want to thank the York Family for the opportunity to coach the San Francisco 49ers. It is the responsibility of the Head Coach to build a foundation and an environment for success. In many areas we were, although it is winning that ultimately determines success. I also want to thank our players for their dedication and willingness to work hard. Even during the toughest of times they remained strong and fought through it. It is difficult to put into words my respect for guys that played for the 49ers over the past 3 ½ seasons. They have my complete respect and admiration. I am forever indebted to them."


-- Matt Barrows

October 21, 2008
Heitmann signs extension

Eric Heitmann, who was the second lowest paid starting center in the league last season, has signed a contract extension, according to Pro Football Talk. Heitmann had an outstanding offseason and was named one the 49ers' team captains before the season. He also received praise from offensive coordinator Mike Martz early in the season.

The team was unsure about Heitmann entering the season. He broke his leg late in 2006 and wasn't back to form early in 2007. That's a main reason why the team drafted Cody Wallace in the fourth round this season. Wallace is the only rookie who has been inactive every game this season. Heitmann, 28, is now signed through the 2011 season.

-- Matt Barrows

October 21, 2008
Enter the Samurai

What's next for the 49ers? At noon today, they will hold a press conference announcing Mike Singletary as their interim head coach. The 49ers, of course, hope to get a bump in momentum out of this mid-season coaching change similar to the one currently being enjoyed by the Raiders and Rams. And "Samurai Mike" Singletary is an excellent choice for that bump. The man is inspiration personified. He's an author of three books, he's a motivational speaker and was hired by Nolan because Nolan was bowled by the command Singletary - deep, measured voice, cerebral -- had whenever he opened his mouth. Singletary is the type of guy who sends chills down your spine when he speaks. And for a team still searching for an identity, one that frankly needs a collective slap in the face, Singletary is an inspired choice.

What I also expect to hear at noon today is a pledge to shed the "Umbrella of Caution" (tm) that has suffocated this team in recent years, most recently on defense. I remember watching defensive coordinator Greg Manusky when he played for the Washington Redskins. He was the team's wedge buster, a fu manchu-wearing missile who threw his body at opposing teams with reckless abandon. Which is to say, I don't believe he's a cautious man by nature. It will be interesting to see what he does when he has carte blanche to run the defense.

But I'm also skeptical whether the 49ers will get more than a short bump from their latest moves. Yes, Singletary and Manusky will ramp up the risk factor on defense. But it still won't mask the fact that the 49ers have few playmakers on that unit and few who can rush the passer. Nolan and Scot McCloughan have assembled a unit that resembles a Ford F150; it's unrealistic to think that it will perform like a Ferrari.

And nothing is bound to change on offense, which has quickly become the most self-destructive unit in the league. Firing George Warhop was a necessary move and one that was about to happen after last season when Martz called with a last-minute stay of execution. The 49ers' offensive line was horrid in 2007 and was responsible for ruining Alex Smith's season and perhaps his career. This year the offensive line leads the league in sacks allowed - 29 - and is on pace to smash its own franchise record from a year ago with 66 sacks.

But it seems that Martz, not Warhop, deserves the blame. Martz's offenses always allow a lot of sacks because they require the quarterback to take such deep drops and to hold onto the ball. Martz's "sacks allowed" statistic has been steadily growing since his heyday with the Rams. Defensive ends have sometimes beaten a 49ers' offensive lineman to get to J.T. O'Sullivan this season. But the majority of the sacks have come when O'Sullivan has nowhere to throw and the defense eventually collapses on him.

One of the lessons from the Mike Nolan regime is that the head coach must at least have some working knowledge of offense. This, to me, was Nolan's biggest shortcoming, one that was evident in the players he drafted, the coaches he hired and the string of oddball decisions he made on game days. The 49ers on Monday had an offensive-minded option with head-coaching experience. But it doesn't seem like the Yorks felt Martz was the answer. (Or maybe they made him an offer and Martz decided it was a no-win situation and declined). Like Nolan, Singletary has no background in offense. Which is why the new interim head coach will end up being an interim solution.

-- Matt Barrows

October 20, 2008
Nolan fired; enter Singletary

Fox Sports is reporting that Mike Nolan was fired this afternoon. Apparently, Jay Glazer made the report, and Glazer definitely is tight with Nolan. I'm still at 49ers headquarters and will continue to report as information come available ...

10:15 p.m. -- Six hours after the first report that Nolan has been fired, the 49ers issue a statement: "This decision was difficult because Mike has been both a friend and valued coach of our team." said GM Scot McCloughan. "I have a great deal of respect for Mike and his family. But my first obligation is always to do what is in the best interest of our fans and the entire 49ers organization. It is for this reason that we've made the decision to give the head coaching role to Mike Singletary. I am confident that Mike Singletary's leadership ability along with his experience as both a Hall of Fame player and coach gives him the ability to turn our season around."

8:52 p.m. Just spoke with Lisa Lang, the head of 49ers communications. I asked her if she could confirm today's news. She said she could not because nothing's been announced. (Feel like you're in some weird parallel universe? I do) She did say that there might be an announcement shortly. I believe that Singletary has to sign on the dotted line before the 49ers say anything. Evidently, he's doing that right now. Stay tuned ...

8:42 p.m. Mike Singletary just pulled up and walked into team headquarters with someone else. Who? His agent, Bob LaMonte, who interestingly represents both Nolan and Singletary. Singletary did not stop to talk to reporters.

8:28 p.m. Just got my first official confirmation that Nolan has been fired when I placed a call to his house. Understandably, he did not want to talk. He's at home spending time with his kids his wife, Kathy, said.

7:37 p.m.: Most of the assistant coaches, including presumed interim coach Mike Singletary, are still on the premises. But still no word from the Yorks or from anyone on the PR staff.

7:01 p.m. I know everyone is clamoring for details, and believe me, I am, too. Problem is, the 49ers haven't said boo. The only report continues to be Glazer's, which is what everyone else is basing their "reports" off of.

6:21 p.m. The 49ers are on their usual lock-down mode when it comes to big happenings. Which means the reporters get booted out of any area where they can actually talk to someone in the know and the team announces nothing. I've bumped into two assistant coaches, both of whom declined to comment. "You all never wanted to talk to me before, why should I talk to you now?" Jerry Sullivan said.

Nolan has been facing questions about his job status since mideason last year when the 49ers went on an eight-game losing streak. Nolan hasn't had a winning season since taking over the 49ers in 2005, and he is currently 2-5 and in the midst of a four-game skid.

Nolan held his weekly 12:15 p.m. post-game press conference today and obviously did not believe he would be fired. He insisted that he still had the support of the 49ers' players.

"I think the proof is in the players myself," Nolan said. "... We don't have a divided house. We have a lot of trying times but we don't have a divided house."

Asked about his job, Nolan said he meets at least once a week with Jed York but that his status hasn't been a topic recently.

"You know, you always want to have support," Nolan said. "But I know what my job is, by having a job. My job's to work with our players and coaches and try to put together the best game plan to win games. That's what my job is."

He said he also was sure he and the 49ers would reverse their fortunes. Why was he so confident?

"Because I have no choice but to be confident in things around me, that I surround myself with," Nolan said. "That's why. It's not a choice. It's just the way it is. That's my job."

-- Matt Barrows

October 20, 2008
JTO escapes the hook; will start against Seattle

The JTO express will roll on, Mike Nolan announced today, because - and I'm paraphrasing here - subtract all the mistakes and J.T. O'Sullivan is doing a damn good job. "Right now ... I believe that for this football team that he is developing and will develop into a good quarterback," Nolan said. The mistakes, of course, have been what's been killing the 49ers since a Week Four loss to New Orleans. O'Sullivan threw two end-zone interceptions in that game and threw another end-of-half killer in the end zone Sunday against the Giants. Nine of his 10 INTs have come during the 49ers' current four-game losing streak.

What gives Nolan confidence O'Sullivan will eliminate those mistakes when all the empirical evidence says those mistakes have been building over the weeks? Practice. "When we go to practice, we complete a lot of balls, and that's a good thing." It should be noted that O'Sullivan's practices are mostly conducted against the scout-team defense, which is composed of guys like Marcus Hudson, Atiyyah Ellison and Eric Bakhtiari. Not exactly Jack Lambert and the Steel Curtain defense.

As for No. 2 quarterback Shaun Hill, Nolan said that O'Sullivan was better at getting the ball downfield. "I would say that Shaun is a safer choice at this time," which is code for Hill is better at short passes and doesn't have the arm to chuck it down field. The decision to stick with O'Sullivan shouldn't come as a surprise. Mike Martz has a history of staying with one QB through thick and thin, and O'Sullivan probably is better at running the offense Martz wants to run. The question is whether a high-risk, high-reward is best for the team at the moment ...

For the second straight week, Nolan essentially said that things will remain status quo. And for the second straight week, he fielded questions about his job status. He said he typically talks with Jed York about once a week but that he hasn't discussed his job status. Here are some more job-related quotes.

On his confidence level:
"I have no choice but to be confident. It's not a choice, it's the way it is. That's my job."

Why he should keep his job?
"Because it's my job right now and they basically gave me a job to do. I am the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers."

More on that topic:
"I think the proof is in the players myself. ... We don't have a divided house. We have a lot of trying times but we don't have a divided house.

*************
Nolan also said that Josh Morgan will continue to start ahead of Bryant Johnson at wideout. Morgan dropped a pass for a potentially big game Sunday, but he was one of the few bright spots in the game.

**********
None of the players injured Sunday is expected to be out for long but some could miss Sunday's game against Seattle. Nolan did not say which players were hurt the worst, although Michael Lewis and Allen Rossum appeared to be the most serious yesterday.

-- Matt Barrows

October 19, 2008
O'Sullivan's stock falling, Nolan needs bailout

The 49ers have lost four straight, and J.T. O'Sullivan has thrown nine of his 10 interceptions in those games. To me, it's a little like a big league pitcher who looks awesome in his first two starts but who gets rocked once the batters figure him out. Mike Nolan, who last week brushed aside suggestions that O'Sullivan might get the hook, was more open to the possibility after today's game. "We'll watch the film and we'll evaluate that," Noland said when asked whether he was thinking about replacing O'Sullivan with backup Shaun Hill ...

... Speaking of getting the hook. I caught the Yorks walking through the tunnel after the game. I asked Jed, the most approachable of the three, if he had a moment to speak. He declined and the team owners didn't slow their pace, which was all-too-reminiscent of the brush off last year in the bowels of the Cleveland stadium. I've written that I don't think the Yorks will make a move, and I'm sticking with that. However, consider this: The 49ers' next opponent, the Seahawks, not only are playing Sunday night, they're making the second-longest trip possible. And they have to go back on the road next week. And they might not have their QB. And, as I'm writing this, they're losing yet again. In other words, this seems like a game Nolan MUST, MUST win ...

... Frank Gore's line for the night: eleven yards on eleven carries. It's the worst ground game he's had as the 49ers starter, although it should be noted that he had 50 yards receiving. As well as the 49ers defense played, the Giants D was even better. And they obvioulsy focused their efforts on Gore and not O'Sullivan. Would Alex Smith have been any better at this point? Dunno, but the inside-HQ theory heading into the season was that while O'Sullivan may have been better than Smith in Martz's offense at the beginning of the season, by the end Smith would have been the superior player. Of course, that's all shoulda, woulda, coulda at this point ....

... Injuries. The worst seem to have been suffered by Allen Rossum (groin) and Michael Lewis (knee). Ray McDonald and Dashon Goldson also suffered knee injuries. Nate Clements (ribs) and Mark Roman (groin) both returned to the game. More will be (should be) revealed Monday ....

... Barrows has a 6:56 a.m. flight out of Newark tomorrow. Why does April Barrows keep writing checks October Barrows has to cash? whaaa.

-- Matt Barrows

October 19, 2008
49ers-Giants game-day blog

Horrible connectivity here in the Meadowlands .... Here's the latest midway thru the 2nd quarter ...

... Allen Rossum is out with a groin injury; Dealnie Walker, the league's only kick-returning tight end, is taking over.

... Ray McDonald is out with a knee injury. Rookie Kentwan Balmer is taking over. Look for the Giants to run to that side ...

October 19, 2008
49ers-Giants game-day blog

Here are the inactives for today's game

Jamie Martin -- 3rd QB
Marcus Hudson, CB
Reggie Smith, CB
David Kirtman, FB
Ahmad Brooks, LB
Cody Wallace, C
Jonas Jennings, T
Kirk Barton, T

There's a good chance that Josh Morgan will play ahead of Bryant Johnson for the second straight game.


For the Giants:
K Lawrence Tynes
R.W. McQuarters, CB
Danny Ware, RB
Antonio Pierce, LB
Gerris Wilkinson, LB
Adam Koets, T
Sinorice Moss, WR
Jerome McDougle, DE

Pierce and Wilkinson are both starters. they will be replaced by No. 57 Chase Blackburn and No. 53 Bryan Kehl respectively.

October 18, 2008
Q&A: Nolan's fate debated

Question: Matt, if the 49ers decide that Mike Nolan needs to go, then why not fire him mid season? Statistics show that firing a coach mid season does not produce necessarily positive results. However so far Nolan hasn't provided too many positive results either. I guess what I'm asking is...does it really matter when they let him go? Let him go mid season and it at least shows the fans that the Yorks are trying.
I'm an NFL ticket subscriber just for the Niners games. It's starting to look like I wasted my money. I just want hope.
Jason, Fairbanks, AK

Answer: Jason poses the best rationale for changing coaches midseason. Chances are that a switch won't spark a long winning streak and a run to the playoffs. But it would be a signal from the owners that they are just as fed up with losing as their fans. It would show solidarity. So far we haven't heard a word on the subject from John, Jed or Denise York (and trust me, it's not because the media haven't asked). I didn't understand the silence last year when Nolan's job hung in the balance and I don't understand it now. There is a huge disconnect between 49ers fans and the owners. Talking about big issues can only bridge that gap.
- Matt

Question: Hello Matt, I am a diehard 49ers fan but I am so frustrated with this season. Do you think the Yorks will fire Nolan this season? He just has not got the job done and is full of lame excuses. I say FIRE NOLAN and hire Singletary. I am here in Atlanta and see a less talented team than the Niners get the job done. The difference is coaching. Mike Smith of the Falcons has those boys playing lights out. I say let's make a change now while the division is still up for grabs.
Wayne, Atlanta

Answer: If I had to guess, I'd say the Yorks will not make a change during the season. I haven't spoken with the Yorks, but I have talked to others in the organization. The impression I got was that there's a sense that nothing good would come from a mid-season switch. The Yorks gave Nolan the benefit of the doubt after last season; I'd imagine they'd do the same at the bye this year.
- Matt

Question: Why are the Niners so scared of drafting playmakers? They passed on pretty much every WR in the draft and a lot of good pass rushers too (i.e Groves, Merling etc.) And why didn't they draft a QB to fit Martz system? And why aren't they more aggressive now that the current roster is so obviously overmatched?
Jens, Gothenburg, Sweden

Answer: It's the "Umbrella of Caution" at work, Jens. Playmakers have a risk/reward dynamic and the 49ers' brain trust usually always settles for the safest route. Martz, of course, is the exception, which is why so many people - including me - were surprised when he was hired. There's a growing sense that for the 49ers to be successful they have to be as aggressive on defense as Martz is on offense. So far the two units have been polar opposites.
- Matt

Question: Do you think Mike Martz's play calling in 4th quarter was part of the reason the 49ers lost? Do you know how many turnovers J.T. O'sullivan averages a game?
Ray, Sacramento

Answer: Yes. Roughly two.
- Matt

Question: Matt, Why were they so aggressive with pass plays when they were up 26-17 and even 26-24 in the 4th qtr? Gore already had 90 yards on only 16 carries. Why not sustain a drive? It really got away from them at this point. Thanks.
Steve, Culpepper, Va.

Answer: This is the flip side of being aggressive. It's almost as if Martz has an uncontrollable urge to show off a fancy passing play instead of going with the more rational call. It seems like after every loss, an offensive player will say something like, "If we had just held onto a block a little longer, that play was a touchdown for sure. He was so wide open." That's probably true and Martz probably points that out in the film room. But at some point in the game, you have to forgo the "genius" play and settle for the smart one.
- Matt

Question: Perhaps you can shed light on this? Right before halftime, as Andy Lee was getting ready to punt inside a minute, Nolan was looking at his watch (not the stadium clock) for the longest time (watch the Fox broadcast). Then, there was a delay of game. What does Nolan have on his watch that could be so fascinating?
Mike, Montclair, NJ

Answer: Perhaps he caught sight of his own reflection. "Who is that handsome devil on my watch face?"
- Matt

Question: What are their immediate plans to fix up this over-priced defense?...we give up way too many 3rd down conversions and both run and pass defenses are horrible. Will they be looking to pick up some help before the end of the trading deadline? and don't let me get started about this big sub -d.
Chris, Honolulu

Answer: As you saw in the Eagles game, the 49ers have gotten back to basics on defense, scrapping the Big Sub for their base alignment. This ought to get Manny Lawson and the underrated Parys Haralson on the field more.
- Matt

Question: Hello Matt, Love the blog! Thanks for giving me my 49ers fix over here in Texas. I would like to know if any ex players (Steve Young, Brent Jones, Bryant Young etc...) have wanted to return to the 49ers in a coaching position. Steve Young always talked highly of what it took to be a 49er and how important it was to keep the legacy alive. He also ran the offense with a true understanding of what it took to win the game. Would he been thought of as a possible replacement on offense? Thanks again.
Steve, Austin, Texas

Answer: No one works harder or longer than the coaches - it's a gritty, grinding job that totally consumes a person. Compare photos of Nolan just before he accepted the Niners' gig to how he looks now. The position ages you the same why the Presidency withers those who hold that office. What I'm getting at is that most ex-players - Jones and Steve Young, e.g. - have too cushy a lifestyle to want to get into coaching. Bryant Young, on the other hand, is a grinder by nature and has expressed a desire to get into coaching. I'm not sure where that quest stands at the moment ...
- Matt

Question: Alright Matt its only 5 minutes into (the Eagles) game and I can't take my eyes off of how poorly Franklin is playing, he is pushed so far off the line on every play - the TV announcers have already mentioned it twice. Oh, and don't get me started on Nolan not challenging the first down "catch" by Baskett - which was so clearly a drop! No big deal though, it only led to a touchdown rather than forcing a field goal attempt.
Derek, Sacramento

Answer: Maybe we should have a feature called "Tuesday Tirade." The best rant (or rave) gets posted Tuesday morning. Please, no F bombs ...
- Matt

October 17, 2008
Bell not tolling for Nolan ... yet

The pitter patter of "Nolan Must Go" complaints has grown to a deluge in recent weeks as the 49ers have dropped three straight and face a very tough contest Sunday against a ticked off New York Giants team. But if you ask me, the flood of anti-Nolan sentiment won't be enough to wash the head coach away. Maybe a blowout loss in the Meadowlands and a meager showing - by both the team and its fans - the following week against Seattle will change things. But for now, I think Nolan's safe. And here's why ...

1. There's a sense in the organization that nothing good will come from making a mid-season switch. Teams who change coaches rarely improve and mostly grow worse. As my colleague Paul Gutierrez pointed out recently, a midseason coaching change usually is tantamount to waving a white flag, and the 49ers still feel they have a shot at a division title in a weak NFC West.

2. The players still seem to be on board. It would be one thing if the locker room had lost faith in Nolan - like it did Jim Hostler last season - and would be buoyed by a change at the top. At least publicly, the 49ers are still behind Nolan. Frank Gore was peppered with questions by the NY media this week about Nolan's tenure. "Coach Nolan is a great head coach and a great guy and I like him a whole lot," Gore said in giving Nolan his full support.

3. Going into the season, expectations for the first eight games weren't all that high. The 49ers had New England, the Giants, Philadelphia and Seattle - twice - in the first eight games. How many of those were circled as wins? The 49ers also were learning a new offense and breaking in a quarterback who until Sept. 7 had never started a game. All of which lends to a wait-and-see attitude as far as what Nolan and the team can do over the second half of the season.

*****************
Quarterback Alex Smith had an image taken of his fractured right shoulder today at Stanford Hospital. Team officials say the shoulder appears to be healing on its own and will not require a screw as initially feared. Smith is scheduled to have a comprehensive examination of the shoulder, perhaps by Dr. James Andrews in Birmingham, Ala., prior to the 49ers' Nov. 2 bye week. That examination will determine the course of action on the quarterback's shoulder.

*************
Tackle Jonas Jennings has been ruled out for Sunday's game. Manny Lawson, Mark Roman and Donald Strickland are probable. Lawson is expected to play perhaps his biggest role of the season Sunday as the 49ers counter the Giants smash-mouth offense with their base defense:

"I won't say I'm like the golden child or anything," Lawson said. "All I can say is that I'll bring my A game and whatever is necessary and whatever I need to do, I'll do it. Hopefully over the weeks that we've had and the feelings that we've felt with these losses -- that in itself will carry us to a win."

-- Matt Barrows

October 16, 2008
Spencer goes to IR; Niners snag O-lineman

Shawntae Spencer, who tore a knee ligament in Week two, finally was placed on injured reserve today. The roster opening allowed the 49ers to pounce on a player they liked, offensive lineman Kirk Barton, who was released by the Miami Dolphins yesterday. Barton will be on the 53-man roster and will join the 49ers Friday in New Jersey. Barton played at Ohio State and was a seventh-round draft pick by the Bears this year before being waived and picked up by the Dolphins. The 6-4, 305-pound Barton - surprise, surprise - was at the Senior Bowl.

"We had the (open) spot all along," Nolan said. "Basically, we were waiting for something to come available that we liked."

**********
Nolan said that Jonas Jennings would be doubtful to play this week while Manny Lawson would be probable. Jennings was the only player who didn't take part in practice today. Mark Roman and Donald Strickland both were limited. ... For the Giants, LBs Antonio Pierce and Gerris Wilkinson did not practice. ...

**********
... There was a brief practice scuffle today involving Joe Staley and Roderick Green. "If it means something to them, yeah," Nolan said when asked if he has ever seen players in shells get into a fracas. No word yet whether Staley confused Green for Michael Strahan ...

-- Matt Barrows

October 16, 2008
East coast has been unkind to Nolan, 49ers

Mike Nolan is heading to a place that hasn't been very kind to him the last three years - the eastern seaboard. In three years under Nolan, the 49ers are 1-8 in games played in the eastern time zone, including a 0-5 record last season. His only win against an eastern team came in 2006 against Detroit.

In previous seasons, Nolan tried to remedy that record by having his players practice early when they would be heading to the east coast. If the 49ers began practice at 10 a.m., the reasoning went, their bodies would be accustomed to games that began at 1 p.m. EDT.

Nolan, however, has scrapped that plan as the 49ers head to East Rutherford, N.J. on Sunday. Instead the 49ers are using their normal schedule in which practice begins at 1: 45 p.m.. Nolan said that coaches were having a hard time finishing all the pre-practice preparation before the 10 a.m. practices.

This year the 49ers play three games on the east coast - the Giants, Buffalo and Miami. The trip to Miami is 2,601 miles, the second longest trip for the 49ers behind Boston, Ma, which is 2,708 miles.

The 49ers aren't the only west coast team struggling with long plane trips east. The Seahawks have gotten smoked in their two trips east - to Buffalo and the Giants - this season. Last year, the Seahawks dropped games in Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Carolina and Atlanta. The only east-coast game they won was against the Eagles, who were without Donovan McNabb. The Arizona Cardinals have lost both their east-coast games this year - at Washington and at the Jets. The Raiders and Chargers, meanwhile, have lost their only trips east this season, to Buffalo and Miami respectively.

***************
Mark Roman (knee) is back in practice today as are Walt Harris and Frank Gore. According to the New York papers, Giants center Shaun O'Hara, who spent two days in the hospital with an infected toe, was back at practice today. LBs Antonio Pierce (quad) and Gerris Wilkinson (knee) did not practice.


-- Matt Barrows

October 15, 2008
Staley still pines for Strahan

When Osi Umenyiora was placed on injured reserve this year, there was a brief rumor that Michael Strahan might end his retirement and return to the Giants. Joe Staley was crossing his fingers that would be the case. Staley, as you'll recall, got an old-fashioned schooling last year courtesy of Strahan and the 49ers offensive tackle was hoping for a rematch (Never mind that he's playing on the other side this season). Staley has mixed emotions about that 2007 game. On one hand, it was the low-point of his brief career as Strahan beat him for 2 1/2 sacks in the first half. But it also was a valuable lesson, he said, as far as not allowing an opponent to dictate the game. "You can't react," Staley said today. "You have to be the aggressor."

The other issue is that Staley went into the game in awe of Strahan. "I mind-f---- myself," Staley admitted. Now there's something you won't find on the post-game injury report ...

*********
The 49ers replaced Zak Keasey (torn biceps) on the 53-man roster with David Kirtman, a former USC Trojan who was drafted by Seattle in the fifth round in 2006. He was on the Chargers' practice squad earlier this year before being waived on Tuesday. Kirtman was born in San Francisco and spent the early part of his life in San Rafael.

Mike Nolan today said the hope is that Kirtman will do what Zak Keasey did for the team, which is be a significant contributor on special teams and have a smaller role on offense. Keasey is the so-called "11th" offensive player on the field. The 49ers have many other packages in which Delanie Walker, Billy Bajema, Arnaz Battle or Michael Robinson is that 11th player. The 49ers haven't decided whether Kirtman will be active this week against the Giants.

If you're like me (and thank your lucky stars you're not) you might be wondering why the 49ers don't just let Robinson take over Keasey's role. Robinson, after all, is the lead blocker for Allen Rossum on special teams, and he seems to have a knack for the job. At 223 pounds or so, he's not a thumper of a blocker, but neither was Keasey. He's also a better runner and pass catcher than Keasey, and of course, throws the ball better than all but three players on the team. It would seem that having Robinson in the backfield with Gore would give defenses plenty to consider.

I asked Mike Nolan about that today and he noted that Robinson filled in a bit against the Eagles. "Blocking on special teams and blocking on offense is two different things," obviously," Nolan said. "It's something he can do, but he also has some other things he does well."

*******
Tom Coughlin said he thought some of Eli manning's interceptions Monday could be attributable to a chest injury Manning suffered. Still, he said Manning practiced today and would play Sunday.

For the 49ers, Jonas Jennings and Mark Roman (knee) did not practice today. Roman's injury is not considered serious. Manny Lawson (hamstring) and Donald Strickland (hip) are limited, as is Frank Gore. Walt Harris is getting his typical Wednesday off ...

-- Matt Barrows

October 14, 2008
Martz loves Kitna, but 49ers not interested in trade *update*

There continue to be persistent rumors out of Detroit linking quarterback Jon Kitna to the 49ers. Kitna is one of several players the Lions are trying to move before today's trade deadline.

As Tom Kowalski of Mlive.com points out, Kitna and Mike Martz, Detroit's former offensive coordinator, have a very good relationship. Each spoke highly of the other earlier this season.

Said Martz of Kitna back in August: "I just like his toughness and aggressive approach to the game. He's extremely competitive and the energy he brings to the game can uplift the team. . . . The energy he brought was pretty significant. I'd never been around that kind of energy before at that position. So he was pretty unique."

Said Kitna of Martz before the 49ers hosted the Lions this year: "I learned more football in those two years with Mike. He's just so brilliant in terms of how to understand the quarterback position and how to attack defenses."

The two are BFFs. Mwah!

The 49ers also have gone out of their way to make Martz happy, bringing in former players like quarterback J.T. O'Sullivan, Isaac Bruce and Jamie Martin. Kowalski also notes that O'Sullivan has struggled mightily in the last three games, throwing seven interceptions, including two in the fourth quarter of Sunday's loss to Philadelphia.

But while Martz may be pushing for his former pupil, I'm told there's no deal in place. The 49ers are leery of trading for a player who has struggled just as much as O'Sullivan. Through four games, Kitna threw five touchdowns against five interceptions and was sacked 15 times. O'Sullivan has been sacked a league-high 23 times. Kitna missed Sunday's game with a back injury, and if he isn't traded, likely will be placed on injured reserve.

***update**** In fact, don't look for the 49ers to make any moves before today's trade deadline ... The team, however, is expected to make a move today, placing FB Zak Keasey (biceps) on IR and signing another fullback who has been out of the game a couple of years. (?) No plans yet to put Shawntae Spencer (knee) on IR ....

-- Matt Barrows

October 13, 2008
Nolan: No change in the status quo

A three-game losing streak. Four years of losing seasons. Fans jumping ship like it's on fire. So what changes are Mike Nolan and the 49ers planning to restore order? Nothing. Nada. Zip.

No game-plan changes. Nolan said that he had no problem with the majority of defensive calls Greg Manusky made Sunday and he understood why Mike Martz called so few running plays in the fourth quarter. No personnel changes. Nolan said he didn't plan to replace Mark Roman, who has forced no turnovers, with Dashon Goldson and that J.T. O'Sullivan (seven INTs in the last three games) is still the starting QB. And no shakeup with the trade deadline looming. Nolan's says he hasn't talked to Scot McCloughan about possible trades.

So what does this team need to snap out of its current funk?

"What we need to do is win," Nolan said. "Whatever determines we're gonna win, that's what we're going to do."

Which is what?

"Which is what - we need to play more consistently, there's no question. Like I said, it's not as if we've been blown out the last three weeks, and two weeks prior to that we won the football game. We've been in the games. We need to win. Last year, we weren't in games when those things occurred. Two years prior to that, we weren't in games like this. We're in these games. If there's anything disappointing it's that these last three weeks, we feel these were games we should have won. That's the biggest disappointment."

********
There will be one change. Zak Keasey eventually will be placed on IR with a torn biceps, meaning the 49ers have no true fullback. Nolan said the 49ers have plenty of packages that don't involve Keasey but do involve players like Delanie Walker, Billy Bajema, Arnaz Battle and Michael Robinson. ... Keasey's injury means the 49ers essentially have two extra roster spots. Shawntae Spencer also is out for the season though he has yet to be placed on IR ...

********************
About those challenges ... Nolan said he essentially was told today that the Eagles' fourth-quarter field goal wasn't reviewable because the ball was above the upright. Nolan said that's what he was trying to ask the officials Sunday - whether or not he even had the option of challenging the call. Nolan said none of the officials on the field could tell him whether the ball had passed above or below the upright. "I would have liked for the official to tell me. That's what I would have liked to have seen," Nolan said. The implication is that after reviewing the play, the officials should have determined it was not reviewable and given the 49ers their timeout back ...

-- Matt Barrows

October 13, 2008
Insult to injury: Philly fans rock the 'Stick

Lots written today about Mike Nolan's odd challenges. I will add to that chorus, but first a subject that could and should be more distressing to the Yorks ... Philly fans. Lots of them. The Candlestick stands yesterday were covered with green, like some noxious weed grown out of control. A week after hearing the chant of "Let's go, Sox!" echo through the 49ers hallowed stadium, on Sunday it was "Beat, L.A.!" Sure, San Franciscans can get behind that sentiment. But from Eagles fans?

I grew up in the Mid Atlantic. I know people from Philadelphia. (Yeah you, Simon) Lemme tell you, there is nothing you want less in your home than a Philadelphia fan. The 49ers had thousands of them in their home on Sunday. I'm conservatively estimating there were 12,000 Eagles fans on hand. And if you doubt me, listen to the telecast. It sounds like the game was played at the Linc. It was like the whole city decided to spend Columbus Day in the Bay Area. To do list: Wine country. Alcatraz. Beat up on the 49ers.

And like I said, that has to me more maddening to the Yorks than botched calls or interceptions or dubious fourth-quarter decision making. Because for the last two weeks, 49ers fans have stated loudly and clearly - and correctly - that they have no confidence in their team. For as many Patriots and Eagles fans as there were at Candlestick, there had to have been a almost equal number of empty seats. And Lord knows how many seats the Yorks are buying up themselves. All in all, it's an ugly situation for a family that's trying to convince the public to help finance a new stadium ...

*************
Midway through the third quarter, Nolan elected to go for it on fourth and one in Philadelphia territory. He succeded and I wrote in my notebook, "For the first time, Nolan correctly gauged the tenor of the game regarding a fourth-down call." But a quarter later, Nolan squandered the good will when he lost his second challenge of the day on a call he had no chance of overturning. It was a wasted timeout when it was clear the 49ers would be needing all the timeouts they had...

What was going through Nolan's head, you ask? Judge for yourself:

RE: On the two challenges you made, the first one...
"Remind me of them."

RE: The deep one to DeSean Jackson and the field goal. What did you hear upstairs?"Well, I was right there on the sidelines for the first one. All I asked upstairs is, was it clear that he caught it in bounds. We had it on the billboard when I saw it as well and I thought it was very close. My question was, 'Did he have possession?' I saw his feet. I wanted to know if he had possession because if he was still bobbling it, then naturally it wouldn't have been a catch. So that's why I did that one. The second one?"

RE: The field goal.
"The field goal. Yeah. This is not a complaint to the officials but they have to make a signal at some point that says it's above the bar or not. Because as it is, I challenged it not knowing if it's above or below. What I'm saying is if the challenge...I still have to challenge because I threw the red flag. Because I asked him, 'Is it challengeable?' And he said, 'It really doesn't matter now that you threw the red flag.' So either way it was going to cost me. So in the discussions right there, they have to correct that. There's got to be some kind of signal that says it's not only good but it's not challengeable or it is. Obviously that didn't cost us the game. But anyway, [it's] something they've got to fix."

RE: Getting back to the field goal challenge, how can they reverse that if there's not a camera at the same place where the referee is? How can you get that reversed?"When he came over, I asked him the same exact question. Other than, can I challenge it? He asked the guy, 'Was it below it?' And they all kind of said it was. But outside of that, I said, 'What views are you going to see? Are they going to be different from what I see?' And he said, 'I'm just going to see what they give me on the monitor.' That was his response. So it's not as if there's a camera, I guess. If there was, he'd have said, 'there was one.' So as the way it's setup now, it's all fine and dandy. Basically what they get to challenge is if you've got a situation like last year where the thing bounces off the cross bar or hits the little machine that's there. Then you get it. Otherwise, it's ineffective. The challenges don't mean anything."

RE: You weren't aware of this before?"You know what? I thought maybe there was something...because I didn't think it was good, to be honest with you. I wanted to hear what he had to say coming over. That's why I also thought that coming over if he said, 'You can't challenge it because it was above the cross bar.' I was going to say, 'Well then I get my challenge back.' But he says, 'No, you're not going to get your challenge back.'"

RE: You mean the upright?"The upright, forgive me."

-- Matt Barrows

October 12, 2008
49ers-Eagles game-day blog

Here are the 49ers' inactives. Notice three linebackers won't be playing, which means -- say it with me -- lots of "Big Sub". For the Eagles, both Reggie Brown and Kevin Curtis will not play. That means lots of work for DeSean Jackson and Hank Baskett.

Jamie Martin -- 3rd QB
LB Ahmad Brooks
LB Manny Lawson
LB Roderick Green
CB Shawntae Spencer
CB Reggie Smith
T Jonas Jennings
C Cody Wallace

For the Eagles:
A.J. Feeley -- 3rd QB
S J.R. Reed
RB Brain Westbrook
DE Bryan Smith
G Shawn Andrews
G Mike McGlynn
WR Kevin Curtis
WR Reggie Brown

***********
I should note that a prominent 49ers insider said before the game that he thought his team would play a lot of base defense and run a lot with Frank Gore. We shall see ... Maybe he was right. Niners open in their base defense (sack leader Parys Haralson at LB) and start on offense in a three tight end formation. In other words, they're starting with power over finesse ...

** I'm watching Nedney on the sideline. His left arm was dangling after that long kick return. It appears to be a shoulder issue, and he's testing how it's affecting his field goals.

** Josh Morgan appears to be getting reps instead of Bryant Johnson. Johnson is not hurt as far as I know ...

** 49ers allow another 10-play drive, this one for a TD. The Eagles seem to be picking on Walt Harris, who was beaten by Hank Baskett for the score.

** Why so much Michael Robinson? Part if it is due to an arm injury to Zak Keasey. His return in questionable.

** Wow! What a great way to head into halftime. Thanks to Ray McDonald and Donald Strickland, the 49ers only are down by 1 point -- 17-16 -- instead of down 11. McDonald blocked Philly's 54-yard attempt with one second left in the half and Strickland grabbed the ball and ran untouched for the TD. ...

2nd Half
** Here's why that field goal block was so critical. Down one the 49ers don't need to get out of their game plan. Frank Gore just had two, tackle-breaking runs, the second a 6-yard score that puts the 49ers on top, 23-17.

** Eagles T Tra Thomas is questionable to return with a foot strain. ... Thomas is back -- he was just beaten badly by Ray McDonald on a 3rd-and-one play ...

** Vernon Davis is a bust? You just need to throw him the ball. The tight end gains 57 yards.

*** Philly driving and Takeo Spikes comes up with his third INT of the season. Maybe he should give coverage tips to the secondary. End of 3Q ....

** Philly CB Lito Sheppard has a hamstring injury. Not sure if he'll be back ...

** Nolan appears to be challenging Philly's go-ahead field goal that was ruled good by both officials ...Ruling on the field stands and the 49ers lose a time out ... They have one left ...

** JTO has a big INT and fumble in final 5 minutes, and this one seems all but over ...

October 11, 2008
Q&A: Fans losing patience with Nolan

Question: HI Matt, great job as always. What do you think is wrong with the Niners? Is it the coaching, players, or the GM not drafting the right players? I think we have decent talent, but I'm not a Nolan Fan. It bugs me that we only won 5 games yet we don't have any starter from the draft. What's up?
Dave, San Francisco

Answer: What's wrong with the 49ers? If I had to pinpoint one thing, it's the run defense. The 49ers seem to be playing right into the opposing coach's hands. The opponent wants to make sure that Mike Martz's offense does as little damage as possible. The best way to do that is to deny him the ball. So the opponent trots out three receivers and the 49ers predictably go to their "Big Sub" defense, which Mike Nolan sees as a panacea for all offenses. But instead of throwing the ball, the opponent exploits Nolan's fear of the big play by making lots of little ones. He brings out his biggest running back and hammers away at a defense that is built to stop the pass. The opponent isn't breaking off any big runs. But they have enough three- and four-yard gains to constantly move the chains, get into scoring position, and most importantly, keep the 49ers' offense on the sideline.
- Matt

Question: Greetings Matt. With Nolan coming back again this year (big mistake), I essentially distanced myself from the team, because it's too painful to watch the mess that he creates. I do read clips occasionally, it never ceases to amaze me the crap that comes out of Nolan's mouth: "If you have the eyes I have, and you can't tell the numbers sometimes, they look the same," Nolan said. Seriously, anyone qualified to be a position coach in the NFL would recognize the HUGE difference between Westbrook and Buckhalter. Do you get the sense he thinks we all believe his nonsense?
Lebowski, L.A.

Answer: Lebowski! Where ya been all season? Missed your acerbic wit. As far as that quote, I think (hope) the subtext was, 'We're not taking the Eagles lightly because it's Buckhalter, not Westbrook, in the game.' The quote that got a lot of play in the media trailer this week was this one, which came when Nolan was asked about DeSean Jackson. "At the time we had a couple other players that we felt were, not necessarily a need, but the players that we thought would help us more quickly." After all, who could rescue a team more quickly than Chilo Rachal, who hasn't even stuck a toe onto the field this season?
- Matt

chilo.jpg = wolf.jpg

Question: Is there any method to Mike Nolan's madness when it comes to his press conferences and his cagey way of answering questions? Compare his style with that of Andy Reid after the Eagles lost to the Redskins this week. A little candor would buy him some benefit of the doubt with fans, but now it's too late. Look at how the Vikings handled the Saints on Monday...constant pressure on Brees and he wasn't as effective. Nolan should admit his defensive game plan for the last two weeks sucked and he's going to fix it!
Troy, Olympia, Wa

Answer: I agree that a little self criticism would go a long way with the fans. But that's never been Nolan's M.O. Confidence is what earned him his job, it's what preserved his job and it's what his players seem to respond to. They were still preaching his gospel (is that even a phrase?) this week and haven't wavered in three and half seasons under Nolan. And in the end, that might be his greatest accomplishment.
- Matt

Question: "Slide due to technical errors" wow...is this what a once proud team is reduced to? Does Nolan actually see the games on Sundays? Anyways, Matt can we expect changes any time soon as far as firings etc? And I'm still not sold on getting on the Martz bandwagon for our next coach, are you?
Adrian, Oviedo, Fla

Answer: Dunno if we're going to see any mid-season changes. That doesn't seem like the Yorks' style, although most teams don't have three guys - Martz, Singletary and Manusky - capable of taking over. As for Martz, yes, we probably shouldn't hop on the bandwagon. Sure, the offense is better statistically, but the 49ers seem to bear all the earmarks of previous bad Mike Martz teams. Something to keep an eye on.
- Matt

Question: Greetings from Canada! Just a quick question about the defense. Who is more responsible for the conservative defense- Nolan or Manusky? And if Nolan's job is on the line, do you think he would be more aggressive?
Jagmin, Toronto

Answer: It's Nolan's schemes with Manusky calling the plays (with an assist from Nolan. And with Nolan doing some coaching on the sideline. Nolan). And yes, I would think he would be more aggressive, especially since his offense has the ability to keep pace with just about every team. Instead, that vanilla reputation - what I have dubbed "The Umbrella of Caution" -- that got him booted out of Washington could be his downfall here, too.
- Matt

Question: Please pressure Nolan into explaining his defensive play calling. I would love if you could get him to explain why he runs a Big Nickel every game even though we get torched every Sunday with it. The DB's give too much of a cushion and continue to get burned. We have drafted to play a 3-4 but for some reason have abandoned it. This team has loads of talent but they are not being utilized to the best of their abilities. Please hammer Nolan because the fans that pay his salary want a legitimate answer to why he won't adjust.
Justin, Pensacola, Fla.

Answer: Oh, Justin, we do ask. The answer is that the scheme is awesome, it's just that the players keep screwing it up ... But your second point is a good one. For four years, we heard how great the 3-4 defense was, how it allowed for lots of flexibility, how it put pressure on opposing offenses. But after four years, it seems like the team is neither a true 3-4 nor a legitimate 4-3. Instead, the defense is stuck somewhere in the middle, making it an incoherent Centaur that doesn't do any one thing particularly well.
- Matt

centaur.jpg<

Question: Matt - love the Blog and thanks for answering previous questions. Here's another one - at the beginning of the season I thought we would score some points and worried that our lack of a pass rush would keep us out of games. Now I think I should have been worried about our run defense. Why don't we make more defensive adjustments as the game goes on? Thoughts?
Margaret, Sacramento

Answer: Two reasons: One, the 49ers don't have a lot of options. Sure, NT Aubrayo Franklin looks like he's wearing roller cleats, but Ronald Fields, Isaac Sopoaga and Kentwan Balmer have been no better at holding their ground. Two is this notion that the 49ers aren't getting beat, they're merely making technical mistakes. That convinces Nolan and his staff that, hey, it's not the scheme that's wrong, it's that the players are making mental errors. It seems the Monday post mortems are only encouraging the 49ers that they don't need any big adjustments.
- Matt

Question: Is it time to put Scotty Mac on the hot seat too? Quick recap: A Smith, #1 overall - bust. Baas, one pick from R1 - bust (still sitting in Year4). VD - bust (hands of stone, ala Duran; you draft a blocking TE in R6, not at No. 6). B Williams - bust. Lawson - R1, semi-bust (drafted as speed rusher; thankfully he can cover, or he's a R1 special teams player). Clements - "value-based" bust (not a lock-down corner). Sopoaga v Douglas - bad choice. Jennings - no words required. Time to re-assess the GM as well as the HC? Thoughts?
Mike, Montclair, NJ

Answer: The short answer is yes - if the 49ers have another losing season (that would be six in a row, folks) EVERYONE deserves to be on the hot seat. McCloughan, however, has better excuses than others. First, he didn't have full personnel power until this season. Second, I firmly believe that the 49ers would have destroyed any quarterback that was taken No. 1 overall in 2005. Aaron Rodgers can't even survive a quarter season in Green Bay. How long would he have lasted here? Third, Patrick Willis and Frank Gore. Those guys go a long way toward bolstering someone's reputation. (And yes, I realize that No.'s one and three contradict each other).
- Matt

Question: I think its obvious we won't be picking up Housh in a trade before the deadline, and not sure how much he could help out this year in our offense since its about trust, timing, and precision. However, have you heard anything about Roy Williams or Calvin Johnson? They are familiar with Martz' offense and I'm sure either of them would give their first born to get out of Detroit right now.
Sean, Stockton

Answer: Good observation about trust, timing and precision. Just as Martz doesn't think he needs big-name QB to run his scheme, he thinks it can be done without big-name, high-priced receivers, too. (See: Furrey, Mike). But to answer your question, I'm sure Williams would love to get out of Detroit. But would he want to come to Detroit West?
- Matt

October 10, 2008
Exit Westbrook, enter Buckhalter

The Eagles' top offensive weapon, Brian Westbrook, has been ruled out of Sunday's game with broken ribs. But the 49ers' shouldn't breathe a sigh of relief -- they haven't done so well against teams' No. 2 (and 3 and 4 and 5) weapons this year either. With Westbrook out, in comes Correll Buckhalter, who is bigger than Westbrook but perhaps not as nimble. In fact, Mike Nolan said yesterday it was sometimes hard to tell the two apart:

"He does the same jobs, yeah. They look similar. If you have the eyes I have, and you can't tell the numbers sometimes, they look the same."

Buckhalter filled in for Westbrook earlier this year in a loss to Chicago. He ran 16 times for 66 yards and caught two passes for 24 yards. Last year, he started one game for Westbrook -- another Eagles' loss -- and ran 17 times for 103 yards and caught four passes for 35 yards.

-- Matt Barrows

October 9, 2008
Martz, Davis differ on whether tight end has been productive

The expectation heading into the season was that Mike Martz's offense was going to be a boon for every skill player on the team. So far it has, with one notable exception. Through five games, tight end Vernon Davis has five catches for 87 yards. Through his first five games last season in Jim Hostler's stodgy offense that couldn't do anything right, he had 18 catches for 176 yards. Last year Davis complained - and Mike Nolan listened - that he was being kept in to block more than he was being sent out to catch passes. Today Davis said he's doing even more pass blocking than he did a year ago. "Yeah - big time," he said. "I never did pass protection as much as I did as I'm doing now." Is that a surprise? "A little bit. I didn't expect it. I definitely didn't expect it."

Which begs the question whether Davis, who is being sent on a number of deep routes, is being used correctly. Mike Martz today defended that use.

"Vernon runs like any receiver does. That being said, to run those routes from the tight end position - that's not an easy thing to do for a big man ... But we're making progress there. I'm excited about where he is right now."

Martz pointed to the second play of Sunday's game, an intermediate pass that went off Delanie Walker's hands and that would have been a huge gain, as evidence of Davis' contribution:

"Did you see how wide open he was? They were all running with Vernon. ... There were three guys chasing Vernon down the field. If we had completed that, (Walker) may have been in San Diego before he stopped. ... So even though he may not be getting the ball, he is a huge factor in what we do. ... The numbers - I think you've got to be real careful with the numbers with anybody. If somebody's getting real big numbers every week, that's not necessarily a good thing. That means you have to rely on that one individual to win and that's not always a good thing."

Q: But is there a sense that Davis is starting to get antsy with his production?
MM: Is this a serious question?
Q: Yeah - he has five catches in five games.
MM: I have no idea what he has. I don't think about those things to be honest with you. I'm sure anyone with five catches - I don't care who you are - is probably not satisfied. It's not the point, though, probably, is it? We're just trying to win. His time will come

Martz may not think about receptions, but Davis certainly does. "I want to help out as much as I can as far as catching passes. That's what I'm here to do - make plays. That's what I want to do. I guess there's really nothing you can do if you've got two or three guys running with you. The only thing you probably can do is come up with different ways to give me the ball or something like that."

******************
Last week, Patriots coach Bill Belichick noted that Martz was using Davis like he onced used Ernie Conwell in St. Louis. Martz today agreed with that assessment, although he said that Davis has more speed with Conwell and because of that speed was being sent on more deep patterns. Conwell's best season came in 2001 when he had 38 catches, 431 receiving yards and four TDs.

*****************
Evidently, Davis is not a newspaper reader. Asked about Nolan's quote from Monday in which he said Davis did two out of three things well -- pass and run block -- but needed to perfect his rout running, Davis said he hadn't heard that assessment.

"I didn't hear that. I don't know what to say about that one. I don't know what to say about that one. Like I said, every route I run, I run a correct route. I mean, if I don't then I'm pretty sure someone would say something about it."

-- Matt Barrows

October 9, 2008
Niners talking Westbrook, should be watching Buckhalter

Luck has been elusive for Mike Nolan since he arrived in San Francisco. He inherited a roster totally bereft of talent. He had the No. 1 draft pick in a year in which there were no saviors. He's had an exodus of offensive coordinators. This year, however, Nolan seems to have found his four-leaf clover: He keeps playing teams at just the right time. To wit:

  • Vs. Seattle when the Seahawks had lost their Top 5 receivers

  • Vs. New Orleans, which was playing without Drew Brees' top two targets

  • Vs. New England, which had middling Matt Cassel under center instead of Tom Brady

  • And now vs. the Eagles, who may or may not have Brian Westbrook, a player who accounted for 35 percent of their offense last season and half of their touchdowns.
  • The 49ers' defenders are preparing as if Westbrook, who has two broken ribs, will play. I'm skeptical. As Westbrook himself pointed out earlier in the week, even if he does play, he's not sure he'll be more effective at less than 100 percent than his healthy backup. The Eagles may make the same conclusion. And moreover, backup Correll Buckhalter might make a lot of sense against the 49ers' defense.

    Nolan's "Big Sub" defense has been controversial to say the least. But if you think he's going to retire it against Philly and its West Coast offense, I have some McClatchy stock to sell you. Offenses have been countering the "Big Sub" with the biggest running back on their roster. Deuce McAllister, for example, hurt the 49ers in Week Four. Sammy Morris was effective for the Patriots Sunday.

    Buckhalter, while not as elusive as Westbrook, is two inches taller and nearly 20 pounds heavier. If the Eagles are looking to hammer the 49ers - and given the past few games why wouldn't they? - he would be more effective than a 203-pound running back with two broken ribs. The 49ers have to guard against the trap they fell into in New Orleans. As TBC pointed out yesterday, the team went in expecting a heavy dose of Reggie Bush (whom they easily handled) and ended up being blindsided by McAllister.

    ***UPDATE*** More evidence the Eagles will use a pound-it-out approach: They have moved 6-1, 227-pound fullback Tony Hunt to halfback and made 275-pound DT Dan Klecko their fullback.

    **************
    Bengals coach Marvin Lewis yesterday ripped apart the rumored trade between his team and the 49ers for receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh.

    "Boy, that's a bad rumor, huh?" Lewis said on Wednesday. "Number one, you're going to get a club in trouble for tampering. That club has already been penalized once this year, very harshly. "

    "Number two, what club in its right mind would trade for a player that's going to be an unrestricted free agent? Again, if you're going to start a rumor, make it a good one. OK? Make it something that makes some sense to people inside the NFL. It's unfortunate."

    It seems that anytime there's an attempt to stir up interest in a player at trade time, the 49ers are used as leverage. Briggs!! (To be said like "Kahn!!!")

    -- Matt Barrows

    October 8, 2008
    DeSean Jackson: The one that got away *updated*

    Heading into the draft, the 49ers never seemed that keen on DeSean Jackson. At 175 pounds, the Cal receiver was a lot smaller than what they preferred and there were some "character" concerns that dropped him on their draft boards. Still, they never conveyed that sense to Jackson, who said today he thought he might end up in a 49ers uniform.

    "Yeah definitely. I took a trip there before I got drafted and I met with coach Martz and the head coach So it was definitely a good place to be and I spent my college career there. It would have been a cool place to play professional football, but it didn't happen that way, so."

    What did he talk about with Martz?

    "He just told me how good of a player I was. What he thought of me and how I would be in their offense, what he'd do for me. But that's the past now, so I'm living in the future."

    Aside from one premature spike of the football, things have worked out pretty well for Jackson in South Philly. He leads the Eagles in both receptions (23) and receiving yards (335), and it should be noted that both of those stats would be tops on the 49ers as well. He's also averaging 13.2 yards per punt return and had a 68 yarder for a TD Sunday against Washington. Coach Andy Reid today said that Jackson has surpassed expectations and that he was impressed how many routes Jasckson knew - thanks to mentor Jerry Rice - upon arriving with the Eagles.

    Jackson was selected in the second round, No. 49 (irony alert!) overall. That means that the 49ers had two chances to pick him and instead went with Kentwan Balmer and Chilo Rachal. It's far, far too early to dismiss Balmer and Rachal as bad picks, but it's not too early to say that they have gotten off to very slow starts. Balmer was playing nose tackle on one of Kevin Faulk's short touchdown runs Sunday and was moved so far to the side by a single Patriots offensive lineman that by the end of the play he wasn't in the television frame. It was as if he was on ice. Rachal, meanwhile, is the No. 4 offensive guard on the team and has yet to step on the field.

    ***Update*** Here's what Mike Nolan had to say about Jackson during his 10:45 presser:

    "We liked the two players we took. We did like him as well though. I don't want to take anything away from him. He's a very good player. He was over here, we met with him, we spoke with him. He was pleasant, he was good. I remember it was a good experience in speaking with him. But at the time, we had a couple other players that we felt were, not necessarily a need, but the players we thought would help us. But he's a good player. I don't want to take anything away from him. He's done a good job. He's the explosive player he thought he would be."

    *****************************

  • As for Brian Westbrook and his broken ribs, Reid said the running back is not practicing today. It seemed like the coach didn't want to dwell on the issue. Asked if Westbrook's ribs could be protected in some way, Reid said, "You pad 'em up the best way you can."
  • Reid said that receiver Kevin Curtis (sports hernia) continues to practice this week and that the team is taking a wait-and-see aprroach as far as he performs. Curtis has yet to play a game this season.
  • The outlook for guard Shawn Andrews isn't as good, Reid said. Andrews is still struggling with a bad back

  • ***update**** For the 49ers, Shawntae Spencer is the only player out. There is a chance that Jonas Jennings and Manny Lawson could be ready on Sunday but neither is practicing. Michael Lewis (elbow) also is not practcing while Walt Harris and Frank Gore are having their usual Wednesday off.

    -- Matt Barrows

    October 7, 2008
    49ers sign player with exotic, four-syllable surname

    The 49ers have added a player to their roster .... but it's not Cincinnati receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh. Instead, they signed a player with nearly as hard a name to spell, LB Eric Bakhtiari, to the practice squad, which had an open space after Larry Birdine was released last week. Bakhtiari (6-3, 285) was originally signed by the San Diego Chargers as a rookie free agent out of San Diego University following the draft. He was on the Chargers' practice squad where he spent the first two weeks of the season.

    Of course, Houshmandzadeh's name is the one on everyone's lips after a report in the Dayton Daily News said the 49ers were interested in trading for the prolific Bengals receiver. Each October the days get shorter, the leaves change colors and the 49ers are at the forefront of trade rumors. In 2006 it was Nate Clements. In 2007 it was Lance Briggs. What about Houshmandzadeh? True? False? ... Eh, it's probably somewhere in between.

    The 49ers certainly would be interested. Who wouldn't? He perfectly fits their mold for big, physical receivers. But don't expect any trades for the main reason why there are hardly ever any trades - because Houshmandzadeh, an unrestricted free agent, will be available at the end of the season anyway. Trading now would require the 49ers to give up a player or draft picks. And without a long-term deal, there would be no guarantee the player would be around in 2009 and beyond.

    The other reason the trade rumor seems a bit fishy is that receiver doesn't appear to be an area where the 49ers need help. The 49ers have three receivers - Arnaz Battle, Isaac Bruce and Bryant Johnson - ranked among the top 54 at their positions in terms of average receiving yards. Only three receivers have caught more touchdowns than Bruce's four. The 49ers also have a young receiver, Josh Morgan, of whom they think very highly. Morgan was coming on like gangbusters until his progress was derailed by a staph infection. Sure, the 49ers could lose Johnson, who also will be an unrestricted free agent at year's end, but an ideal replacement already is on the team.

    ****************
    Every month I'm sent a data report on how many people visit this blog. For September, the report included a state-by-state breakdown that I find really interesting. California, of course, represents a little more than half of all readers. The rest of the top 10 it would seem can be explained by the size of the state or the proximity to NorCal:

    2. New York. Big state and there must be a lot of ex-pat Norcalers in NY, NY.
    3. Washington. Sando lives outside Seattle.
    4. Oregon. Because you can't smoke weed all the time.
    5. Pennsylvania. Joe Montana fans?
    6. New Jersey. Mike in Montclair, you're a mad man.
    7. Virginia. Ma Barrows has been told to click 5,000 times a day or I'll have to move back home. Evidently, she does.
    8. Florida. More popular than Jeb Bush.
    9. Nevada. 49ers Blog and Q&A can be habit forming ...
    10. Arizona. Cardinals fans spying on arch rival.

    Now the bottom five:
    5. Nebraska.
    4. South Dakota
    3. Indiana
    2. Alabama
    1. North Dakota.

    You probably want me to rip those states. I won't because they still outperformed Vermont, West Virginia (state motto: We don't trust them computer gizmos), Delaware, Rhode Island, Wyoming (Damn you, Cheney!!), Mississippi, Maine, New Hampshire and -- unbelievably -- Texas, none of which had a single click in September. Texas? According to the same report, Texas is second only to California in terms of Raiders readers. I get more clicks from New South Wales (522! Thanks, mates!) than I do the Lone Star State? I demand a recount ...

    -- Matt Barrows

    October 6, 2008
    Nolan Attacks: coach's day-after presser ...

    In the 1996 comedy "Mars Attacks," aliens have just destroyed Congress when the President - Jack Nicholson - goes on tv and tells the country, "I want the people to know that they still have two out of three branches of government and that ain't bad!" I was reminded of that scene today when Mike Nolan said Vernon Davis is "good at two out of three" things a tight end needs to do well. It's that third component - catching the football - that needs work.

    mars.jpg

    The last two games have exposed a lot of problems with the 49ers. The fact that Vernon Davis has had a grand total of one catch in the last two weeks probably isn't in the top 5 in terms of issues. But it's symptomatic of a bigger question, and that's whether the 49ers overall are any better this year than their previous reincarnations. Davis had the same issue last year - that he was being used far more as a blocker than a receiver. The belief was that Mike Martz - who utilizes his personnel as well as any offensive coach - would finally find a way to unleash Davis' big-play potential. After all, a team doesn't draft a player sixth overall to help out as a blocker.

    Asked whether Martz was using his personnel properly, Nolan said, "I believe in most cases, yes, in some cases ... Mike and I speak regularly about what we're going to do with certain guys. As you also know, he's getting to know some of the guys as we go along ..."

    Asked specifically about Davis, Nolan noted that he is a great run and pass blocker, giving him two out of three attributes.

    "To utilize your .... speed, it's better with the ball in your hand than it's not, otherwise you're just running fast and it looks good. So the objective is to get the ball in his hand at that time. You can do it with pass routes, you can do it different ways. He has the responsibility to himself to run the correct routes. You get the ball that way better. But by no stretch would I say he's a bust. Like I said, he is good at two out of the three. He will get better at the third part."

    Nolan also was adamant about the progress made this season:

    "This team is better from a personnel sta ... comparing it? There's no question. ... Were at 2-3 in this (fourth) year. I don't know where we'll end. Alright, we need to do better right now. I would expect us to be at least a game or two better than we are right now from a record standpoint, so we'll see where that takes us. But there's a lot of football left as we all well know between now and the end of the season."

    The two-game losing streak - as well as the 49ers' imposing immediate schedule - also is raising questions about whether Nolan will last through the bye week. Asked about his job security today, Nolan said:

    "I'm always - every day I'm doing that," Nolan said when asked if he was coaching for his job. "If you're 5-0, you're coaching for your job, so that doesn't change. That's just the nature of the beast so to speak."

    ****************
    The 49ers only injury of note remains Michael Lewis' sprained right elbow. The injury should not prevent him from facing his former team, the Eagles, on Sunday.

    -- Matt Barrows

    October 6, 2008
    Sad sacks

    Mike Nolan pooh poohed the importance of sacks yesterday, noting that his defense sacked the oh-so-immobile Matt Cassel five times and yet still couldn't get off the field in the critical second and third quarters. "I know we brought pressure," Nolan said. "It's a good example of getting five sacks. (I know) how excited people get about sacks and how they think they're directly related to winning. That should give you a great example that it really isn't."

    A look back on yesterday's game, however, shows that the Patriots did nearly all of their damage on possessions in which Cassel was not sacked. That is, the sacks were instrumental in allowing the 49ers defense to get off the field. In fact, the Patriots only scored one of their touchdowns on a possession in which Cassel was sacked. And that sack involved a questionable personal foul call on Justin Smith in which the officials said that Smith had dragged Cassel down by his helmet on third and six deep inside San Francisco territory. Smith afterward claimed he had Cassel by the neck. It was a huge call. Without the penalty, the sack forces New England to try a field goal, and the 49ers would still lead 14-13. With it, the Patriots had a fresh set of downs and the ball at the 6- yard line. Two plays later, Kevin Faulk ran in for a touchdown and the Patriots had a lead they would never relinquish.

    One possession earlier, the Patriots had driven to the San Francisco 12 when Ray McDonald sacked Cassel on third and six. The Patriots were forced to kick a field goal. On the other possession in which Cassel was sacked, the Patriots had to punt, something they did only four times all game.

    So why was Nolan so lukewarm about the sacks? Perhaps it had to do with the Patriots' 66-yard touchdown in the first quarter. On third and eight, the 49ers blitzed but couldn't get to Cassel before he unloaded a perfect pass to Randy Moss. But the slip up wasn't the lack of pressure as much as it was the coverage. The 49ers' best cornerback Nate Clements failed to keep pace with Moss; the team's second-best cornerback, Walt Harris, should have been deeper. Nolan said a third defender should have been in the area as well.

    "We had three-deep," he said. "Three-deep, yep. We ran a quarters coverage but it's half, quarter, quarter so that equals three. Three guys should have been back."

    -- Matt Barrows

    October 5, 2008
    49ers-Patriots game-day blog

    Here are the 49ers' inactives, the big surprise being Roderick Green. What does that mean? Prepare yourself for the "Big Sub" ...

    - QB Jamie Martin, 3rd QB
    - CB Shawntae Spencer
    - T Jonas Jennings
    - LB Roderick Green
    - LB Manny Lawson
    - LB Ahmad Brooks
    - C Cody Wallace
    - CB Reggie Smith

    1Q

    -- NE wins toss and defers to 49ers ....Rossum touchback ... 2 TE set to begin ... 49ers go 3 and out, tho they should have had a big play between JTO and Delanie Walker. Pass was too hard, off Walker's fingertips ...

    -- Pats take over at own 37 ... Takeo Spikes gets 2nd pick in as many games when Matt Cassel gets hit as he throws ...49ers have been in nickel throughout ...

    -- 49ers take over at 45 ... Give it right back on deep pass to Walker. Tipped an int by Pats safety at the 4-yd line

    -- Pats go 3 and out, punt is returned by Nate Clements to the 30 yard line.

    -- 49ers take over at 30 ... def. holding penalty on 3rd down gives them first at the 16 ... JTO nearly sacked, throws dart to Gore for 16-yard TD ... Gore was working against starting CB Ellis Hobbs on the play -- ran route and caught pass like a wideout. 7-0 49ers...

    --- NE takes over at own 32 ...Nolan's not gonna like this one. On 3rd and long, 49ers blitz and Cassel finds Randy Moss deep. Moss runs right past Nate Clements and Walt Harris for 66-yard TD ... 7-7 ... Harris seemed to be playing safety (not well) on the play ...

    -- 49ers take over at own 36 ... Perhaps best drive of the season. ... Key play is a 38-yarder to a wide-open Brfuce on 2nd and 6. Two plays later, JTO finds Bruce in the back of the end zone on a six-yard pass. 14-7 49ers ...

    -- NE takes over at own 24 ...Sammy Morris having success, a la Deuce McAllister, in the middle of the defense ... Parys Haralson and TBC (!!) sack Cassel on third and four... Pats punt ...

    -- 49ers take over at own 20 ... END OF Q

    2Q

    -- 49ers facing 3rd 9 on 21 ... Pass to Bruce is slightly underthrown and dropped ... Punt ..

    -- NE takes over at 34 ,,, On first down, Cassel goes deep again to Moss. This time, the ball is badly underthrown and is picked off by Nate Clements at the 49ers 6 yard line ...

    -- 49ers take over at 6, go 3 and out, punt ...

    -- NE takes over at own 43 ... LaMont Jordan is getting a lot of carries. It seems like teams counter the 49ers' "Big Sub" with their biggest back. Detroit brought in Rudi Johnson, the Saints brought in McAllister and now the Pats are using Jordan and Sammy Morris ... Cassel is sacked on third down by McDonald and settle for field goal, 14-10. 49ers are coming up big on third downs, but NE is dominating the time of possession ...

    -- 49ers take over at 15 ... On third and 1, the 49ers get zero push and Gore loses a yard .. Punt ... Not good for T.O.P. battle ... illegal man downfield, NE makes 49ers re-kick Andy Lee's 46 yarder ... Lee BOOMs 82 yarder that rolls into end zone for touchback ...

    -- NE takes over at 20 ... Patriots abusing 49ers on the ground and dominating the time of possession. They score a 2-yard TD just before the half. Kentwan Balmer, playing NT on the play, gets scooted aside 5 yards. Ronald Fields also obliterated. Patriots go into the half 17-14 -- they'll also get the ball to open the 2nd half ...

    Here's the T.O.P breakdown (and this is not a typo: NE: 20:03, 49ers 9:57 ...

    3Q

    -- NE takes over at own 21 ... 49ers finally come up big on third down when Willis sacks cassel. 49ers sent three blitzers on the play ... Punt ...

    -- 49ers give the ball back when JTO locks onto Arnaz Battle and doesn't see Rodney Harrison, who makes an easy interception ... NE takes a page from Miami playbook and gives direct snap to Faulk who runs into end zone on 4th and 2 from the 2-yard line ...

    4Q-- 49ers are down 13 and need to score ... Gore takes a direct snap for seven yards ... JTO throws first pass to Vernon Davis -- he drops it ... JTO rises to occassion, hits Bruce again in the back of the end zone. JTO had excellent protection on the play ... NE 27, 49ers 21 ... Was the 49ers' first third-down conversion of the game ..

    October 4, 2008
    Q&A: It's raining, so get out your umbrellas of caution

    First a little housekeeping. The 49ers waived DE/LB Larry Birdine from the practice squad. Birdine had taken the place of DE/LB Louis Holmes. The 49ers appear to be seeking a diamond in the rough at the position, and so far have just found the rough. Also, it seems I have offended Toyota Camry owners. It's a fine autombile, very practical. But how can I be content with a Camry knowing Belichick is driving the car of my dreams? Belichick!!! (to be said, fists waving, like, "Khan!!!!")

    Question: "The Umbrella of Caution," something we've grown to know... and hate. I was making dinner and started thinking about Singletary, and his comment regarding the '85 Bears on America's Game. Paraphrased, "This was a group destined to bring pressure." I began thinking of the "great" defenses throughout history, and they all did one thing well: pressure the QB. Seems Nolan would rather protect against the big play, rather than bring heat and go for the bigger reward. Ironically, it seems to be blowing up in his face. Regardless of the offense, could the so far sub-par defense seal Nolan's fate? Joel, St. Louis

    Answer: Well, I think you've hit the nail on the head. Nolan would rather have all his defenders in coverage preventing the big play than having them get after the quarterback and make a big play. And that certainly fits his UOC philosophy of the past four years. So far the defensive statistics suggest the 49ers are as good or even slightly worse than last year's unit, which is counterintuitive considering the leap the offense has made. But it's only been four games, and one of those games - New Orleans - is skewing the stats. We'll take another long, hard look after eight. ... Why did making dinner make you think about the '85 Bears? Ah, you were using the 'Fridge ...
    - Matt

    Question: Hey Matt, do you see or hear anything about Nolan possibly actually adapting mid game or mid season to some changes that we desperately need to see in order to win? We obviously need to generate more pressure on defense, which would be helped by an actual creative 3-4, we need a change at FS (Reggie Smith, anyone?) and need some serious help on the o line (Baas, Rachal waiting in the wings. What do you suggest and what do you see being changed?
    Bobby, Westwood, Ca.

    Answer: The "change" I would suggest is merely returning to the 3-4 defense. That scheme would allow the 49ers to be more aggressive and more creative. Outside linebackers Parys Haralson and Rod Green have five sacks between them, and yet they haven't played all that much. Your best sack masters ought to be on the field.
    - Matt

    Question: Hey Matt, Love your work. I was wondering what has happened to V. Davis? He is supposed to be their best offensive athlete and he is nonexistent. Your tight end, like your running back, is supposed to be a safe outlet when the pressure is coming. Does Martz know how to utilize this weapon? Why after Davis caught his one pass Sunday did he get put on the bench? What do you think?
    Andy, Sacramento

    Answer: The reason why Vernon Davis wasn't utilized more in the passing game in New Orleans is because the Saints defensive line was whupping up on the 49ers' o-line and they needed Davis' help in pass protection. Which means that not much has changed for Davis who complained - rightly so - last year that he had become more of an o-lineman than a receiver. But Davis deserves blame, too. He's let some potential big plays clang off his fingers. Martz's offense calls for precision, and Davis hasn't mastered that yet.
    - Matt

    Question: Mr. Barrows, Is there any injury update on Jennings's shoulder injury? Any hope to see him back anytime soon? I'm surprise that we're 17 days from the injury now and there hasn't been any injury update. After seeing Sims been destroyed by Grant I wouldn't mind to see Jennings coming back. He's injury prone, he's not perfect, but i think his probably the best OL we have when healthy.
    Lionel, Saint Paul des Landes, France

    Answer: Bonjour! The reason there hasn't been an update is because Nolan's new stance on injuries is to say as little as possible. However, I did have a brief chat with Jennings (I followed him from one end of the locker room to the other while he made his escape) and he seemed to indicate in so many words that he'll avoid surgery and is day-to-day. I'd look for him to return in the next two weeks.
    - Matt

    Question: Hi Matt, Always curious about this one... "Too Tall" Jones at 6'9" used to be the game's best kick blocker. Now one of the best is Langston Walker at 6'8". If someone can consistently block kicks, that would be one of the most valuable players on a team. So why not sign a 7+ footer to be a specialist? Nothing would get by Manute Bol, Shawn Bradley, Check Nevitt or Mark Eaton. Seriously. Wouldn't this work? If the 49ers can afford to keep 10 DBs, there must be room for a specialist like this. Dave, Budva, Montenegro

    Answer: There's an ongoing debate in the 49ers' press trailer about why the Sharks just don't sign a 1,000-pound man, dress him in pads and a mask and have him fill up the goal mouth. .. . but I digress. ... 1. Too Tall Jones and Walker were and are valuable players whose primary role was/is not blocking kicks. Kick blocking was merely a bonus. 2. A kick blocker would need to be on to the line of scrimmage to be effective and most of the guys you mentioned would be absolutely crushed in the pits. But if they stood back I'm not sure they would be tall enough to reach the ball. 3. Some of the DBs and WRs in the league can leap 40 inches. That would give a six-foot player at least as good a reach as a 7-plus footer, who has no other value. 4.. You mentioned the 49ers' abundance of DBs. True, many of them are inactive for the game. But they serve a purpose in practice during the week running the scout team and allowing starters (Walt Harris) to rest. What would Manute Bol do aside from the five minutes or so that the 49ers practice field goals?
    - Matt

    Question: Matt- You have a great blog here and I like the way you correct other people's grammar and facts. I just want to hold you to the same standard (or maybe just be a pain). "House of the Rising Sun" was actually covered by the Animals. It was originally recorded by Bob Dylan, but the origins of the song are uncertain.
    Sam, New York, NY

    Answer: I'm Tangled up in Blue over this. Thanks for setting me straight!
    - Matt

    October 3, 2008
    Spygate: Jamie Martin was there ...

    Mike Martz has been off limits to us this week, so there were no SpyGate questions lobbed his way. Martz apparently is on an every-other-week rotation as far as media availability, which has allowed him to avoid sensitive questions about his former team, the Lions, and about the 2001 Super Bowl. Funny how that works out. Ah, but Martz wasn't the only 49er who was on the Rams squad when Bill Belichick and the Patriots stifled St. Louis offense in Super Bowl XXXVI. Jamie Martin was a back-up quarterback at the time. Unfortunately (for me) Martin had no juicy theories.

    "I don't think so," he said of the potential for cheating in that game. "I can't speak for anybody, but I didn't hear anything about it then. Actually, in year's following you kind of heard murmers, but I didn't think anything at the time. They did other things during the game where they were physical ... you know, they just had a game plan that was different than what we'd seen from them in the past. That's what I thought at the time."

    **********
    For a couple of months now I've been thinking that Manny Lawson wasn't back to his pre-injury form. I remember Lawson toeing the line of scrimmage during the 2007 training camp and thinking that he looked like a panther pacing his cage. He was explosive and confident and poised for a break-out season. This year he's been more muted, and I guess that's to be expected from someone who suffered an ACL tear. There is both a physical and mental rehabilitation, and sometimes it takes more than a year to get back to form. I wrote a story about both Vernon Davis and Manny Lawson in today's Bee. Mike Nolan didn't exactly confirm my suspicions on Lawson but he didn't deny them, either.

    Lawson (hamstring) is listed as doubtful in the injury report. Parys Haralson will take his place in the lineup, and Tully Banta-Cain will suit up for the first time. Banta-Cain said he'll be used on special teams and was available to enter the game at any of the linebacker spots if called upon. Banta-Cain said it's definitely dawned on him that his first opportunity of the season comes against his former team. "I couldn't have written it out any better," he said. Still, he said he's guarding against getting too amped up for the meeting. "Being able to put my pads back on on a Sunday is big, and the fact that it's the Patriots is gonna give it that much more meaning," he said. "I try not to look too far into it and think I've got to be super intense and get all uptight about it. I just have to go out, do my job and do what my team asks me to do."

    ************
    Barrows is bumming. On the way home last night, me and my beloved pickup of 10 years were rear ended, and there's a good chance the old girl has been totaled. To add insult to injury, the offending vehicle was a crappy Suzuki Aerio. I didn't even know Suzuki made cars ... Anyway, I'm at Hertz today renting my new ride when I notice that the crew there is busy cleaning and polishing several high-end vehicles. Thinking that I might be getting the sparkling silver Audi outside, I'm told that that particular automobile is intended for someone else. Who? One William Belichick. The Patriots, of course, are spending a week in San Jose and several players are renting from the very same Hertz. Randy Moss, for example, will be in a particularly elegant Escalade. Matt Barrows will be in a Toyota Camry.

    -- Matt Barrows

    October 2, 2008
    The return of TBC

    It looks as if Sunday will mark the return of three letter that have thus far been missing from the 49ers' game-day roster: T. B. C. Mike Nolan said this afternoon that there's a "better than favorable" chance that Tully Banta-Cain could be in uniform against his former team. Banta-Cain has been inactive thus far this season. But with Manny Lawson (hamstring) unlikely to play, the 49ers will need an extra outside linebacker. Parys Haralson is Lawson's primary backup and likely will start in place of Lawson.

    That's assuming, of course, that the 49ers don't open the game in their "Big Sub" package. If they do, neither Haralson nor Banta-Cain should expect to see much action.

    **************
    Here's a brief Q&A I had with tight ends coach Pete Hoener today. The subect -- surprise, surprise -- was Vernon Davis. The gist seems to be that fans and the media expect Davis to be a pass-catching tight end while Hoener and the 49ers expect him to be an all-around tight end.

    Q: What does he need to do to get more involved in the passing game?
    A: He's doing a good job with his routes and everything. Some of the games have dictated that we use him more for protection than run blocking and things like that which give him fewer reps. He's doing what we ask of him. It's just that sometimes the opportunities aren't there and I really think they will be at some point.

    Q: Do you think his production will increase as the offense continues to evolve and he gets used to it?
    A: It isn't a matter of him getting used to it. He knows what he has to do to be an all-around tight end. And he is one of the better blockers in the league and probably one of the better pass protectors for sure. And each game and each practice his experience grows. Good things are going to happen for him.

    Q: Should Vernon expect fewer passes but bigger plays in Mike Martz's offense?
    A: Yeah. Whenever we do anything, it's obviously predicated on moving the ball and scoring and on winning the game. And he has great ability to get down the field, so we utilize that.

    Q: Do you think his pass-catching ability lends itself to downfield routes? It seems he's better when he squares up to the ball.
    A: He can run a lot of routes. He's now doing what we tell him to do as far as what fits into the system and what we think we need to do to win. That's kind of the guy he is. He'll do whatever it takes to win.

    Q: Is it dramatically different than what he was asked to do last year?
    A: Yes. It's different. Any time you change offenses there are going to be changes. But he's adapted well and done a real good job.

    Q: Would you expect him to be more productive as the season goes on?
    A: Yeah, well, I don't know if it's so much of that than it is the situations that we're in. the biggest thing at that position is you're not just a receiver. You do multiple things at multiple positions. And he does them all well.


    -- Matt Barrows

    October 2, 2008
    Belichick worried about Gore's right arm?

    When Frank Gore took a direct snap on 3rd and 11 in the third quarter against Detroit, his three-yard gain might have seemed like a wasted play. However, that one play has given Patriots coach Bill Belichick and his team plenty to think about this week. While Gore was racking up 130 yards against Detroit that day, Miami's Ronnie Brown was running roughshod over the New England defense, many of his gains coming on direct snaps. Brown even threw a touchdown pass against New England.

    "Oh, I think we definitely have to be ready for it down the road," Belichick said. "We've seen it before. We saw it, worked against it with Leon Washington with the Jets. Tomlinson in San Diego did that at the end of the year. Gore has done it. ... Anytime you get hurt with something like that, you've got to anticipate that it is a possibility that somebody else could do it again and you better make sure that you get it straightened out."

    Gore, meanwhile, admits he never took a direct snap at Miami and hasn't played quarterback since Pop Warner. But that doesn't mean he can't throw the ball. "Mike's got a pretty good arm," Gore said of former Penn State QB and current 49ers RB Michael Robinson. "But I'm pretty close to him. I told Mike, I feel I could have played quarterback at Penn State, too."

    ****************
    The other day I noted that Andy Lee's punting average was well below what it was in 2007. What I failed to note was that a punter's average often is dictated by how effective his offense is. That is, the worse the offense, the more opportunities a punter has to boom his punts and increase his average. The 49ers, of course, have moved the ball effectively this season and many of the punts Lee has had have been pooch punts. "Your numbers aren't going to be as high because you're not getting a chance to really let the ball go," Lee said. Case in point: The punter with the best average this year, Donnie Jones, plays for the 0-4 St. Louis Rams.

    ***************
    New England receiver Wes Welker, who was not on the injury report yesterday, was limited in practice today with a groin injury.

    October 1, 2008
    Jonas back for Philly game?

    Mike Nolan slipped up during his 10:45 a.m. presser with us. The coach consistently has refused to give timetables for injuries this season, telling us only if a player was going to miss the upcoming game. Today, however, he divulged that Jennings' shoulder injury orginally had a three-to-four week time frame. Jennings will not play against the Patriots -- he and Shawntae Spencer are out -- but there seems to be a chance he'll be back for the Oct. 12 game against the Eagles. The 49ers don't give their tackles a lot of help in pass protection. And as we saw Sunday, they could really use Jennings on the right side ...

    Another player who likely will miss Sunday's game is Manny Lawson, who is not practicing because of a hamstring strain. In previous years, that would have been a significant loss to the defense. This year? Meh. For one thing, Lawson has not been much of a playmaker on defense. He also hasn't played all that much because Nolan and the 49ers are so fond of the "Big Sub" package that excludes Lawson.

    Though fans haven't been particularly impressed by the "Big Sub," there appear to be no plans to sink it. Nolan said most of the big plays the Saints were able to make against the "Big Sub" were technical issues, not problems with the scheme. It also sounded as if we'll be seeing more of the package this week.

    "It's all matchups and everyone in the league does it. A simple case -- if you stay in base when they go three wide receivers and you have a lot of confidence that Takeo Spikes can cover (receiver) Wesley Welker, then you try to do that. In our case, I would like to think that we've got a better matchup maybe with a defensive back."

    Later, Nolan said that he's been pleased with the "Big Sub." Referring to the game against Matt Hasselbeck and the Seahwaks, he said:

    "I mean, it was the lowest throwing percentage that quarterback has ever had. We got a couple picks in the game. Obviously, we didn't get as many sacks as we like, but you've got a better chance at sacks with the group we had out there than the regular group."

    Is that right? To me it seems that the 49ers' pass rush has been better when they're in their base defense than in their nickel packages.

    -- Matt Barrows

    October 1, 2008
    Sacks for big plays? The tradeoff debate ...

    Mike Martz's offense is designed for big plays but it also allows a lot of big sacks. Is that a tradeoff most teams are willing to live with? I asked that of Patriots coach Bill Belichick this morning on a conference call. Belichick didn't exactly answer the question in the first person, but he said that's always been how Martz's offense has operated. Yes, a sack might put Martz in a third and 20 situation. But third and 20 doesn't scare him. "That's one thing about Martz's offense - they've always been able to overcome that," Belichick said.

    The Patriots coach noted that the 49ers are among the league leaders in big plays this season. Indeed, only the Broncos and Cowboys have had more passing plays of 20 yards or more than the 49ers. But the Broncos and Cowboys haven't allowed nearly as many sacks as the 49ers. Denver's given up only three and the Cowboys just four. The 49ers, of course, lead the league with 19 sacks allowed. Which goes to show that sacks and big plays don't have to go hand in hand.

    Other Patriots notes:

  • New England will remain on the West Coast following the 49ers game because the Patriots play the Chargers the next week. No word yet on where they'll spend the week.
  • The team looks to have running back Laurence Maroney back after he missed the Dolphins game with a shoulder injury.
  • Belichick said rookie linebacker Jerod Mayo - selected with the pick that once belonged to the 49ers - was progressing nicely. He said Mayo compared favorably to 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis.
  • Raiders owner Al Davis intimated yesterday that New England had tampered with Randy Moss prior to the 2007 season by having him work out. Said Belichick: "The first time I even talked to Randy Moss was the Sunday morning of the second day of the draft. So, no, there was no workout, there was no contact."

  • Mike Nolan speaks at 10:15 today. I plan to ask for an update on right tackle Jonas Jennings' right shoulder, but I doubt I'll get a real answer. Stay tuned ..

    -- Matt Barrows



    MATTHEW BARROWS

    Matt was born in Blacksburg, Va., and attended the University of Virginia. He graduated in 1995, went to Northwestern for a journalism degree a year later, and got his first job at a South Carolina daily in 1997. He joined The Bee as a Metro reporter in 1999 and started covering the 49ers in 2003. His favorite player of all time is Darrell Green.

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