49ers Blog and Q&A

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

November 30, 2008
49ers vs. Bills live blog

As expected, lots of injuries for the 49ers. Arnaz Battle (foot), Josh Morgan (groin) and Allen Rossum (ankle) are all on the inactive list, which raises issues at receiver and returner. Earlier in the week, Mike Singletary said he didn't want to use Nate Clements as a punt returner. I would be shocked, however, if he wasn't handling punts.Could he really rely on Dominique Zeigler to do it, especially in bad weather?

The other inactives:
3rd QB Jamie Martin
CB Reggie Smith
S Dashon Goldson (knee)
C Cody Wallace
T Jacob Bender

For the Bills (who are nattily dressed in their throwbacks), Ryan Denney will start at defensive end for Aaron Schobel; Bryan Scott will start at safety for Donte Whitner and rookie Leodis McKelvin will start at cornerback for Jabari Greer.

The other Bills' inactives:
3rd QB Gibran Hamdan
LB Teddy Lehman
T Demetrius Bell
TE Robert Royal
DE Copeland Bryan

Also, TE Jonathan Stupar has been added to the active roster and DT John McCargo has been placed on injured reserve.

49ers 7, Bills 0

Lots of runs by Frank Gore on the drive, which gives Shaun Hill plenty of time to throw. He hits Bryant Johnson, Jason Hill and Issac Bruce on the drive before tossing an 12-yard TD to Bruce, who abused rookie CB Leodis McKelvin on the play. Good start for Hill and for Mike Martz, who runs Gore nine times on the play, including the first five plays of the game.

Bills punt on 4th and 5 from 49ers 45. Good, not great, pressure on Trent Edwards, who converts two first downs on the drive. As expected, Nate Clements is back to take the punt, which rolls out of bounds at the 23....

49ers get one first down off an illegal contact call. But on third and 8, Shaun Hill's completion to Jason Hill is a yard short. Punt goes to the 13 ...

The Bills blow an excellent chance at a score when a 20-yard Ryan Lindell field goal boinks off the left upright. Buffalo had driven all the way gto the 2 yard line. but on second down, Kentwan Balmer got a nice pass rush and tipped Edwards' pass. on third and goal, Patrick Willis -- who is all over the field -- flushed Edwards and he had to throw it away ..

Nice defensive stand by the 49ers. Rod Green hits Edwards as he throws on third down and the pass skips incomplete. The Bills have to punt from their own 18 and it's another bad punt. 49ers' ball at the Bills 47 with 2:39 to go. 49ers have 2 time outs remaining...

49ers face a 3rd and five ... Hill's pass is perfect 20 yards down field to Zeigler, but Zeigler drops it. Punt

49ers get another break. Marshawn Lynch fumbles at his own 41 after Willis (who else?) strips him. Mark Roman recovers with 34 seconds left and two timeouts. ... Facing third and 4, Hill puts his head down and runs but he only picks up two yards. 49ers call timeout on fourth and two from the 33 with 16 second... Jose Nedney's 50-yard field goal is good by mere inches ... 49ers 10, Bills 0

Nedney's kickoff hits one of the Bill upmen and goes only to the SF 48 with nine seconds left ... Edwards is rushed and throwns the ball away on first down; Scond down pass is complete to Josh Reed but time expires.... Bills are booed as they go into the locker room...

2nd Half

Bills' quarterback Trent Edwards is out with a groin injury; J.P. losman is now in. Edwards was 10-21 for 112 yards in the first half. Shaun Hill was 9 of 15 for 109 yards and a 104.6 passer rating.

After a holding penalty, Bills are facing a 3rd and 21 on third down. Bills gain 12 but decide to punt from the SF 35 ...

On next Bills possession, Lynch cracks off a 50-yard run all the way to the SF nine, Lynch's longest run of the season... Now third and goal from the four -- Losman's pass to Roscoe Parrish broken up by Donald Strickland. Buffalo's 22-yard field goal attempt is good. 49ers 10, Bills 3

After a review, officials rule that Gore was not down by contact when he fumbled at the Buffalo 20. Gore lost the ball when he hit the turf, but according to the officials he tripped over his own man and was not forced down by a Bills defender.

4th Q
Well, Mike Singletary wants his 49ers to be a smash-mouth team. This final quarter will be just that with the 49ers holding on to a 10-3 lead but the Bills driving ...

... 49ers stuff Bills on third and one from the six, then knock J.P. Losman down on fourth down ... But Shaun Hill is sacked and fumbles deep in his own territory on the nesuing possession. The 49ers punt, the Bills get a big return from Parrish and then an unnecessary roughness call on Keith Lewis. Suddenly they are on the 49ers' 25-yard line.

Lightning strikes twice in the rain in Buffalo. Ryan Lindell bonks off the left upright for the second time today, this time from 40 yards out. 49ers take over on their 30 ...

Another good punt by Lee; the Bills have to go 81 yards in 1:47 in order to send the game into overtime. they have 0 time outs ...Losman's fourth and 15 pass only gains one yard ... Game over ...

November 30, 2008
Shuffling off to Buffalo ... and Toronto

Drove through some snow flurries on the way to Orchard Park this morning, but as of right now, there's no white stuff. It is very cold and very gray out, so conditions could change. ... The 49ers' plan is to try to re-sign linebacker Ahmad Brooks early this week. Brooks was released yesterday because, with so many injuries at receiver, the 49ers had to elevate wideout Chris Hannon from the practice squad ... The plan is for Hannon to be dropped back down to the practice squad once the receiving corps gets healthy.

What to do in Buffalo and Beyond on a Saturday. By Matt Barrows, Matt Maiocco and Daniel Brown. First, you start with something light, such as a visit to the Buffalo & Erie County Historical Society. The three of us were asked to fill out a survey by a rather attractive museum worker. (Who were we to say, no?) The survey had us give three words that described our experience. Each of us wrote "thorough," which is a nice way of saying the museum needs better editing. Waaaay too many things (a Cheerios box?) made it into display cases.

From there is was a short drive to the site where President William McKinley was shot in 1901. We had just been in Dallas where the 45th anniversary of John F. Kennedy's shooting was recognized. Let's just say that McKinley's shooting site doesn't exactly attract the crowds that Kennedy's does. In fact, we drove past it - twice - before realizing the site was marked by a small stone in the median of a residential street.

11292008071 from http://sparrow280.vox.com/

After that, it was off to Anchor Bar for some wings and to watch the Virginia-Virginia Tech game. Neither went down easily for Barrows. With thick grease and cheap beer percolating in our stomachs, we drove to Niagara Falls. Once across the border we thought, 'What the heck? - let's go to Toronto and take in a hockey game." We pulled into the Air Canada Center Centre at 7 p.m. local, got some Canadian money and headed to the box office. No luck. They had three tickets, but they were in different parts of the arena. Our predicament was solved by a nice guy who witnessed our distress and got us three tickets at a nice discount.

It turns out that the guy was an ex-Leafs forward named Stu Gavin, who played 13 seasons in the NHL. Gavin took us to the alumni suite, got us each a beer and then told us to enjoy the game. Pretty sure Maiocco has a man crush on him. The Leafs won 4-2 and we shuffled on back to Buffalo.

The End.

November 29, 2008
When will Brooks start? How about 'never'?

The 49ers today waived linebacker Ahmad Brooks and elevated receiver Chris Hannon from the practice squad. With receivers Arnaz Battle (foot), Josh Morgan (groin), Jason Hill (groin) and Allen Rossum (ankle), who occassionally lines up as a receiver, all ailing, the 49ers needed someone else to play wideout. The only healthy receivers are Isaac Bruce, Bryant Johnson and Dominique Zeigler. Battle and Morgan are questionable. Hill is probable. Rossum is out.

Hannon is a tall, lanky receiver who originally was picked up by the Chiefs in 2006 as an undrafted free agent out of Tennessee. He spent time between the practice squad and 53-man roster in Kansas City and last year was on the Panthers' practice squad. If Hannon played, he'd be the "z" receiver behind Bruce.

Brooks, meanwhile, teems with potential, but did not pick up the defense as quickly as coaches would have liked. He had been playing defensive end during the week on the 49ers' scout team, but likely would have been an outside linebacker if he ever got into a game. He ran into trouble at the University of Virginia, was kicked off the team by Cavaliers coach Al Groh and was taken in the supplemental draft by the Cincinnati Bengals. The Bengals waived Brooks just before the regular season and the 49ers, who had eyed him during the supplemental draft, pounced. The 49ers now have two open spots on their practice squad.

-- Matt Barrows

November 29, 2008
In Buffalo with an eye on the weather

Arrived in Buffalo just shy of midnight last night with a massive, embarrassingly puffy ski jacket in tow. (The girl in the seat next to me informed me she doesn't take her coat out of the closet until the temperature dips below 20 degrees). It was a clear night, no precipitation, and when I got into the cab I asked the driver what the weather was going to be like Sunday. He didn't answer and I thought he was being a jerk. Instead, he was fumbling for a hand-held radio, which, after some veering onto the shoulder and into the next lane, he tuned to the weather station. The voice on the radio said the weather Sunday, "should be interesting," which is weatherman (in this case, weatherlady) code for, "We don't know what the hell it's going to do." Essentially, she said that the heaviest snowfall Sunday would be north of the border and that this area might see a mix of precipitation. The Buffalo News is calling for snow throughout the day Sunday but with highs around 40 degrees and only an inch of accumulation. In other words, stay tuned. ...

Who is better at drafting cornerbacks? The early results favor - heavily - the Bills. First-round draft pick Leodis McKelvin will get his second straight start tomorrow with Jabari Greer out for the game. McKelvin had two interceptions last week, one returned for a touchdown. What's striking about the contrast between the 49ers and Bills is that all of Buffalo's secondary is home grown while the 49ers' starting secondary all are free agents. (In fact, only four 49ers' defensive starters are draft picks). The 49ers, however, might get a good look tomorrow at one of their picks. With cornerback Walt Harris slowed by a hamstring strain, second-year player Tarell Brown could see his first-ever start. Brown has been very good as a nickel player this season. If he starts, he'd likely be matched against Josh Reed. If Harris can't play, rookie Reggie Smith also might see his first significant action of the season. Marcus Hudson, another draft pick, has been limited to special teams this season. ... Harris, meanwhile, is listed as questionable after missing one day of practice this week and being limited in the next two.

-- Matt Barrows

November 27, 2008
Singletary says he doesn't want Clements returning punts

Don't pencil in Nate Clements as the 49ers' punt returner just yet. Mike Singletary today said that he'd rather not use his top cornerback in that capacity Sunday against the Bills. "Right now, I think that would be something that we really want to stay away from," Singletary said. "It could be a possibility, but hopefully that's not something we have to do."

The problem is that the team's regular returner, Allen Rossum, is out for the game with an ankle injury while another option, Arnaz Battle, will be a game-time decision with a foot injury. Battle went through individual drills for the second straight day but did not take part in team drills.

Singletary said receivers Dominique Zeigler and Josh Morgan would be possibilities if Battle can't play. That, however, would be a risk considering that neither has experience handling punts in the NFL. "I think I returned one in high school, maybe," Zeigler said. "It'll be fun. To me, I just treat it like playing center field in baseball." Morgan, meanwhile, returned 14 punts over his career at Virginia Tech. However, he is coming back from a groin injury and there's no assurance he will play Sunday.

Zeigler also could see plenty of action at receiver. Both Battle and Jason Hill are dealing with injuries. Hill hurt his groin in today's practice, but is expected to be OK for tomorrow's session. Meanwhile, cornerback Walt Harris (hamstring) was limited after missing Wednesday's practice. "He's still a little tender but he's fine," Singletary said of Harris. "It will be a game-time decision." He said the prospect of Tarell Brown starting at cornerback if Harris can't play is a "strong possibility."

Linebackers Patrick Willis (ankle) and Takeo Spikes (rest) both returned to practice today after missing Wednesday's session.

-- Matt Barrows

November 26, 2008
Walker on the verge of history

Delanie Walker: Tight end. Kick returner. NFL record holder? With one fortuitous return Sunday in Buffalo, Walker very well could be all three. According to Todd Schreiber at STATS LLC, no tight end ever has returned a kick for a touchdown. Walker, it would seem, has an excellent shot at being the first. With Allen Rossum out with an ankle injury, Walker will be the team's primary kick returner for Sunday and perhaps beyond. The 49ers kick return unit is playing well and already has sprung Rossum for a 104-yard touchdown this season. And Walker has shown he has the wheels to go end zone to end zone, having returned a kick 101 yards against San Diego in the preseason.

Walker already is one of the best. His kick return average is the highest for any tight end with at least 12 returns as the chart below (sorry, this software stinks when it comes to charts) shows. Notice that most tight end/return men are from the modern era as tight ends have become more like wide receivers and less like left tackles... Chart shows player, years in the league, number of returns, total yardage and average ...

  1. Emery Moorehead (1977-1988) 31- 627- 20.2
  2. Brian Kozlowski (1994-2007) 29- 370- 12.8
  3. Pat Curran (1969-1978) 17- 219- 12.9
  4. Warren Bankston (1969-1978) 16- 253- 15.8
  5. Darnell Dinkins (2002-2008) 15- 160- 10.7
  6. Jim Obradovich (1975-1983) 14- 167- 11.9
  7. Gary Shirk (1976-1982) 14- 210- 15.0
  8. Brian Kinchen (1988-2003) 13- 161- 12.4
  9. Chris Baker (2002-2008) 12- 73- 6.1
  10. Kyle Brady (1995-2007) 12- 138- 11.5
  11. Bruce Hardy (1978-1989) 12- 156- 13.0
  12. Delanie Walker (2006-2008) 12- 262- 21.8

-- Matt Barrows

November 26, 2008
Many happy returns for Nate Clements

Nate Clements couldn't have picked a better opportunity for a bounce-back game. The 49ers cornerback not only will be playing against his former team but he'll likely be the team's primary punt returner as well. Regular returer Allen Rossum already has been ruled out with an ankle injury. Meanwhile, Rossum's back up, Arnaz Battle (foot), was listed as limited on today's injury report. But in the locker room, Battle said he wouldn't practice today and didn't know if he'd practice all week. Which leaves Clements, who had 65 punt returns in six years with the Bills. *****update****** Battle went through individual drills but was held out of team drills.

Also on the injury front, rookie receiver Josh Morgan (groin) will be limited this week after missing the last few games. Linebacker Patrick Willis (ankle) will miss practice today. Willis, who dealt with a hip strain and an illness last week, has another nick to deal with this week. Oldsters Walt Harris and Takeo Spikes were held out of practice today. Harris is dealing with a hamstring injury. Dashon Goldson has been ruled out with a knee injury.

Lots of talk about the weather today. Four days out, the forecast is calling for temperatures in the low 30s and possibly snow. Or rain. Or freezing rain. In other words, not a lot of downfield passes. It's the kind of game Mike Singletary used to relish when he was with the Bears. "A black and blue game," Singletary said today. "It's going to be cold. It's going to be perfect." The person I'm most curious to see perform in a bad-weather game? Mike Martz. Should be interesting ...

-- Matt Barrows

November 25, 2008
49ers lose Larry Grant to Rams

As the season draws to a close, bad teams start reshuffling the bottom of their lineups in the hopes of finding a talented player or two that could help next season. The Dolphins did so last year when they plucked linebacker Mark Washington from the 49ers' practice squad. The Rams did it this year with Larry Grant, the 49ers' seventh-round pick in the draft. Grant, who played high school briefly in Sacramento, was originally drafted as a "Ted" linebacker but the 49ers eventually moved him to their "Mike" spot. He was the only one of the team's six draft picks who did not make the final roster. The 49ers have yet to fill the opening on the practice squad.

-- Matt Barrows

November 24, 2008
Singletary channels Nolan after Cowboys loss

The always-entertaining Mike Singletary just held his Monday press conference. Asked if there was a talent mismatch against the Cowboys, Singletary essentially said that the Cowboys have been building a team with a plan in mind far longer than the 49ers. He said the 49ers have been dealing with "peripheral things" for so long that they are only just now at the point where they've gotten rid of the players they didn't want and added young players they do. In that way, he sounded a lot like Mike Nolan, who routinely insisted that the 49ers were headed in the right direction but noted that they began the building process with very little foundation.

Like Nolan, Singletary used the word "character" to describe what he was looking for in his team. He said that the 49ers were "more selective" than the Cowboys in the players they wanted, the implication being that the T.O.'s and Pac-man Jones of the world wouldn't be welcome in San Francisco. In fact, he likened the process to rebuilding the team as a "blood transfusion." "You have to figure out what is acceptable and what isn't," he said about the incoming blood.

As was the case with Nolan, Singletary on Monday was defiant about the defensive game plan, pinning the lopsided nature of the game on lapses by the players. Unlike Nolan, he also called out a couple of players - both directly and indirectly - using very blunt language. Asked more questions about cornerback Nate Clements, he said that on Terrell Owens' first long touchdown, Clements should have had help over the top. Keith Lewis was the safety on the play and barely got back in time to put a hand on Owens. On the play on which Owens beat safety Mark Roman deep, Singletary said Owens should have been jammed at the line and instead the player assigned to do that "kind of reached out and touched him." (Don't know who was responsible on that play).

Asked about rookie Chilo Rachal's first start ever, Singletary threw down the gauntlet to the second-round pick. "He did not play well," Singletary said. "He played like a rookie." Of course, he couldn't have been too displeased. "He will start this week (at Buffalo) and he will play better. But he did not play well."

On the two first-and-goal sequences in which the 49ers had to settle for field goals, Singletary said, "I think if Mike Martz had to do it over again, he would do it over again." The 49ers went 'pass, run, pass' on both sequences and failed to pick up a yard. But Singletary defended how Martz used Frank Gore, noting that the Dallas defense was stacked to stop the running back. "If you (face) a seven-man box, you're going to run Frank as much as you can. When you have an eight-man box, you're going to run him a little bit less. When you have a nine-man box, you're going to want to pass."

On the injury front, neither Josh Morgan nor Dashon Goldson are likely to play in Buffalo. There's a chance Arnaz Battle could return. Allen Rossum's ankle still is being evaluated.

-- Matt Barrows

November 24, 2008
Monday morning observations (with nary a mention of T.O.)

· Going into Sunday's game against Dallas, the conventional wisdom was that the 49ers would feed the ball to Frank Gore, a strategy that would wear down the Cowboys defensive line and keep the ball out of Tony Romo's hands. Mike Martz, however, tossed convention out the window on the opening series when he called two pass plays to start the game. One went for 21 yards, the other for minus-2. Overall, Martz passed 18 times on first down and ran the ball seven times. That's due in large part to the team's second-half deficit. But what happened to the game-management style Mike Singletary was looking for when he took over? Gore is the centerpiece of the offense - everyone keeps saying so - but he's had 20 or more carries only twice this season and spent the final minutes of Sunday's game seething on the sideline. Compare that to the 2006 campaign when he hit the 20-carry mark seven times and ran 31 times in the season finale in Denver.

· Speaking of play calling, here's what the 49ers did on two successive trips to the Dallas 4 yard line in the first quarter. Let me know if you see a pattern:

First down: Shaun Hill incomplete to Bryant Johnson in the corner of the end zone.
Second down: Gore run loses one yard
Third down: Hill's pass in the short, middle of the end zone in incomplete to Johnson.
Fourth down: Short field goal.

First down: Hill incomplete to Johnson in the corner of the end zone.
Second down: Gore run goes for no gain
Third down: Hill's pass in the short, middle of the end zone in incomplete to Johnson.
Fourth down: Short field goal.

· One statistical area the 49ers won: penalties. The team was penalized two times for 10 yards Sunday. One of them - a neutral zone infraction - was negated by a Dallas false start on the following play. It's notable that rookie Chilo Rachal, making his first start on the road, had zero penalties. It's an encouraging start.

· Manny Lawson is looking better and better as the season goes on, another sign that his ACL injury may have been affecting him early on. Lawson got the team's only interception and its only sack. Despite the fact that the 49ers spent a first-round pick on Lawson, they still don't seem to know how to use him. The 49ers should use the offseason to figure out a defense that can keep hree players: Lawson, Patrick Willis and Justin Smith, on the field all three downs.

· Speaking of Smith ... team officials argue that the defensive end/tackle/linebacker doesn't get the credit he deserves. That's true, but it's the team's fault. Opposing offenses know that he's the 49ers' only consistent pass-rush threat and adjust their blocking schemes accordingly. The 49ers need a bookend - either at defensive end or rush linebacker - in order to make the Smith deal look like a sound one. That's got to be a priority in the offseason, even more so than quarterback.

· What are the 49ers waiting for in regards to Ahmad Brooks? The team needs some sort of a spark at outside linebacker. Sure, Pary Haralson has shown a flash or two. But you can't tell me that Brooks - who, according to team insiders has jaw-dropping athleticism - is any worse than Roderick Green or Tully Banta-Cain. So, he makes a mental error. Is that any worse than not laying a finger on Romo and watching as he hooks up with you-know-who on a 75-yard touchdown? At this point, what do you have to lose?

-- Matt Barrows

November 23, 2008
49ers-Cowboys game-day blog

9:14 a.m.-- Delanie Walker is going through warm-ups, and from the looks of things he will play. Jacob Bender, Cody Wallace and Ahmad Brooks are on the inactive list. Dashon Goldson, Arnaz Battle and Josh Morgan also will be inactive and Jamie Martin is the 3rd QB. That leaves one more inactive, which will be Reggie Smith.

9:19 a.m. -- Am looking at Tony Romo throught the binocs. He has his right pinkie heavily bandaged, just like last Sunday against the Redskins.

9:23 a.m. -- From the way the offensive line is lining up in warm-ups, I'd say Chilo Rachal is starting at right guard

9:32 a.m. -- You might see a lot of Sean Ryan today at fullback. Ryan is a former Cowboy who spent a while chatting up fewllow tight end Jason Witten before the game. click here to read more about Ryan.

9:35 a.m. -- For the Cowboys, Brooks Bollinger is the 3rd quarterback. WR Miles Austin, RB Felix Jones, CB Quincy Butler, LB Justin Rogers, G Montrae Holland, G Joe Berger and T Doug Free are inactive.

-- 49ers begin with three-receiver set, Hill fires 21-yarder to Isaac Bruce over a linebacker ...... Chilo starts ... 3rd and 14, Hill hits Bruce again for 17 yards ... Bruce apparently has blood coming from the back of his head after the hit; doesn't appear to be serious... Joe Nedney's 53-yard attempt is .... no good. Short.

-- Cowboys take over at their own 43 ... Bruce has a head laceration; his return is probable ...Romo completes to Wiiten on 3rd and 5. (very wobbly pass) ...Romo misfires to T.O. on 3rd down, ball is nearly picked off by Mark Roman... Punt goes into the end zone ...

-- No Bruce; Jason Hill is substituting. ... Gore runs twice for 1st down ...Bruce is back ... In fact, Hill hits him for a third time, this one a nine-yard gain ...Hill to Bryant Johnson ... Hill throws wobbly duck to the goal line and is hauled down by Bruce at the 4, gain of 34 ... Not bad for a guy with staples in the back of his head ... Niners lose a yard on Gore run ... 3rd and goal from the 5 ... Hill calls t.o. ... Pass to Johnson inc. P.I. on Anthony Henry? ... Nedney knocks in a 20-yard field goal ... SF 3, Dallas 0 ...

-- Romo to Owens, but nate Clements shoves T.O. out of bounds. No catch ... Romo has good time, goes deep to T.O. but great coverage by safety Keith Lewis ... Punt ...

-- Shaun Hill fins Vernon Davis deep and the tight end makes an over-the-show catch (?!) for 47 yards to the 4 ... Niners again having trouble at the goal line ... 3rd and goal ...Blitz and Hill's rushed pass to Johnson is incomplete ... Nedney 23 yarder as quarter expires .. SF 6, Dallas 0

-- 1Q Summation. Mike Martz is being very aggressive, throwing deep and challenging the Dallas secondary. The Cowboys obviously were expecting a lot of Frank Gore and will have to adjust. Meanwhile, the Romo-Owens connection looks a bit off kilter ...


-- Deep pass to Witten, which was ruled out of bounds, is being challenged ...Ruling stands ....3rd down and 8 ... 49ers blitz, Romo steps up and hits -- who else? -- Owens for a 75-yard TD. So much for T.O.'s bad feeling about the offense ... Owens got behind Clements, who had no help from Keith Lewis, who never caught up to the play ...Clements tries to strip the ball after the catch instead of concentrating on the tackle, and Owens breaks free for the last 15 yards ... 49ers 6, Dallas 7

-- Hill sacked by Anthony Spencer and DeMarcus Ware on back-to-back plays ..49ers have to punt from their own 5. Ruh-roh. Punt is blocked out of the back of the end zone for a safety... Carlos Polk burst in from the middle... Looks like the special teams won't be getting an "A" today ... 49ers 6, Dallas 9

-- 49ers do a good job at the after-safety punt. Michael Robinson tackles Patrick Crayton at the 31 ... Nice recovery by the defense. After a holding penalty, the Cowboys go nowhere and have to punt ... during punt, Allen Rossum drops to the turf and clutchesright ankle. Achilles or cramp? ... Ball is downed at the 1 yard line ... Rossum is walking (slowly) into the locker room ... initial report is right ankle sprain ...

-- Frank Gore brought down at the 1/2 yard line ... Gore runs three straight times and gets 2 yards. Another tight punt that is returned to the SF 35 ...

-- Cowboys have 3rd and 5 from the SF 30 ...Incomplete to Roy Williams ... Dallas will attempt long field goal, 48 yards. It's good. SF 6, Dallas 12

-- -- Delanie Walker back for kickoff but Folk's kick goes out of bounds. 1st down at the 40 ...Wildcat formation gains three yards .., Hill to Bruce for short gain ... 3rd and 2 ...Hill tries to float pass to Gore, but it's incomplete ...Punt ... 49ers almost down punt at the 1-ich line but it doinks off Marcus Hudson's hands for the touchback ...

-- Romo again finds T.O one-on-one with Nate Clements and burns the CB for 25 yards ...49ers hem in Barber short of the 1st down on third down ... Folk attempts 41-yard field goal and it's good. 49ers 6, Dallas 15

-- 49ers fumble snap on first down. Zack Thomas recovers and no one touches him. He runs into the end zone but the officials say the whistle has blown ...

-- Cowboys begin at the 19-yard line ... Pass to Owens for eight yards ... Barber gets the first down, setting up 1st and goal from the 5 ...Barber down to the 1 yard line ...Romo tosses 1-yard pass to Martellus Bennett. SF 6, Dallas 22

2nd quarter summary. So much for that shaky Romo-to-T.O. connection. Owens now has 128 receiving yards. The 49ers currently have minus-two yards of offense ... The second half will be a real test of Singletary's coaching prowess ..


-- Romo misses T.O. on a slant to start the second half ... Barber gains 1, bringing up 3rd down and 9 ... Romo escapes and finds -- who else? -- Owens deep over Roman for 52 yards ... Romo to Williams to the 10 ...3rd down and goal from the 10 ...Neutral zone infraction on Willis ... 3rd and goal from the five ... False start on Flozell Adams ... 3rd and goal from the 10 ... Pass to Crayton going across the middle, TD. 49ers can't bring romo to the turf and he's making them pay .... SF 6, Dallas 29

-- Hill misses Davis on what would have been an easy TD. ... SF is 1-7 on third-down conversions before Hill hits Bryant Johnson for 18 yards ... Hot read to Bruce for 14 .... Gore gains six, Hill to Zeigler for 1 ... Third and three, Hill inc. to Bruce, setting up 36-yard Nedney attempt, which is good. SF 9, Dallas 29

-- Romo might have thrown his most recent incompletion behind the line of scrimmage. 49ers -- who are 0-6 on challenges this season -- are challenging. Looks like Lawson intercepted the ball nonetheless ... The 49ers win the challenge; hell freezes over ...

-- 49ers take over at the 17 and Hill immediately throws an interception in the end zone. Anthony Henry picked off the underthrown pass intended for Bryant Johnson ...

-- Owens gets another one, this time in front of Donald Strickland ...Romo could have gone deep to Owens again but chooses a short dump off to Barber for a first down at the SF 44 ...Witten, who is just coming back from a rib injury, gets crunched by Clements. Witten talkes a while to get up but eventually goes off under his own power ... Lawson sacks Romo for a loss of seven ...

4th Q
-- Witten's back in but Romo's 3rd-down pass to Owens is broken up. ... Cowboys settle for 47-yard field goal by Nick Folk. 49ers 9, Dallas 32

-- 49ers go three and out with a seven-yard sack. Punt


November 22, 2008
How to keep the 49ers job (in four easy steps)

Vernon Davis. Trouser-Gate. The fullback flop. Mike Singletary's first month in office has been a roller coaster. What the interim coach needs now is a freight train - steady, uncontroversial, moving in one direction, perhaps into 2009. At the end of the season, his best argument for keeping his job will be continuity. If he can convince the Yorks that the team is heading in the right direction, he will be the coach next year. (The argument worked for Mike Nolan, after all). Of course, that will mean wins - three? four? - over the last six games. Here's more unsolicited advice on how Singletary can turn his audition into a starring role:

1. Win on the Road. Yeah, it's obvious. Four of the 49ers' last six games are on the road. A lot of ink has been spilled on just how bad the 49ers have been as visitors over the last six years. Perhaps Maiocco had the best stat this week when he noted that since Steve Mariucci was ousted the 49ers have won a grand total of three games that began at 10 a.m. Pacific. Three. Consistently losing on the road means either you have a young team or a mentally weak team. The 49ers have been both in recent years.

Singletary is taking an interesting approach to the problem. He's not overthinking it. Asked about his team's road woes this week, he's bristled. He said he doesn't care if games begin at 10 a.m. or 1 p.m. or midnight. The start time is a non-issue. Singletary's attitude seems to be that if you identify something as a problem, it becomes a problem. The strategy is similar to a player who sloughs off a nagging injury. I remember when we spoke to Patrick Willis immediately after he broke his hand last year. He was wearing a cast on the hand but he refused to talk about or even recognize the injury. If he acknowledged it existed, it would affect his play. He didn't and some of his best games in 2007 came with him wearing a club on his hand.

Singletary and the 49ers have four more 10 a.m. starts, beginning tomorrow. If he can win two of them, he'll have a good argument for keeping his job. If he can win three - matching the total of Dennis Erickson and Nolan combined - he'll have a great argument.

2. Play the Youngsters - Singletary already has begun to do this. It makes good sense from a strategy standpoint. After all, the more rookies and first-year players get in the game, the better they'll be next season (Remember: "Continuity" should be his mantra). It's also a wise move politically. Why? Because it makes the GM, who drafted David Baas and Chilo Rachal and Jason Hill, look smart. The GM will be whispering in Jed York's ear at the end of the season. It doesn't hurt to cozy up.

3. Hope like Hill - Singletary has tied himself to quarterback Shaun Hill, which seems like a brilliant move considering last week's game against St. Louis. Hill is smart but self-effacing, which is usually an excellent combination in a leader. He and Singletary also have a similar blue-collar spirit. The two are a good match. But if Hill should falter, that would undermine Singletary, whose first major decision as head coach was giving J.T. O'Sullivan the hook and sending in Hill. Singletary's chances also would be damaged by an injury to Hill. Remember, Hill started only two games last season yet suffered a broken finger and a broken back. Maybe he shouldn't be diving into piles for loose footballs when the outcome is decided.

4. Like Mike. This is a tough relationship to figure out. Every time Singletary opens his mouth about offensive coordinator Mike Martz, you go away with the impression that the two men can't stand each other. Asked directly about this, both insist it's not the case. And perhaps they're still trying to figure each other out. The bottom line is that they need each other.

Singletary is weak where Martz is strong. Singletary is a motivator, a team builder, a unifier. For lack of a better term, he's a "big picture guy." He's not an Xs and Os guy and offense, the 49ers' biggest issue in recent years, is certainly not his forte. Martz, meanwhile, excels in minutia. The 49ers also want to avoid having to find their seventh offensive coordinator in as many seasons. If Singletary's best argument for keeping his job is continuity, then having Martz on board only will amplify that message.

And what of Martz? Singletary's preference for a game-management style of offense runs counter to Martz's high-risk, high-reward mentality. Someone with Martz's experience and Martz's ego also must have a hard time playing under someone as green, coaching-wise, as Singletary. But there's also a sense that the moderation Singletary insists upon is just the medicine Martz needs. Let's face it, the Greatest Show on Turf jumped the shark years ago. The crowd started leaving in 2000 and the auditorium's been emptying out every year since. Martz's signature attack may put up staggering numbers in spurts, but for the last four years those gains have been more than outweighed by turnovers, sacks, quarterback injuries and defenses that spend too much time on the field. If Martz indeed wants to be a head coach again, he must show that he can evolve. He's got a perfect opportunity to do so over the last six games.

-- Matt Barrows

November 21, 2008
Texas trip strictly business for Singletary

Eric Heitmann needs 30 tickets. Allen Rossum is seeking 22. Arnaz Battle will have friends and family in the stands. So will Tarell Brown. Sunday's game in Dallas will be a homecoming of sorts for several Texas-raised 49ers, including coach Mike Singletary, who grew up in Houston and who went to college at Baylor University in Waco. Singletary has a son and a daughter who go to school at Baylor. His son, a member of the football team, has team obligations this weekend. Singletary will visit briefly with his daughter. Otherwise, he said it's strictly a business trip for him. "I've got tons of family there being the last of 10 kids," Singletary said. "They come from everywhere. ... I've already told them - we'll get together after the season."

One of the head coaching jobs for which Singletary interviewed was the Cowboys' job that was filled by Wade Phillips. Singletary said he was impressed with the interview, especially with the honesty of Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. "He said, 'Mike, it's just a matter of the fit. I don't know you as (well) as I know the other guys.' He was very honest. He said I wish I knew you more."

The mother of former 49ers offensive lineman Thomas Herrion will be a guest of the 49ers at Sunday's game. Herrion, a Fort Worth native, collapsed and died immediately following an exhibition game in Denver in 2005. The team created an award in Herrion's honor that is annually given to the rookie or first-year player who best exemplifies Herrion's positive outlook on life.

Rams tight end Anthony Becht was not fined for what appeared to be a late hit on safety Michael Lewis that caused Lewis to briefly leave Sundaay's game. Lewis said that Becht apologized for the hit following the game. "For him to apologize, I just put it behind me at that point," Lewis said. Becht was not penalized on the play.

-- Matt Barrows

November 21, 2008
Humble and hardworking, No. 81 seems like a great guy

I had a friendly, one-on-one interview with No. 81 this week. No, not that No. 81. I'm talking about tight end Sean Ryan, who was recently added to the roster when the 49ers released fullback David Kirtman, who in turn had been signed to fill in for injured fullback Zak Keasey. With neither Kirtman nor Keasey on the 53-man roster, the 49ers have no true fullback.

Ryan (6-5, 260 lbs.) was a fifth-round draft pick by the Cowboys in 2004. He's also been on the Jets, Saints and Dolphins rosters before this season. He's in the mold of Billy Bajema, which is to say he's been used purely as a blocker in five seasons. Against the Rams on Sunday, he lined up as a fullback in goal-line situations and seems to be the guy the 49ers call on when they need a bruiser in the backfield.

Sean Ryan1.jpg Sean Ryan2.jpg

Is that how you see the 49ers using you over the next six games?
SR: Well, I've always been a blocker. Obviously, I don't have a lot of catches to my name. I have 11 in my career over five years now, so it's not like I'm out there ripping up the stat sheet. You've got to do something to get on the field, and blocking was that thing.

Was what you did Sunday a new role for you?
SR: Yeah, we did it a bunch in New York (Jets) and also in Dallas when you were the second tight end. In certain formations, you're in the backfield. It's a little bit different than being on the line of scrimmage. But it's something to get used to.

Are they feeding you the offense one phase at a time?
SR: Learning an offense is an ongoing thing, obviously. They're giving me stuff in installments and telling me what to look at and what to learn that will be beneficial to myself and to my team.

And this offense seems particularly dense.
SR: It's good though. Because no matter what situation comes up, you know you've got a play for that situation. You can attack certain things. In some offenses that aren't as detailed or not as voluminous, you have to go with what you have.

When are we going to see you do the fullback dive from one yard away?
SR: (Laughing). I have never gotten a handoff in a game. So, I don't know. You'd have to ask coach Martz.

He's probably got it in the playbook somewhere.
SR: Probably.

Patrick Willis is practicing today and will be listed as probable. Tarell Brown, Michael Robinson, Mark Roman, Delanie Walker and Barry Sims also are probable. Arnaz Battle, Dashon Goldson and Josh Morgan won't play.

The NFL has started a pretty cool tradition - a competition among players to see who has the best story. Joe Nedney and Tony Wragge are representing the 49ers in the annual event, which whittles down the contenders until there is one left standing in the Super Bowl. To view the ads, and to vote, click here ...

-- Matt Barrows

November 20, 2008
Willis misses another practice; T.O. back from flu

Linebacker Patrick Willis missed his second day of practice this week, this time because he was feeling under the weather. Willis missed Wednesday's session with a hip strain. Neither issue, coach Mike Singletary said, will keep the middle linebacker out of Sunday's game against Dallas. "He's got a little nick here and a little nick there," Singletary said. "... But he'll be OK."

Along with Willis, Josh Morgan, Dashon Goldson and Arnaz Battle all missed practice. All three don't figure to play against the Cowboys. Tarell Brown, Michael Robinson, Mark Roman and Delanie Walker were limited in practice. Barry Sims went through a full practice.

For the Cowboys, Terrell Owens was back in practice after missing Wednesday with flu-like symptoms. Rookie running back Felix Jones missed practice with a hamstring injury and is out for the year.

-- Matt Barrows

November 20, 2008
Martz says he's surprised by Hill's progress

Mike Martz spoke today about several topics, including the progress Shaun Hill has been making, whether Chilo Rachal would start and how soon some of his injured receivers could return to the lineup. One thing he declined to talk about was the $20,000 fine he was hit with yesterday for criticizing the officials after the loss to Arizona. "I just won't discuss that," he said when asked if he would appeal the fine.

As far as Hill, Martz said that the quarterback struggled to pick up the offense in the offseason and even into the regular season. But he said Hill really benefited from watching J.T. O'Sullivan over the first six and half weeks. "He's further along than I would have expected. Ted's (Tollner) done a great job with him , too, when he wasn't playing." One area in which Hill has really surprised Martz is in how quickly he is releasing the ball. That is the biggest reason the 49ers have reduced their sacks allowed total over the last 2 ½ games. "That's why I'm a little surprised," Martz said, "You've got to really know what we're doing to do that. He's further along in that regard than I would have expected him to be."

Martz, however, is not satisfied with Hill's mechanics, which why he's been riding him so hard in practice. "He's not there yet. He's aways away with that. We've still got to groom him mechanically. Sometimes he's good but the consistency of his mechanics just isn't there yet. He's been doing it so long in a different way, sometimes that's hard." Martz said that the fact that Hill looks ragged in practices is a function of installing that week's game plan. Which is to say that practices look cleaner as the week goes on. "Wednesday was awful for Kurt (Warner), Marc (Bulger), Jon Kitna. Wednesday is not a good day. ... Thursday they look better and Friday they look really good."

He said there was no rift between him and Mike Singletary and that the seemingly heated exchanges television cameras pick up during games are isolated and often misleading. "He treated me outstanding. We see things the same. ... I told him the other day, it's fun to have him on the sideline because he's so under control. There's a real nice exchange going."

On rookie Josh Morgan, who has missed the last two games with a groin injury: "That was a pretty significant injury. I'm not sure we're going to get him back in the near future." Martz said he's been impressed with Jason Hill, especially Hill's wheels. In fact, he said that when Hill and Morgan are in the lineup, he might have more team speed than he had when he was coaching the Lions. Not bad for the future, huh?

And don't go writing Rachal's name into the starting lineup in pen just yet. Said Martz: "I'm not sure. We've upped his reps. There's a maturity aspect involved. I'm not sure he's ready."

- Matt Barrows

November 20, 2008
Comments cost Martz $20K

Mike Martz wasn't happy with how the officials handled the final minutes of his team's 29-24 loss to Arizona on Nov. 10. The NFL in turn wasn't happy with Martz's comments, fining the 49ers offensive coordinator $20,000 this week. The fine was first reported on CBS Sporstline. On the Tuesday following the game, both Martz and coach Mike Singletary questioned the officiating protocol at the end of the game. The pivotol final play involved a fullback dive from what the 49ers beleived would be inside the 1 yard line. In fact, upon reviewing the final play, officials moved the ball to the 2 1/2 yard line. They announced the move over the loudspeaker, but the 49ers insisted it could not be heard over the crowd noise. Martz said officials typically will walk to the sidelline and explain such a move to officials. The 49ers, of course, lost the game when the fullback dive was stopped a yard short of the end zone.

-- Matt Barrows

November 19, 2008
P.M. update: Roman practices, T.O. does not

Safety Mark Roman, who was originally expected to miss today's practice with a lingering groin injury, instead practiced on a limited basis. It shouldn't come as a surprise. Roman has become the Cal Ripken Jr. of the 49ers' roster, playing in 89 consecutive games.

The 49ers' most serious injuries heading into Sunday's game against the Cowboys appear to be to Arnaz Battle (foot), Dashon Goldson (knee) and Josh Morgan (groin).

Terrell Owens did not practice today, according to the injury report. It seems the illness that prevented him from taking part in the morning conference call with reporters was legit. As far as some other prominent Cowboys (I'm looking out for you, Fantasy Football owners), TE Jason Witten was limited with his rib injury while QB Tony Romo went through a full practice with his injured pinkie. For a full update on Cowboys practice, click here.

Mike Singletary has added a sixth edict to what was originally a five-point mantra. Today when a team employee trotted out the signboard to Singletary's after-practice huddle with the players, it contained the word "heart" written in red in italics. After all, you gotta have heart ...

-- Matt Barrows

November 19, 2008
King of the Hill: QB named offensive player of the week

Shaun Hill's perfect first half against the Rams on Sunday earned him the title of NFC offensive player of the week. Hill, who steered the 49ers to 28 second-quarter points, is the first 49er to get the honor since Frank Gore got it last year following the team's overtime win in Arizona. Said Hill: "It's a great honor. But it's an honor that you share with the whole team."

Asked today whether he had the composition of the offensive line the way he wants it, Mike Singletary paused and then started talking about one of his favorite topics, Chilo Rachal. "Chilo is doing a good job. This week, Chilo may get more reps. Depending on how things go, he may get a chance to start." Over the last two games, Rachal has been substituting for a series or two for Tony Wragge at right guard. If Rachal does start against the Cowboys, it will be at Wragge's expense. Said Wragge: "I don't have anything to say about it. I'm sorry."

Patrick Willis and Justin Smith are among the seven players who aren't practicing today. Willis has a hip strain while Smith is merely being given rest. In addition, Arnaz Battle (foot), Dashon Goldson (knee), Walt Harris (rest), Josh Morgan (groin) and Mark Roman (groin) will miss practice. No one has been ruled out of Sunday's game at this point.

Tarell Brown (neck), Michael Robinson (stinger), Delanie Walker (shoulder) and Barry Sims (foot) will be limited in practice.

-- Matt Barrows

November 19, 2008
Giddy anticipation ... then T.O. calls in sick

It was going to be like Christmas morning for the 49ers beatwriters. At 9:50 a.m., we were going to have a conference call with Terrell Owens, the first time we've spoken to the controversial wideout since he left town early in 2004. (Actually, he had a media embargo during the 2003 season (was it something we wrote?), so most of the reporters here hadn't conversed with him since 2002.) The expectation was that Owens, noticeably more mellow now than in his San Francisco days, would speak philosophically about his time with the 49ers. That he would go deep about Jeff Garcia, the quarterback he mercilessly slammed early in 2004. That he'd reminisce about the Sharpie, the Dallas star and the Steve Mariucci years. That he'd supply an endless amount of quotes that would would fill our notebooks like a stocking full of goodies on Christmas morning.

Then the Grinch called. A lady from the Cowboys PR staff phoned in at 9:25 a.m. to say that T.O. was under the weather and that Tony Romo would be filling in on the conference call. Christmas was ruined. Ok, Romo salvaged it a bit by talking at length about his relationship with T.O., who tearfully defended Romo at the end of last season. In many ways, you might consider Romo the anti Garcia - someone who is beloved by Owens and who doesn't get upset when Owens says things in the heat of the moment. "I'm not a prideful guy," Romo said. "I can accept certain things." About Owens' lugubrious defense of him, Romo said: "I just think it showed how much he cared about his teammates. ... We're lucky to have him on this football team. I wouldn't trade him for another receiver in the league." Can you imagine Garcia or Donovan McNabb saying that?

And don't get your hopes up, 49ers fans. The illness that prevented Owens from spending 15 minutes on the phone this morning probably won't keep him from Sunday's game. In fact, he may practice today. Asked about Owens' availability Sunday, coach Wade Phillips said, "We don't know right now. He may be at practice. So I don't think he'll miss a whole lot. But he was sick this morning."

Romo also said that his injured pinkie, heavily bandaged during the Cowboys' Sunday night win over the Redskins, was improving by the day. Romo admitted that the digit may have affected him on some throws against the Redskins but that he didn't anticipate any problems against the 49ers.

-- Matt Barrows

November 18, 2008
Jennings done for the season, done for good?

Jonas Jennings' 2008 season lasted one and a half games. The 49ers' right tackle -- their marquee free-agent acquisition in 2005 -- had surgery this morning to secure the right shoulder he dislocated in Week Two. The question now is whether Jennings ever will play a game for the 49ers again. He has two years remaining on the $36 million contract he signed in 2005. But he has now had three surgeries to the same shoulder. Jennings also suffered dislocations in 2005 and 2006.

Jennings' lack of durability has been well documented. He never made it through a full season in four years with the Buffalo Bills, and he's missed 35 of 58 possible starts since joining the 49ers. He missed time in the preseason with a broken hand. Jennings was the first player the Mike Nolan-Scot McCloughan regime ever acquired, and it's clear that they vastly overpayed for his services. Still, general manager McCloughan did not rule out the possibility that Jennings could return to the 49ers. He said Jennings' future with the team would be dealt with in the offseason.

"There's no reason why he can't come back from this once the surgery is done," McCloughan said during a conference call. "When he's played for us, he's played very well. He played 13 games for us in '06."

McCloughan said that Jennings and the team knew that surgery was inevitable once the the injury occurred during a game against the Seahawks. Because the rehabilitation will take six months, both Jennings and the team figured it was wise to get it out of the way. Jennings has practiced the last two weeks with a harness, but McCloughan said Jennings was not able to practice at 100 percent effort. On the team web site, McCloughan said it was "a matter of pain tolerance."

The decision to have surgery also was prompted by how well Adam Snyder has been playing at right tackle and by the fact that Barry Sims is scheduled to return from a foot injury this week. The team also filled Jennings' roster spot with tackle Jacob Bender, who was signed from the New England practice squad. Bender (6-6, 315) was drafted by the New York Jets last year in the sixth round out of Nicholls State. Bender will be the team's No. 4 tackle over the last six games.

-- Matt Barrows

November 18, 2008
2008 Willis keeping pace with 2007 Willis

Right about now, you're probably thinking that linebacker Patrick Willis is having a nice season, but not the MVP-caliber year he had last year. Statistically speaking, you'd be right, but not by very much. Through 10 games, Willis is second in the league - to Cleveland's D'Qwell Jackson - with 90 tackles. Through 10 games last season, Willis had 92 tackles. Willis, of course, led the league in that category in 2007, and it was at this point last season that he began putting a lot of space between him and the No. 2 tackler. In the last six games, his tackle totals were 18, 18, 8, 6, 20 (!!) and 12 - astounding for a guy who had a broken hand and who was supposed to hit the rookie wall in mid November.

Will Willis approach 174 total tackles this year? I'm guessing he won't, but not because he's is not playing as well as he did last season. Tackle numbers usually are inversely proportional to the caliber of your defense. That is, defenses that can't get off the field are the ones that produce the top tacklers. The top five tacklers from this season, for example, all play for teams that are ranked in the bottom half of the league in defense.

Though the 49ers are losing just as much as they did a year ago, they have been in more games. That means opposing offenses aren't as content to run the ball - and run the clock - in the second half of games. Indeed, the fact that the 49ers' offense is better this season has a positive effect on the team as a whole but probably reduces Willis' tackle total.

Another factor is Willis' supporting cast. Fellow inside linebacker Takeo Spikes is an improvement over last year's "ted" linebacker, Derek Smith. Spikes is averaging six tackles per game whereas Smith last year averaged 4.9. That is, Spikes may be getting a tackle here and there that a year ago might have gone to Willis.

A bigger issue is the play of the defensive line, which should be shielding Willis from offensive linemen and allowing him to make tackles near the line of scrimmage. Remember all the "stuffs" - tackles behind the line of scrimmage - Marques Douglas had last year? He finished with 13 of them and the 49ers as a whole finished with an impressive 81. Through 10 games this year, that number is just 29, an indication that the defensive line is not as stout along the line of scrimmage as it was a year ago.

Top 5 tacklers

D'Qwell Jackson, CLE 99
Patrick Willis, SF 90
Gary Brackett, INDY 88
Kirk Morrison, OAK 87
Gibril Wilson, OAK 86

-- Matt Barrows

November 17, 2008
Monday is "family" time for Singletary

After victories against Seattle and Detroit earlier this year, Mike Nolan rewarded his players with two days off - a "Win Monday" in addition to their normal Tuesday off. Not so with Mike Singletary. The interim head coach didn't rule out "Win Monday's" in the future, but for now he wants to see his players the day after a victory. Think of it as spending quality time with your mom, dad, brothers and sisters at the dinner table.

"It's just a matter of, I feel like I'd like to see the players the next day, I'd like the players to come in and talk about it," Singletary said. "Who else are you going to talk to the win about? You can call Mom, you can call Dad. 'Hey, we won the game.' Congratulations. But your teammates the next day, you can come in and talk about it, and laugh about it, watch it together, grow from it and put it behind you."

The underlying theme for what Singletary is trying to do over the last half of the season is team building or what Singletary called "thinking as a family." Having players come in on Monday and share their victory is part of that. Singletary also touched on the family theme when talking about the offense, defense and special teams all complimenting one another other on game day.

When he played for the Bears, Singletary said, he used talk to quarterback Jim McMahon in the week leading up to games to make sure the offensive game plan matched with what the defense was planning to see. "That's how we talked, and it got back to the coordinators and coach Ditka. And those things would happen because we were thinking about winning. We weren't just thinking about stats or just how good the defense could be. .. That's really when you begin to win. And that's when you begin to think as a family and a team. Because that's what it's all about."

Singletary was quick to point out that the idea of marrying the offense with the defense was not a put down of offensive coordinator Mike Martz, whose aggressive downfield philosophy often has put the defense on the field for long periods. "I've got to be very, very honest," Singletary said. "When I look at Mike Martz, I'm very, very pleased with what he's doing."

Other notes:

Singletary didn't seem to think that any of the injuries - Michael Lewis (knee), Tarell Brown (neck) and Michael Robinson (shoulder) - were very serious. Asked about the seemingly late hit that briefly put Lewis out of action, Singletary said, "Sometimes if the ref calls it, it's late. If he doesn't, you don't worry about it."

The defensive radio receiver has gone from Mark Roman to Patrick Willis back to Roman. Singletary said that Willis was relieved. He said it had been difficult for Willis to get the defensive call to the secondary in time. "It just wasn't getting there fast enough. At the back end, you can get beat like that (snapping fingers)."

Singletary attributed the improved sacks allowed totals - two in the last two games - to a combination of better offensive line play and Shaun Hill releasing the ball more quickly than J.T. O'Sullivan. Martz also seems to be calling far fewer seven-step drops for Hill.

-- Matt Barrows

November 17, 2008
Buzzkill: Remember what happened after Detroit ...

Following Sunday's game, Mike Singletary lamented that his team didn't score in the second half, committed turnovers and penalties and allowed the Rams 13 points. The reality is that the second half couldn't have worked out any better for the interim head coach. Because while you never want your players thinking they stink, you really don't want them thinking they are better than they are. A sloppy second half allows Singletary to keep his team grounded, humble and hungry as they prepare to play a good team on the road.

After all, it was only two months ago that the 49ers, their fans and the media had a similar feeling of elation. Remember the convincing 31-13 win earlier this year over the Lions? J.T. O'Sullivan was awesome, throwing two touchdowns and finishing with a stellar 123.3 passer rating. Mike Martz not only was the answer at offensive coordinator, there were whispers - loud ones - that he could replace Mike Nolan as head coach at season's end. In one fell swoop, the 49ers would solve three of their biggest problems: 1. Martz would provide championship-level leadership; 2. He'd finally give the 49ers continuity on offense 3. And his hand-picked quarterback, O'Sullivan, would be the passer the 49ers searching for since Jeff Garcia left town. It all seems absurd now, but it made perfect sense on Sept. 22.

Today - one day after the 49ers' most convincing win in five years - the future also seems obvious. Singletary should be the head coach. He's honest and brutally candid. The players love him. He's a winner. And Shaun Hill should be the quarterback. After all, he had a perfect passer rating in the first half and keeps showing an uncanny knack of moving the offense. He even allowed Eric Heitmann to spike the ball after a touchdown. (OK, that was a pretty cool move.)

The 49ers followed that home win against Detroit with a 31-17 road loss to New Orleans, the first of six straight losses that cost Nolan his job, O'Sullivan his starting status and Martz his standing as the offensive savior of the organization. Next up for the 49ers is Dallas, a team that just won a gritty game against a division opponent and one that will be as healthy as it's been in two months. Will lightning strike twice? Singletary, at least, is doing his best to insure that it won't.

Rookie watch:

-- Chilo Rachal played in his second-straight game and cornerback Reggie Smith, the team's third-round pick, saw action at the very end of the contest. He even was credited with a tackle, his first official defensive stat. That means the only rookies who haven't played this year are fourth rounder Cody Wallace, who has been inactive in every game, and seventh rounder Larry Grant, who is on the practice squad.

-- Newcomer Sean Ryan, a tight end, lined up as a fullback on the goal line yesterday. He was Frank Gore's lead blocker on Gore's 1-yard TD run in the second quarter, although the touchdown can be attributed 97 percent to Gore's running ability and 3 percent to the blocking on that particular play.

-- Sure, the Rams stink now. But 49ers fans have to be a bit concerned by how good rookie receiver Donnie Avery looked. Avery led all receivers with nine catches for 93 yards and couldn't draw a P.I. call despite LOTS of downfield contact from Walt Harris. Tough luck, rook. ... Still, it seems as if the Rams, who had one of the best WR tandems in history in Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt, might have another on their hands.

-- Matt Barrows

November 16, 2008
49ers game day: Reggie Smith active

Here are the inactives for today;s game:
Jamie Martin -- 3rd QB
S Dashon Goldson
TE Delanie Walker
LB Ahmad Brooks
C Cody Wallace
T Barry Sims
WR Arnaz Battle
WR Josh Morgan

* That means that 3rd-round pick Reggie Smith is up and could be the latest rookie/youngster that Mike Singletary decides needs seasoning. Smith also was active for the Detroit game. With Walker out, tight end Sean Ryan is in uniform. Bryant Johnson will start for Morgan at split end. It looks like Mark Roman will start at free safety.

For the Rams, CB Tye Hill, RB Steven Jackson, RB Same Gado, LB Chris Draft, G Roy Schuening, T John Greco and DE Eric Moore are inactive, Antonio Pittman will start for Jackson ...

-- 49ers open game in quasi big sub -- two linebackers, with Parys haralson rushing the QB. Like clockwork, the Rams run for 20-plus yards ...

-- Nice play by Walt harris to knock potential TD from Donnie Avery.

-- Up-the-middle blitz by Rod Green forces Bulger to throw early. Rams miss the 48-yard field goal wide left. 49ers ball at the 38 ...

-- Gore rushes for 37, but Oshiomogho Atogwe punches the ball from Gore as he's going out of bounds and the Rams recover. So much for Singletary's "Total Ball Security." Rams ball on the 13.

-- Another excellent play by Rossum, 29-yard punt return. 49ers ball on the 34.

-- Pass interference against Jason Craft on Isaac Bruce, gives the 49ers the ball on the 6. Gore bursts in from the 5 ... 49ers 7, Rams 0. By the way, the last time Gore thought he had a concussion, he rushed for 212 in the following game. Deja Vu?

-- Manny Lawson gets a quarterback sack! (though it could have been given to three other players). Pittman follows that up with a 22-yard carry.

-- Orlando Pace is down; Haralson went flying into his knee at the end of the last run. (actually, it was an inadvertant leg whip from Balmer)..Pace gingerly walked off the field under his own power. Adam Goldberg is now in at left tackle ...

-- Rams have 3rd and goal from the 5 and ...Bulger looks for Holt, who is double-covered, and throws the ball away. STL settles for a 24-yard field goal. SF 7, STL 0.

-- That drive went 15 plays, 75 yards and ate up 8:11. Singletary wanted a physical, punch-'em-in-the-mouth game. He's got one. ... RB Travis Minor went to the Rams locker room; He is questionable to return. no update yet on Pace ...Correction, it was RB Ron Bartell, not Travis Minor who got hurt ...

-- Shaun Hill just hit Isaac Bruce for 20 yards and Johnson for 42 on a quick slant. SF ball at the 7 yard line.

-- It's now 3rd and goal from the 2 and ....Hill fires to a wide open Vernon Davis for the TD. Better yet, no penalty following the score!

-- Bulger/center botch snap and Haralson recovers at the STL 16. ... Gore goes outside, gains 11 to the 5 yard line ... Gore to the 1 yard line ... (fullback dive?) ... Gore goes nowhere on 2nd and goal from the one ... On 3rd and goal, the Rams have the play snuffed out, but Gore still manages to go outside and slip in for the score, stiff arming Fakhir Brown along the way. SF 21, STL 3. By the way, TE Sean Ryan was the fullback on those last few runs ...

-- Deep pass for Avery underthrown and picked off by Walt Harris to the SF 40 .... First Hill-to-Hill connection is for 22 yards.

-- Great play by Hill. He sidesteps Leonard Little on the rollout and finds DeShaun Foster wide open for 31 yards to the STL 1...On 3rd and goal from the one, Hill keeps the ball and hurls himself across the goal line for the TD ... 49ers 28, STL 3 ... Why do the offensive players like Hill? After the TD, he tossed the ball to Eric Heitmann so that he could spike it ...

-- Pace is questionable to return with a right knee sprain.

-- Michael Lewis just steamrolled Pittman to sack Bulger for an 8-yard loss. This just in from stadium stat guru Andy Lutzky: in the last three first halfs, the Rams have been outscored 92-10. ... **update** Now it's 99-10.

-- In fact, the Rams are so bad, the 49ers are now fighting over INTs. Keith Lewis and Nate Clements just grappled over a pass intended for Torry Holt that Clements eventually came away with to the SF 44. Great play by Michael Lewis -- he was initially on Avery -- to switch off his coverage and break up the pass ...

-- Excellent throw to Robinson over the coverage -- gain of 32 yards to the 1 yard line. ... handoff to Robinson loses a yard and the 49ers use their final timeout of the half. 2nd and goal from the 2 with :37 left in half ... Perfect fade to Johnson for the touchdown. 49ers 35, Rams 3.

-- Hill, by the way, has 192 yards, two TDs and a perfect 158.3 passer rating heading into the locker room...


-- All Gore, all the time ...

-- Guard Richie Incognito, Pace and Bartell are all out for the remainder of the game ... Michael Robinson may have hurt his left elbow or shoulder on the last punt ... Michael Lewis looks like he has a left knee injury; Keith Lewis takes his place ...

-- Michael Lewis just leapt off the bench to celebrate the last sack. looks like his knee might be OK. But the hit that put him on the bench looked like a cheap shot ... Lewis' return is questionable.

-- Lewis is back on the field even though he easily could have gotten the rest of the afternoon off. Gamer ...

-- CB Tarell Brown has a neck strain. Is this Reggie Brown's chance. He's standing next to the defensive coaches with his helmet on ...

-- The 49ers just lost a challenge on a long, sideline pass to Donnie Avery. they are now 0-6 on the season on replay challenges. Egads!

4th Q

-- If you're still paying attention to the game, check out these first-half feats ...

* The 49ers' 35 points were the most in the opening half since they scored 42 against Atlanta in 1992

* They're 33-point lead was the biggest margin since they went up 34-0 against Arizona in 2003

* The 28-point second quarter is the biggest one-quarter outburst since they posted 28 against the Bears in 1991

* Shaun Hill is the only 49ers QB to post a perfect first-half passer rating. Steve Young came close with a 156.5 rating

* His 192 yards were the most first-half yards since Jeff Garcia had 221 against the Cardinals in 2003.

November 15, 2008
Singletary's five golden rules

Mike Singletary's been on the job for nearly a month now and one thing we can safely say about the 49ers' interim head coach is that he's about as subtle as a baseball bat across the forehead. Singletary's already changed quarterbacks, reshuffled the offensive line, ejected Vernon Davis and used an especially vivid halftime prop to illustrate that his team was getting its fanny kicked.

He's also unveiled a new five-point team mantra, and he's not hoping it gradually sinks in. Like Mike Nolan's famous "Win the West!" banner, Singletary's slogan, unveiled before the Cardinals game, is located on the wall right outside the locker room. Players can't help but see it every time they go out for practice. The new slogan is called, "49ers Formula for Success'' and has five tenets: 1. Total Ball Security 2. Execute 3. Dominate the Trenches 4. Create Great Field Position 5. Finish.

Singletary also is hanging the T.E.D.C.F. banners around the building. And just before the end of practice, a team employee hauls a large signboard with the five rules onto the field. One big difference between Nolan and Singletary is the amount of time Singletary spends talking to the team each day following practice. It's hard to hear what he's saying, but his voice is definitely impassioned, and he's definitely using T.E.D.C.F. to hammer home his point. (Better that than his other prop, right?)

So, How did the team do with T.E.D.C.F on Monday night? Eh, it was a mixed bag:

Total Ball Security - The 49ers turned the ball over three times in the second half, and were it not for a couple of Cardinals penalties, the number would have been five. Arizona had zero turnovers. D

Execute - I'm not exactly sure what this means, and to be honest, it sounds like one of those vague excuses Nolan used - "We didn't execute" - over the past few years. The 49ers finished with 336 yards of offense and returned a kickoff for a TD. But they also allowed 374 yards and had 10 penalties. C

Dominate the Trenches - Other than the final play of the game, put a check mark next to this one. The 49ers had 119 rushing yards to the Cardinals' 46. They also did not allow a sack for the first time in nearly two years (though Kurt Warner wasn't sacked, either). B+

Create Great Field Position - After Allen Rossum's kickoff return for a touchdown, the Cardinals seemed scared to kick to him, and the 49ers benefited with three returns at their 40 or beyond. Mission accomplished. A-

Finish - They lost 23 crucial seconds while trying to spike the ball and called a one-yard dive from 2 ½ yards away. But they also were in a position to win the game at the end. D+

-- Matt Barrows

November 14, 2008
Snyder has hold of right tackle spot

Jonas Jennings is back at practice this week, but to hear Mike Singletary tell it, the right tackle job is Adam Snyder's to lose. "Right now, he has to earn that," Singletary said of the possibility of Jennings regaining his starting job. "Snyder is working his tail off. ... Right now Snyder's the guy."

Jennings, of course, dislocated his shoulder almost nine weeks ago against Seattle. He returned to practice in a limited fashion last week and has been full go this week. Still, trainers and coaches are being cautious. Jennings suffered shoulder dislocations in 2005 and 2006.

Asked whether Jennings is healthy enough to start, Singletary said, "We really won't know until we need him. To me right now, the more he's out, the better. It gives him time to get stronger."

The 49ers, meanwhile, wanted to give Snyder, their so-called swing tackle in previous seasons, a permanent position this year. They placed him at left guard in the offseason, but he struggled there in the summer and was recently replaced by David Baas. Snyder has said he's always felt most comfortable at tackle - that's where he played in college, after all - and he had a particularly good game Monday against the Cardinals. Asked if he was impressed with how Snyder played, Singletary said, "I was. I really was. I was impressed with the entire offensive line."

Singletary said Frank Gore moved well in practice and should be fine for Sunday. He said that Mark Roman "showed a lot of promise" as far as his groin injury and the coach is optimistic he will play at free safety. He said Roman would be a game-time decision. If he can't play, Keith Lewis would start. Singletary wasn't as optimistic about tight end Delanie Walker.

-- Matt Barrows

November 14, 2008
Gore to practice; Walker, Roman say they're iffy *updated*

Frank Gore plans to practice later this afternoon and says he'll be OK for Sunday's game against the Rams, who, by the way, rank 30th in stopping the run. Gore's been getting ice and massage treatment for his jammed neck, which seemed to have loosened up since the early part of the week. He demonstrated by rolling his neck from side to side and up and down for reporters. Gore said he felt his body go numb immediately after the crack-back block on which the injury occurred. The speculation is that that numbness was still affecting him when he stumbled on the penultimate play of the game, falling shy of the end zone and the potentially game-winning score.

Safety Mark Roman, who's been battling a groin injury since the Giants game Oct. 19, was noncomittal when asked if he would play. Roman missed yesterday's practice and said he did not know if he'd play today. If he can't go Sunday, Keith Lewis probably start at free safety because Dashon Goldson (knee) already has been ruled out. Donald Strickland and Marcus Hudson also play safety in a pinch. *update* Roman was limited in practice and officially is listed as questionable for Sunday.

Delanie Walker suffered a shoulder stinger while making a block Monday and the areas has stiffened since. It's the same (right) shoulder that caused him to miss a big chunk of his rookie season. Walker said he would be a game-time decision ...*update* Walker did not practice and officially is listed as doubtful

In addition, tackle Barry Sims (foot) was limited in practice and is doubtful for Sunday.

-- Matt Barrows

November 13, 2008
What concussion? Gore has neck strain, coach (and Gore) say

Frank Gore told reporters earlier today that he suffered a concussion late in Monday's loss to Arizona and was still experiencing headaches, but minutes ago Mike Singletary insisted that was not the case. "Frank Gore is a football player. He does not know what a concussion is," Singletary said. "It may feel like a concussion. I talked to Fergie (trainer Jeff Ferguson) who is one of the finest trainers in the country." Singletary said that Gore instead had a neck strain.

Singletary said he did not know when Gore suffered the neck strain. During the final series of the game Monday, a 14-yard pass to Jason Hill, Gore was slow to get up. Singletary said that Gore "felt a little woozy, a little nauseous."

Asked who would play in place of Gore, who missed his second straight day of practice Thursday, should Gore not be available Sunday, Singletary refused to entertain the thought. "In all honesty, I don't want to go there. To me, he's going to play." Asked when that determination would be made, Singletary said, "Today. He's gonna play. As far as I know, he's gonna play."

****UPDATE 5:10 p.m.***** Gore just paid a visit to the media trailer to say that his injury was, in fact, a neck strain. He said his head was to the side when he collided with Cardinals defensive end Chike Okeafor. "It was a pretty good hit and I kind of had my neck in the wrong position," he said. Gore said the headache he complained of earlier today had gone away and that he expected to practice Friday.

-- Matt Barrows

November 13, 2008
Bruce: Rams beat me to the draw

Here's a very long Q&A the beatwriters had today with Isaac Bruce, who, of course, is facing his former team for the first time Sunday. Bruce, who is as emotionless as a tree stump, insists there is nothing special about the game. I might call BS on anyone else who makes that claim. After all, Bruce spent 14 illustrious seasons with the Rams. But you tend to believe it coming from him. By the way, score one for the scribes. No. 80/88, actually was facing us this time when he gave the interview ....

Has it been hard to stay positive during such a disappointing season?
IB: Not at all. Not at all.

Why have you been able to keep your spirits up; what do you see?
IB: Well, um, frustration has never added anything to my life. I don't allow frustration to be part of my life.

How do you reconcile what's going on as far as the win-loss record?
IB: Look at it as a work in progress. Happy to be a part of it.

The young receivers on the team talk about what they glean from you. Do you take pride in their play?
IB: Honestly, I don't. It's what they're here to do. They're here to play and they're hereto perform when they get their opportunity. If they don't do that, they know they won't be here.

You say 'work in progress.' Are you encouraged by what you see? Do you see progress?
IB: I'm always encouraged. And, yes, I do see progress.

Early on you talked about high expectations and high goals. How do you address those as the season goes along?
IB: Well, you don't. I'm not a double-minded person. And if I did address it, it would be a double-minded person, so therefore my goals and everything I believed about this team in the beginning are still the same.

Are you a creature of habit?
IB: I don't understand the question.

Do you like to get into a routine?
IB: I think that's pretty much everyone.

For 14 seasons, you were in the same place. How have you adjusted to a new environment?
IB: Football is football. (Long pause). That's a different question, we'd have to have some time to answer that question.

Any extra importance in playing your old team?
IB: Really, I practiced against them for 14 years. So no big difference.

Do you talk to anyone on the team?
IB: Don't want to answer that question.

Why not, Isaac?
IB: Just don't want to.

Why haven't we seen more consistency from you - it seems like every time you get the ball, you make things happen?
IB: I think a concerted effort is being made to get me the football. When I get it, I can only do what I do. I'm not the quarterback or the coordinator or anything like that.

Do you and Mike Martz talk about why the ball isn't coming to you more?
IB: Mmmm, I can pretty much see what he sees. So, there's no need for dialogue for why it's not happening. I don't know. I don't lose sleep.

Why do you think that is occurring - or not occurring?
IB: I believe our running game is working really well. And I'm a big part of that. I'm alright with going with what's working.

It had to have been emotional to leave the only NFL team you've been with. Did that affect you personally?
IB: Affect me ....?

... Personally. That you weren't able to finish your career with the only NFL team you knew?
IB: (Laughing). Not at all. Not at all.

Really? Why not?
IB: Because I don't live my life emotionally. I live a principle-led life. I know business is business. Sometimes business falls on the people who you don't want me to fall on. And, uh, it fell on Isaac Bruce. I wasn't surprised. Sometimes I say they beat me to the draw.

You say it's business. But I'm sure you developed a lot of friendships there.
IB: I don't lose friendships because I leave. If I did, they were never my friends.

What do you mean by 'They beat me to the draw?'
IB: It's what I said. It's pretty self explanatory.

I don't know what that means
IB: Well, I don't want to get into it. I'll just leave it there.

Do you see yourself playing in the future?
IB: Still having fun. And I do plan on playing in the future. And that's the future, so ...

I don't know how much you look at NFL history. But your time with Torry there, do you think that was one of the best tandems?
IB: Yes

What makes you say that?
IB: I'd say the production.

How were you guys able to compliment each other?
IB: Torry and myself?

IB: We were friends first, so that helps everything.

Did you consider yourselves both No. 1 receivers when you were there?
IB: I couldn't tell you about his thinking, but, yeah, mine was.

Two No. 1's?
IB: No

You were the No. 1?
IB: That was my thinking. I'm sure he's thinking the same thing.

Is that what you want, everyone thinking they were No. 1?
IB: On my team, I'd be looking for guys with that mentality.

-- Matt Barrows

November 13, 2008
McCloughan: It wasn't Paraag

Wow. Just listened to the excellent, rapier-like interview KNBR's Brian Murphy had this AM with GM Scot McCloughan. Murph cut to the heart of the matter from Monday night's debacle in the desert, which was: Who messed up the spot-of-the-ball call that prompted Mike Martz to call a fullback dive from 2 1/2 yards out? McCloughan danced around the issue, saying that internal matters are handled inside the building and are not for public consumption. One thing he did say is that Paraag Marathe, the team's contract guru, was not responsible for the mis-read: "I can say that definitively," a weary McCloughan said of who handles down and distance. "He does not do that. He does not do that."

-- Matt Barrows

November 12, 2008
Pereira: I wouldn't want to do anything different

Head of NFL officiating Mike Pereira was just on NFL Network to discuss, among other things, the final frantic seconds of Monday night's 49ers game. The 49ers' coaches are upset that, following a review of Frank Gore's second-down run, they weren't personally notified that the ball would be placed at the 2 ½ yard line instead of inside the 1 yard line, which is the spot from where they thought the final play would be run. Indeed, they called a very short-yardage play -- a fullback dive -- when they needed a longer one. Referee Tony Corrente announced the new ball placement to the crowd, but the announcement was drowned out by the crowd noise. Mike Singletary today said he asked for an explanation of the proper protocol by the league, but as of midday Wednesday he had not heard back from anyone.

Here's what Pereira had to say of what he described as the "chaos" at the end of the game. He said that the officials correctly determined that Gore had been touched down at the 2 ½ yard line. They also correctly decided to put the clock in motion upon the placement of the ball. Pereira noted that Corrente not only announced that to the crowd but went up to Shaun Hill and made sure he knew that the clock would immediately start. In the replay, Hill can be seen then immediately saying something to center Eric Heitmann, presumably that he needed to snap the ball quickly.

"That's our normal procedures," Pereira said. "That's the procedures. That's the procedures coming out of replay and I wouldn't want to do anything different."

Is it the responsibility of the referee to notify the coaches, Pereira was asked?

"No. It's not. My normal procedure in any replay is to make the announcement for everybody to hear and then get back and get the play set up, make sure the teams on the field know the status of the clock. I can't have different procedures for different situations. As long as we follow the normal things that we do in replay we're fine.

-- Matt Barrows

November 12, 2008
Players didn't know ball placement until they broke the huddle

Offensive players today added to what their coaches said yesterday about the last confusing seconds of Monday's loss. That is, they had no idea about the placement of the ball until they broke the huddle and lined up.

Fullback Michael Robinson said he thought the ball would be a little inside the one. "It's a fullback type of inside play," he said. "It's designed for very, very short yardage." Was he discouraged when he saw the 49ers were actually lining up outside the 2 yard line? "No. I thought, 'I've got to make this work. This is Monday Night Football. I've just got to make it work.'"

Said Shaun Hill, perhaps the most calm and collected 49er - coaches included - at the end of the game. "The spot surprised me as well when we got up on the ball." Did it run through your mind to spike it, do something to chance the call? "Also, on top of that, we felt that the clock was going to start on the snap. If that hadn't been the case, then obviously there had been different things we could have done. But they wound the clock ... That kind of eliminates all of your possibilities."

The 49ers will be down two receivers Sunday against the Rams. Arnaz Battle (foot) and Josh Morgan (groin) are out. That means one-time practice-squad player Dominique Zeigler will be the no. 2 receiver at both split end and slot. The team signed former Stanford WR Mark Bradford to the practice squad. Bradford, a rookie, was signed by Dallas as an undrafted free agent earlier this year.

Dashon Goldson (knee) also is out. Frank Gore (neck), Barry Sims (ankle) and Delanie Walker (shoulder) did not practice. Gore injured his neck late in Monday's game.

Vernon Davis insists he had no chance to catch the deep end-zone pass from Shaun Hill that appeared to fall just in front of him in the third quarter. "He (Hill) just threw it. It was out in front of me. I just couldn't get to him." Davis said he didn't change his mind about the play after seeing it on film.

Davis also said he took a late hit from safety Antrel Rolle. But that wasn't why he was fired up (and why he drew an illegal celebration penalty) He said he was excited because he scored his first touchdown of the season on what he described as the most "difficult, crazy"catch of his career. Did he surprise himself? Answer: No. "I can come up with a play like that any time they throw to me. I just have to (have) the opportunities."

-- Matt Barrows

November 11, 2008
Martz: Nolan explained to me what happened

Finally, someone who can clear up the confusion about what happened in the final seconds Monday night. That person? Recently fired coach Mike Nolan, who had a phone conversation with Mike Martz this morning. Nolan, Martz insists, was the first person who told him that the final play of the game -- the infamous fullback draw -- was not run from the half yard line like Martz left the stadium believing but rather from much farther back. I'm not making this up: The current offensive coordinator of the San Francisco 49ers had a morning chit chat with the head coach who was fired three weeks ago.

Just as Mike Singletary said earlier today, Martz was under the impression that on the final play the ball would be spotted at the half yard line. But whereas Singletary accurately said the play ended up being spotted at the 2 1/2 yard line, even by this afternoon Martz wasn't sure where the play began. He insisted it was the 3 1/2.
"We did not know the ball would be on the 3 1/2, otherwise obviously we would never have called that play," he said.

Wasn't it the 2 1/2?
"Three and half," Martz said.

Why did you think the ball was on the half yard line?
"That's what I could see out there. That's where they spotted the ball. From where I was standing ... there are people standing around the ball and the huddle and you can't see anything, so ... They walked it off at the last second and told us it was going to start on the official's whistle.... If they had moved it back to the 10 yard line, we couldn't have changed the play. I wouldn't have mattered. We had to run that play. We couldn't have changed anything."

Why not spike the ball with four seconds left ... after the review?
"Well, I didn't know it was on the three and a half until this morning. I didn't know. I still didn't know until this morning. ... I left the stadium thinking that the ball was still ... I couldn't believe that we couldn't punch it in from the 1 yard line. I was upset with that."

Shouldn't the guys in the booth be feeding you that information?
"When they spot the ball and they give it one of these deals (pantomiming the motion for 'start the clock') you've got to spike it! You've got to spike it! There's no headset on. Fifteen seconds. You can't talk to the quarterback. What are you gonna do?"

At what point did you realize the ball was where it was?
"I got a call from Mike Nolan this morning. He knew exactly what happened."

No kidding?
"Oh, yeah. He said ... He's the only one smart enough to look at the TV and he knew immediately. He's the one who really knows football well to know exactly what happened."

What did he say?
"He just said, 'Hey, you got victimized by the replay. Which is basically what happened. because if we'd been allowed to get that spike.... You know, I'm just angry and frustrated with how that whole thing developed. I guess there's nobody really to blame other than there's just a lack of communication. That part wasn't very good."

First off, this may sound like splitting hairs, but the half yard line and the 3 1/2 yard line never entered into the equation during the final play of the game. After Frank Gore's second-down run, the ball was originally spotted at the 1 1/2 yard line and then moved back, following the review, to the 2 1/2 yard line. If Martz was basing his play call -- indeed, basing the entire outcome of the game -- on the belief that the ball was on the half yard line, shouldn't he have been sure? Also, Martz said that Robinson gained two yards on the play. In fact, he barely gained one yard. That's a lot of discrepancy and imprecision at a critical juncture of the game.

-- Matt Barrows

November 11, 2008
Mystery solved: Martz thought ball was on half yard line

Mike Singletary started peeling back the layers from the onion that was yesterday's 29-24 loss to Arizona, beginning with the biggest question of all: Why, with four seconds and no timeouts, do you call a fullback draw, a play fundementally designed to pick up a half yard? Well, because offensive coordinator Mike Martz and the rest of the team mistakenly thought the ball was on the half yard line instead of the 2 1/2 until it was too late to call in another play. Singletary today blasted the communication by the game officials, who after reviewing whether Frank Gore was down by contact on a second-down run, moved the ball back to the 2 1/2 yard line. "No one came to our sideline and said the ball would be moved. Someone needs to say that," said Singletary, who added that he has not yet sought clarification from the league office. "It's not the thing I need to hear -- 'It's on us (the league),'" he said. "I don't need to hear that."

Barrows did a little sleuthing on this. Following Jason Hill's last catch, the ball is at the 1 1/2 yard line. After Shaun Hill spikes it, it's at the 1 1/2 yard line. Immediately after Gore's run, an official rushes in and marks Gore down at the 1 1/2. Following the review, the ball is placed at the 2 1/2. So if anything, Martz would have thought the ball was at the 1 1/2 yard line, not the half yard line ...

Singletary said that the fact that the play clock began when the official set the ball, and not when it was snapped, added to the confusion. Singletary said the clock started as the official who spotted the ball was backing away from the ball. He said Martz's play was intended to have a wideout come in motion across the backfield but because the clock was running there was no time to run that element of the play.

Of course, the interim head coach did not heap all of the blame on the officials. The fact that the team wasted 23 crucial seconds before Shaun Hill could spike the ball, according to Singletary, "That's on us. That's on me as a head coach. And I will take that." Singletary said Martz had a very specific personnel group he wanted on the field and that the whole transition should have taken 10 seconds. Why, he was asked does a team need a specific personnel group when they merely intended to spike the ball? "I don't know that," Singletary said. "I think it was one of those situations where you thought it was going to go smoothly, a lot more smoothly than it did."

If you're curious about how the relationship between Singletarty and Martz is unfolding, Singletary said he was entirely on board with the type of plays martz was calling at the end of the game. "We're on the same page. We're trying to be on the right page." he also said that the moment caught on camera in which Martz seems to strenuously object to Singletary's decision to go for a fourth-and-one field goal was typical head coach-offensive coordinator stuff. "The offensive coordinator always wants to go for it. I learned that rather quickly."

By the way, there's a chance that we'll be able to talk to Martz (you know, the guy around whom these questions swirl) later today. Martz usually speaks to the media every other week. Fingers crossed ....

Singletary said the most serious injury Monday occurred to receiver Josh Morgan, who hurt his groin. He did not have a timetable on Morgan's return.

-- Matt Barrows

November 11, 2008
Silver linings from Monday night

It might be hard to find bright spots following such a demoralizing loss, one that puts the 49ers five games behind Arizona in the NFC West with seven games to play. But if you squint really hard, they're there. To wit:

Young guns. Where was Jason Hill last year when the 49ers needed an offensive spark? The second-year player looked incredible Monday, hauling in several tough catches along the sideline. (One sideline grab was wrongly ruled incomplete by the inept officiating crew). Hill finished with 84 yards while rookie Josh Morgan had 54 yards, including a 31-yard TD. Morgan is still raw, but the point is that he is playing - as is Chilo Rachal and Kentwan Balmer and Dominique Zeigler. One difference between Mike Nolan and Mike Singletary seems to be the latter's willingness to lean on rookies and young players, which is a must in the modern NFL.

Hill of a job. Ok, Shaun Hill's three second-half turnovers were killers. But he showed better-than-expected arm strength, especially on out patterns and most important of all, he had a never-say-die attitude, which manifest itself on his helmet-less run for a first down. Hill also was one of two players - Jonas Jennings was the other - calming down Vernon Davis on the sideline following the tight end's TD/illegal celebration episode.

Miked up on Monday night. One of the most puzzling things about Singletary's debut against Seattle was how flatly the 49ers played. That was not an issue Monday night. From the opening kickoff, the 49ers were as keyed up as they've been since 2002. They should have left the desert with an emotional win. Instead, they'll be challenged by a punch-in-the-gut loss. If they need a model for how to respond, look no farther than the Cardinals, who lost their own Monday night heartbreaker two years ago and fell to the 49ers on a freak overtime play last year. Good teams bounce back ...

-- Matt Barrows

November 10, 2008
Confusion, devastation in the desert

The Cardinals are who we thought they were ... and we let 'em off the hook! That phrase keeps ringing in my head as I try to make sense of what has to be one of the most demoralizing 49ers losses in the last decade. Just like the Cardinals' Monday night debacle against the Bears two years ago, the 49ers had what everyone thought was a superior Cardinals team on the ropes before self-destructing in the second half. Mike Singletary pulled J.T O'Sullivan in favor of Shaun Hill because of O'Sullivan's penchant for second-half disasters. Well, Hill had three disastrous plays in the second half - a flubbed snap and two INTS - while a third INT for a touchdown luckily was called back on a penalty.

You're all wondering about the curious fullback draw play that ended the game. Anyone who was watching knew that confusion reigned supreme Monday night. The officials were as discombobulated as anyone. (There were 20 penalties with several flags that were picked up.) One of the theories in the press box was that a draw to Robinson was meant to catch the Cardinals off balance. That is, the intent was to snap the ball quickly, hand it to Michael Robinson and overwhelm the Cardinals with a fast-developing play. Bang, bang. The officials may have muddied that plan by hovering over the ball and starting the clock on their signal. It gave the Cardinals an extra moment or two to set themselves.

As defensive end Antonio Smith said after the game, he and his defensive mates were expecting a run, though probably by Frank Gore, not Robinson: "We knew they had to run the ball. We weren't respecting the pass, especially with the extra tight end in the game. We all just hunkered down, lowered our shoulders, and drove into them."

Said Mike Singletary of the closing seconds: "I think we could have done a heck of a lot better job. I talked to the referees on a couple of those (penalties). For whatever reason, we weren't quite set. It looked like Shaun was taking all day but we have to get our guys aligned right or it's a penalty. So we had to wait on the guys to come before he could spike it. ... We lost about 10 to 12 seconds, which was a little ridiculous, but it happened." Funny, it seemed like more than 20 seconds were lost ...

As for Hill, Singletary said, "I love Shaun" and called him a "blue-collar guy." Singletary is trying to mold (re-mold?) the 49ers into a blue-collar team and it's clear he wants Hill to guide them.

Vernon Davis, of course, made perhaps his best catch as a pro - an 18-yarder in which he was sandwiched between two Cardinals safeties. Still, Davis managed to upstage himself with a silly illegal celebration penalty for taking off his helmet. Davis had a similar penalty in a prime time game against Seattle two years ago. The penalty didn't have any devastating consequences, but it's more evidence that Vernon Davis' worst enemy is Vernon Davis. Said Singletary: "I just told him, 'Great catch, and let's remember to be smart.'"

-- Matt Barrows

November 10, 2008
Zeigler, Jennings active; Rachal to play

Greetings from sunny Glendale, Ariz., where I can report there is a party-like atmosphere in the parking lot. Barrows rolled in around 2:45 p.m. Pacific and the parking lot already was teeming with Cardinals (and some 49ers) fans. There's a sense that, like the Tennessee Titans a couple weeks ago, the Cardinals want to prove on national television that they desrve all the praise they've been getting lately (and erase the "The Bears are who we thought they were" taste from their mouths) ...

A few pre-game notes ...

-- Dominique Zeigler will be active at receiver because Arnaz Battle (foot) will not. Jonas Jennings (shoulder) also is active but it looks like Adam Snyder will start at right tackle.

-- There is a sense that Chilo Rachal will slowly be worked into the lineup over the second half of the season but it probably won't start tonight ... *****This just in***** Apparently, those plans have been expedited. I'm told that Rachal will play tonight. Not sure if he'll start, but he'll play ...

Here are the 49ers' inactives:
Jamie Martin -- 3rd QB
CB Reggie Smith
S Dashon Goldson
LB Ahmad Brooks
C Cody Wallace
T Barry Sims
TE Sean Ryan
WR Arnaz Battle

Here are the Cardinals inactives
Brian St. Pierre -- 3rd QB
CB Eric Green
T Elliot Valejo (UC Davis)
DT Alan Branch
WR Early Doucet
TE Jerame Tuman
TE Ben Patrick

Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie will start for Green at quarterback ...

November 8, 2008
Zeigler up; Barton waived

As expected, the 49ers elevated receiver Dominique Zeigler to the active roster today. To make room, they waived tackle Kirk Barton, who was picked up on Oct. 16 after being waived by the Dolphins. Zeigler, the most acrobatic of the 49ers' receivers, is expected to add depth to a receiving corps that will be without Arnaz Battle (foot). Jason Hill will take over for Battle at slot receiver; Zeigler will back up Hill.

-- Matt Barrows

November 7, 2008
Warner has some thinking about Joe Cool ...

Trent Dilfer grew up in Aptos, so he knows that you simply can't throw around His name casually. And by Him, I don't mean the man upstairs. I mean Joe Montana. So it speaks to just how impressive Kurt Warner, the 49ers' Monday night opponent, has been this season when Dilfer the other day drew a comparison between No. 13 and No. 16. Said Dilfer: "As far as the rhythm passing game, he's the best since Joe Montana."

joe.jpg =warner.jpg

Indeed, words like "rhythm" and "comfortable" and "calmness" seem to pop up when people are describing Warner this season. After eight games, Warner has an unbelievable 69.9 completion rate, which is the best in the NFL and the best in his career. He's being mentioned as a potential MVP. And if the perennially woeful Cardinals go on to win the division, it will be hard to argue against him.

It's not just the Cardinals' big guns - Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin - Warner is targeting. When defenses concentrate on stopping the top two receivers, Warner has been quick to go to Nos. 3 and 4. Steve Breaston has 39 receptions for 503 yards (that's more than any 49ers receiver in case you're wondering) while Jerheme Urban has 14 catches, two of them for touchdowns.

Said Boldin of his understudies: "They've been one of the reasons the offense has been able to expand the way it has. Especially when I was out, Steve stepped in and played well in both games I was out. And he's continued to do that, as well as Jerheme Urban."

Interestingly enough, the 49ers are one of the few teams to handle Warner this season. In their Week One match up, a 23-13 Arizona win, Warner threw for a rather ho hum 197 yards. Of course, he was 16 yards shy of 500 the last time the teams met in Arizona. (Thank Patrick Willis for keeping him below five hundy). Which Warner will the 49ers be facing? Tune in Monday ...

-- Matt Barrows

November 7, 2008
Zeigler being eyed for active roster

With Arnaz Battle out for this week with a foot sprain, the 49ers are debating whether to activate practice-squad receiver Dominique Zeigler, a second-year player out of Mike Singletary's alma mater, Baylor. The 6-2, 185-pound Zeigler is perhaps the most natural pass catcher on the team and seems to turn in at least one dazzling snag every week. Zeigler said he attributed that skill to playing baseball as a kid. "You don't catch the ball in baseball, it kind of knocks your teeth out," he said. Zeigler's been on the practice squad for two years and has played just about every receiving position. Lately, he's been getting work as the slot receiver behind Battle and Jason Hill. The 49ers would have to waive someone if Zeigler were placed on the active roster ....

We spoke with Mike Martz after the morning walk through. Martz and his family received bad news Sunday when they learned his 38-year-old nephew, Steve Martz, had been shot in the midsection in a bizarre incident in Baja, Mexico. Steve Martz is an off-road racer and he and several riders were checking out a race course when, according to Martz, a man in camoflauge opened fire on them. Here's a newspaper account of the incident.

Mike Martz said his nephew and two other men approached a locked gate on the course when the shots were fired. Steve Martz's fellow riders put him on the motorcycle and took him 17 miles back to the main road. Authorities then had to decide whether to truck him to a hospital or call in a helicopter. Luckily, they chose the latter. Said Martz: "He wouldn't have made it if they didn't have a helicopter. He lost three pints of blood. Usually, if you lose that much you don't make it." Steve Martz was flown to Tijuana where his spleen was removed. He was later airlifted to San Diego's Sharp Memorial Hospital where he is recovering. Mike Martz said his nephew is out of critical care but probably will spend another seven days or so in the hospital. "It was a scary moment for all of us."

Asked why the man shot his nephew, Martz said, "I think that area down there is kind of a dangerous area. Even though it was on the course and they were just going through the road. They were at a gate that was locked up, and I don't know why. Nobody knows why. But he didn't hesitate. He shot him."

Apparently, NFL coaching changes are a boon to the banner-making industry. In the spot where Mike Nolan's "Win the West" banner once hung, Mike Singletary has hung his own rather wordy mantra. Players must learn and recite it before taking the field Monday. (kidding) ...

49ers formula for success

1. Total ball security
2. Execute
3. Dominate in the trenches
4. Create great field position
5. Finish

-- Matt Barrows

November 7, 2008
Who is the 49ers' QB of the future?

Here's today's story about the 49ers' questionable future at quarterback. It includes commentary from two ex-49ers quarterbacks, Steve Young and Trent Dilfer. Like many of you, Young is concerned that the 49ers have become a revolving-door type franchise in which players and coaches come and go but the team never gets any better. Consider this blog an addendum to the story. The bottom line is that the 49ers have no idea who will make up their quarterback stable next year. Several factors will play into it, including: How Shaun Hill performs over the second half of the season, who the coach and offensive coordinator are next season and, yes, what their draft status is. (See: Stafford, Matthew). So, taking all that wishy washy prefacing into account, here is the best guess about which QBs will be retained.

Shaun Hill. Hill's future depends on how he plays over the last eight games, but it's hard to see him flaming out. Indeed that's why he is now the 49ers starting quarterback. Hill does not throw a pretty-looking deep ball - he threw one this week that looked like it had been winged by Dick Cheney--but he doesn't throw a lot of interceptions, either. He has a Rich Gannon-like ability to move the offense and his teammates like him. He also meshes well with the strength of team, throwing short intermediate passes to running backs, tight ends and big receivers. Perhaps more to the point, Hill is under contract for next year. Is Hill the quarterback of the future? Probably not. He's a guy who, in scout-speak, has a high floor and a low ceiling, which is another way to describe a reliable backup. Still, Hill has eight games to prove otherwise.
Chance of returning: 84 percent.

J.T. O'Sullivan. If all publicity is good publicity, consider this year a roaring success for O'Sullivan. Sure, at various times this season he led the NFL in interceptions, sacks and fumbles. But he also was an eight-game starter, which is better than most quarterbacks who appear in the NFL. He showed he has excellent command on the field, a good arm, above average accuracy and a surprising degree of escapability. Any team looking to add a quarterback, including the 49ers, will have to consider O'Sullivan a cut above the run-of-the-mill list of backups.

The problem is that O'Sullivan is inextricably tied to Mike Martz. And that's bad for two reasons. For one, many teams will assume that O'Sullivan's eye-catching statistics are due to Martz's system. (If that's true, then so are his turnovers and sacks). Second, there's a good chance Martz won't be back next season. He was Nolan's - not Scot McCloughan's - choice as offensive coordinator and there's a growing sense that his scheme peaked in December 2000 and won't work with the players McCloughan has drafted. O'Sullivan never would have been brought to San Francisco if Martz were not the offensive coordinator. If Martz leaves, it only stands to reason that JTO goes with him.
Chance of returning: 38 percent.

Alex Smith: Ah, saving dessert for last. What to do with Alex Smith? It's clear that Smith, who has had two shoulder surgeries in 11 months, will not get the $10 million he is due to make in 2009. He has not performed at that level and the surgical procedures raise questions. But whether the 49ers cut ties with him altogether is up in the air. After all, what NFL general manger has more faith in Smith than the one who drafted him No. 1 overall in 2005? McCloughan was behind Smith during the two-way three-way quarterback competition in the offseason, but was out-voted by Mike Nolan and Martz. It's not like the market is going to be teeming with star-quality quarterbacks come March. And do the 49ers really want to take another gamble on a first-round draft pick in April?

A lot of it will have to with Smith. Young called him a late bloomer who should have been drafted as such. Which is to say, he would have been infinitely better off having been selected by a team like, say, the Packers, holding a clipboard behind Brett Favre for three seasons and then entering as the heir apparent. That's still possible. Smith is only 24. There is still time to apprentice behind someone like Donovan McNabb or Matt Hasselbeck. It depends on how eager Smith is to start and how much money he wants to make. If the answers to both are "very" and "a lot," he should look for a team with plenty of question marks at quarterback. Hey, you know who fits that description? The 49ers.
Chances of returning: 49 percent.

-- Matt Barrows

November 6, 2008
Battle, Sims, Goldson out for Monday

With a Monday night game following a bye week, the 49ers had as much rest as they possibly could have had. Still, they will have more players out - three - than any game this season. At right tackle Barry Sims will miss the game because of an ankle injury. The hope is that Jonas Jennings will be healthy enough to regain his starting spot. If not, Adam Snyder would play. Chilo Rachal would be an emergency back-up. Jennings and defensive lineman Ray McDonald (knee) will be limited in today's practice.

Arnaz Battle, the team's No. 3 receiver, also is out with a foot injury. It's unclear who will fill in. Battle has more receptions this year than any of the team's wideouts and he has played in 42 consective games dating back to 2005. Who will replace him? The team's top three receivers are Isaac Bruce, Josh Morgan and Bryant Johnson, but Jason Hill normally plays behind Battle.

Also, safety Dashon Goldson will miss his second straight game with a knee injury. Keith Lewis has been filling in in Goldson's absence. The knee injury is not considered long term.

More evidence that there are no long-term issues between Mike Singletary and Vernon Davis; Singletary was asked whether Davis would continue to start at tight end. "Oh, yeah. Heck yeah," the interim coach said with amused bewilderment. "We do want to win."

-- Matt Barrows

November 4, 2008
Rare Tuesday practice yields spirited results

There was a little extra nip in the air and a little extra fight in the 49ers today as the team returned from its bye week. Maybe it was the result of having a few days off. Maybe election day brought some added excitement. Whatever the cause, there was some training camp-esque trash talking, especially after Frank Gore caught a touchdown pass in front of Mark Roman and spiked the ball at the safety's feet. There also was some extra hitting. And there was lots of sweating despite the wind and 50-degree temperatures. Guard David Baas cramped up and rookie Chilo Rachal, who got plenty of work in practice, nearly did the same.

With the 49ers preparing for a Monday night game, they essentially had a free day. And they used it to work off a little steam. "We're not going to get another day like today the rest of the season," coach Mike Singletary said. "How do we get the most out of today? We came out and had an extended walk through and just decided (to go) ones against ones. It worked out well."

Jonas Jennings (shoulder) took part in individual drills for the first time since dislocating his shoulder in Week Two but was held out of the team functions. "I'm alright. Felt pretty good," Jennings said. Adam Snyder was not at practice because he and his wife just had a baby boy

Isaac Bruce, Arnaz Battle and Josh Morgan were all held out of practice. There is no practice Wednesday, but all three are expected to return on Thursday. Delanie Walker was held out of contact drills but said his elbow should be fine by Monday.

The equipment guys must not like new addition Sean Ryan. Why? Because they gave him No. 81, which was cursed by Terrell Owens when he left San Francisco. Just ask Rashaun Woods, Antonio Bryant, Brandon Williams and Cam Colvin ....

-- Matt Barrows

November 3, 2008
Alex Smith had surgery during bye week

Alex Smith had surgery in Birmingham, Ala. on Thursday to remove a small piece of bone from his throwing shoulder that broke just before the start of the regular season. Dr. James Andrews, who operated on Smith's separated shoulder in December, performed the latest procedure. The bone fragment was located at the tip of Smith's coracoid process, which itself is a small bone that is part of the shoulder. Andrews also removed a piece of the wire suture that was inserted during the original operation. The procedure was considered relatively minor and is not expected to affect the mechanics of Smith's right arm. Smith was placed on injured reserve in September.

According to a source with knowledge of the situation, Smith visited Andrews on Wednesday. Images taken of the shoulder showed that the fracture was not healing properly and Andrews decided to perform surgery the next day. Smith flew back to California on Friday.

Smith orginally injured the shoulder on Sept. 30, 2007 when he suffered a Grade 3 separation after being driven into the ground by Seattle defensive tackle Rocky Bernard. The hit stretched and tore the ligaments that connect the shoulder and collarbone. Smith had surgery in December to stabilize the area.

The former No. 1 overall pick in the draft nearly had returned to form when he felt a sharp pain in the shoulder at the end of practice on Sept. 5. An MRI revealed the fracture, which was in the vicinity of a wire suture Andrews had used to stabilize the shoulder. The speculation is that the suture caused tension on the bone whenever Smith threw. Part of that suture was removed Thursday. The rest had been absorbed into the scar tissue.

Smith is scheduled to earn just under $10 million in base salary next season and GM Scot McCloughan said in September that that's too big a price tag for a back-up quarterback. Things have changed since then, however. For one, Mike Nolan - with whom Smith clashed last season - is no longer the head coach. His presence in 2009 certainly would have sent Smith seeking another team next season.

Second, the player who beat out Smith for the starting job, J.T. O'Sullivan, has been demoted. O'Sullivan was the favorite of offensive coordinator Mike Martz, whose high-risk, high-reward offense doesn't seem as appealing as it did in early September. With Shaun Hill at quarterback, the 49ers are turning to a more measured approach on offense during the second half of the season.

-- Matt Barrows

November 3, 2008
Singletary "absolutely not" concerned about owners' reaction

Mike Singletary's message to the rest of the NFL: You're not doing a very good job at making news. During a conference call this afternoon, Singletary was asked what he's learned after two weeks as 49ers head coach. His tongue-in-cheek response: "I guess there's not a whole lot going on elsewhere in the NFL."

Singletary sprung into the national spotlight last week by first ejecting one of his star players from the game and then delivering a booming and unapologetically honest post-game press conference. He again made news a few days later when word leaked out that he had dropped his pants - rest easy, America, he was wearing boxers - during a half-time speech.

It's obvious that Singletary is upset that word leaked out about the half-time pep talk, not so much because he's embarrassed but because the leak undermined the sanctity of his locker room. He said he didn't know whether the leak was merely the result of league gossiping or whether he was the target of, in his words, "sabotaging."

Either way, Singletary insisted he would let the episode go and not waste time smoking out the culprit. "You're never really gonna know why," he said. "... It really doesn't matter because I know the most important thing is not to find that person." Besides, whoever caused the leak won't get away with it.

"Whoever did it ... I'm a firm believer that whatever happens in life ... I feel bad for them because it will always come back on the person that did it," Singletary said.

Singletary said he wasn't worried about the reaction from the team's owners. "I am not. Absolutely am not," he said. "... Any player could tell you the context it happened in."

Singletary said the 49ers signed tight end Sean Ryan today to help Frank Gore. The 49ers are attempting to become more of a "game-management" type team over the last half of the season and will look to control the ball with Gore. Singletary said that offensive coordinator Mike Martz was looking for a physical player who could handle the duties of "tight end-slash-fullback."

Singletary said the only player who looks to be out for Monday's game against Arizona is safety Dashon Goldson. The second-year player's knee injury is not considered season-ending but will require more time to heal. Tackle Jonas Jennings will be back at practice this week but it is yet to be determined whether he's healthy enough to return to the starting lineup, Singletary said.

-- Matt Barrows

November 3, 2008
49ers cut Kirtman, go fullback-less

The 49ers are again without a true fullback today after letting David Kirtman go and signing a tight end, Sean Ryan. The 6-5, 260-pound Ryan has bounced among four teams since being drafted by the Cowboys out of Boston College in the fifth round in 2004. He played in games for both the Dolphins and Saints earlier this year.

Kirtman replaced Zak Keasey on the roster after Keasey was placed on injured reserve with a torn biceps. Kirtman's only action came on special teams last week against Seattle. With Keasey out of the lineup, the 49ers mostly have compensated with two tight-end formations. The teams' original three tight ends, Delanie Walker, Billy Bajema and Vernon Davis, all have lined up in the backfield at times this season. Davis was Frank Gore's lead blocker on a 29-yard run in the second quarter against the Seahawks.

-- Matt Barrows

November 1, 2008
49ers quarterly report, part deux

Special teams: When a team's offense and defense have been as disappointing as the 49ers' have been, stating that they have an excellent special teams is like consoling a lonely friend by telling her she's got a good personality. But in the 49ers' case, it's no hollow compliment.

Joe Nedney is reliable and Andy Lee has been good at getting the team out of poor field position. Both promise to be relied upon more heavily in the manage-the-game type of philosophy the 49ers will utilize over the second half of the season. The coverage units also are good, especially Michael Robinson, who has a unique blend of speed and power, and Jeff Ulbrich, who is the consummate pro.

Return man Allen Rossum hasn't ended up in the end zone like he did last year. But only one other player, Washington's Santana Moss, has a higher punt-return average, and Moss has exactly one return - it happened to be for a TD - on the season. Rossum also has a respectable 26-yards-per-attempt average on kick returns.

The only downside is Rossum's age. He was injured in one game with a groin pull and missed part of another with a hamstring strain. At 33, he seems like another stop-gap solution, just as Michael "Beer Man" Lewis was last year. Why, after four drafts, don't the 49ers have a young, special-teams speedster somewhere on the roster? The answer is part of the team's overall problem - the powers that be seem to have an aversion against playmakers and an over-reliance on low-risk, lunch pail guys. Grade: A

Overall: I recently sat down with Jed York. One of the things that the young owner talked about was how much better Mike Nolan left the team versus how he found it in 2005. Really? Sure, the salary-cap situation is infinitely better than it used to be. But that's due in large part to the Draconian cuts Terry Donahue made late in his tenure as general manager that ultimately cost him his job. The cap also has been managed well by the man every 49ers fan loves to hate, Paraag Marathe.

The attitude in the locker room - what Nolan called "the smell in the room" - also is better. Nolan got rid of several high-profile complainers and malingerers, including Kevan Barlow, Ahmed Plummer and Rashaun Woods. But he hasn't been immune to bringing in high-priced players who never play (Jonas Jennings) and recent national stories have been full of unnamed players sniping about their superiors.

The quarterback situation also is no closer to be solved now than it was prior to 2005, and as stated earlier, the 49ers' still have no defensive identity. They also have said goodbye to two defensive playmakers in Julian Peterson and Andre Carter. Keep those players and suddenly the 49ers have a formidable 4-3 defense.

The bottom line is that the 49ers could be looking for another coach at the end of the season. And even if Mike Singletary somehow salvages the season, his style already seems to be at odds with that of offensive coordinator Mike Martz. There's a very good chance that in 2009 the 49ers will be on their seventh offensive coordinator in seven years. The team can talk about building upon a solid foundation all it wants. The reality is that they'll largely be starting over - again -- next season. Grade: D.

-- Matt 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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