49ers Blog and Q&A

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

December 31, 2008
Singletary season wrap up: Tollner, Nathan also fired

Mike Singletary just wrapped up his year-end press conference. The big topic, of course, was offensive coordinator. Singletary reiterated what he said yesterday - that at the end of the day, his philosophy just didn't mesh with Mike Martz's. He said he wanted an offense that was capable of running the ball when it needed to and capable of taking games over in the fourth quarter. He did reassure, however, that he's not against innovation. "I don't want to make it seem like I'm a three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust guy because I'm not," Singletary said.

Singletary said he had not yet interviewed anyone to succeed Martz. He said that he was busy compiling a list of possible candidates and that general manager Scot McCloughan would conduct the interview process together. Singletary stressed several times that he wanted to hit the ground running once the new season officially begins. Asked about a timetable for selecting a new OC, Singletary said, "yesterday." If you're wondering why no candidates have been mentioned yet in relation to the job, it's because the 49ers don't have a final list.

Singletary also released quarterbacks coach Ted Tollner and running backs coach Tony Nathan yesterday. The new offensive coordinator will have the ability to choose his QBs coach. Offensive assistant Adam Gase, whom Martz brought from Detroit, has been retained. The defensive staff will remain untouched.

Asked about personnel needs going forward, Singletary said the 49ers "definitely need to add another quarterback." He said an offensive tackle, a pass rusher and a safety also are offseason needs. As for Shaun Hill, Singletary reiterated that he wasn't prepared to declare Hill the starter because he did not yet know whom the team will add in the offseason. He said whatever the case, Hill will be asked to compete for the job.

Singletary said he was happy with the power structure the 49ers have in place. "Scot may be young, but I think he's beyond his years in knowing what's going on around this league," he said of general manager Scot McCloughan. Of 27-year-old team president Jed York: "The greatest thing I can about Jed is he's not telling you, 'I know.' He's a guy who is asking questions, and there is wisdom in that."

-- Matt Barrows

December 31, 2008
The rise and fall of Mike Martz

A few more thoughts about Mike Martz ... Over the years Martz has gained a reputation for arrogance, and he certainly hasn't been above sniping about his former teams. When the 49ers chose Mike Singletary, not Martz, to be the interim coach in October, you had to wonder how Martz would react. I believe there was mutual suspicion between the two men at that point. Heck, they'd hardly exchanged five words until then.

When Singletary relayed the story about when he knocked on Martz's office door for the first time, the image that popped in my head was from the Wizard of Oz when the foursome first knocks on the iron door to the Emerald City. I pictured Martz opening a slat and peering out. Who goes there?! What do you want?!

But over the second half of the season, that suspicion changed into respect and genuine warmth. All the talk over clashes between them, I think, is overblown. Martz left the organization yesterday saying all the right things about Singletary. And for that, Mike Martz deserves a lot of credit.

Here's what impressed me most about Martz while he was here. He has the most dense and complicated playbook in the NFL, one that's been described as a never-ending story because he is continually adding to it. And yet, at the start of the season, he had three quarterbacks capable of running it. I remember watching the Redskins-Giants play the first game of the season. At the tail end of the game, it was clear that the 'Skins hadn't yet installed their two-minute offense, and they could concentrate on only one QB. Martz had three and yet was able to install everything by the opening game.

But there were also missteps. I remember talking to Martz about some of his offensive players and hearing him gush about how valuable they'll be in his system. Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker were particularly interesting subjects because Martz had never used the tight end much in his previous offenses. That was the big question about Martz - how he would adjust his downfield offense to fit a unit that had been built to run the ball. Some of you will remember this Martz quote from June OTAs about Walker:

"Wow. That's how I would say it. Wow. He has some real wow factor to him. He is such a professional and he works so hard at it. He's such a stickler for detail. You talk about some jets and some ability to run and eat up the field. Holy cow. I didn't know anything about Delanie until I got here. The last week or two, we put some things in just for him and he just really excelled."

Martz said he had to get Walker the ball because he was so talented, and he said the same thing about Davis. Martz said that Frank Gore would be the clear centerpiece of the offense, just as Marshall Faulk was in St. Louis. In other words, Martz was going to adjust his offense around his personnel, not try to jam them into an already-defined system. Both Walker's and Davis' receptions fell dramatically from even 2007's woebegone offense. Gore, meanwhile, only had three games in which he had 20 or more carries and he averaged the fewest receptions per game since becoming the 49ers' featured back.

If I noticed this, general manager Scot McCloughan certainly did as well. And perhaps this was Martz's greatest error. I was stunned to read in MM's blog yesterday that Martz had hardly ever spoken to either Jed York or McCloughan. These guys are the unquestioned power brokers on the 49ers, as Sunday's post-game press conference showed so clearly. And yet Martz not only never sat down with McCloughan, he committed the ultimate sin: He failed to utilize the players the general manager had drafted at key positions. Martz may have flourished at coordinating an offense, but he failed at inter-office politics.

-- Matt Barrows

December 30, 2008
It's official: 49ers dismiss Martz

Just got word from 49ers spokesman Aaron Salkin that Mike Singletary wrapped up his meeting with offensive coordinator Mike Martz and that Martz has been dismissed.

"After an evaluation period I felt it was best to go in a different direction," Singletary said in a press release "This was not an easy decision because I appreciate Mike Martz, and I enjoyed working with him. He is a true professional, and I wish him the best in the future. I do recognize the need for a long term solution on the offensive side of the ball."

Said Martz in a release: "I had an outstanding conversation with Mike Singletary this afternoon. I believe he will be an outstanding head coach in the National Football League. I wish him nothing but the best. I am not what he is looking for offensively. I understand that. This is just a part of professional sports. "

When you look at the league standings, you start to understand why the 49ers parted ways with Martz. All of the top 5 teams in rushing offense made the playoffs this season. Only two of the top 5 teams in passing offense are postseason-bound, and one of them is the less-than-overwhelming Cardinals. (See: Dec. 21 vs. New England). In fact, the top five rushing teams this season combined for a record of 56-24. The top 5 passing teams were 45-35. The 13-3 Tennessee Titans, owners of the league's best record this season, ranked seventh in rushing and 27th in passing. Martz's 49ers were 13th in passing and 27th in rushing.

When Mike Nolan and Scot McCloughan began assembling the current 49ers in 2005, they set out to build a big, power-running team that would blow defenses off the line of scrimmage. At the time Nolan said that when he was a defensive coordinator he'd always found those types of offenses the most difficult to defend because there was no way to out-scheme your opponent. You knew what was coming but simply couldn't stop it. Nolan seemed to get away from that theory when he hired Martz last year; McCloughan, however, did not. Moreover, he and Singletary see eye to eye in terms of philosophy. Singletary didn't fire because of personal differences but rather because Singletary simply wants to run the ball.

There were two excellent arguments for retaining Martz. The first is continuity. By now, you know that the 49ers will be looking for their seventh offensive coordinator in as many seasons and it's no coincidence that the 49ers have had losing seasons over that span. But who knows how long Martz would have stuck around. He's a former head coach who has made no secret that he wants to become one again, and his name surfaced in relation to the vacant San Diego State job earlier this season. As one blog commenter so eloquently phrased it recently, there was a chance that Martz could have "Turner-ed" the 49ers somewhere down the road.

The second argument is that Singletary appeared to be the one coach who could rein in Martz. Indeed, Martz's offense appeared to become a bit less mistake-prone when Singletary, and by extension, quarterback Shaun Hill, took over. But while Martz tended to run the ball to begin games, his default mode was passing, especially in the fourth quarter. Not counting spikes and kneel downs, Martz called 63 pass plays against 14 running plays in the final quarter in the month of December. In two of those games, of course, the 49ers were playing from behind.

In the end, the trick will be turning theory into reality. An effective offense that's built on passing the ball is far better than a bad rush-first offense (see: Hostler, Jim) as the 49ers painfully found out in 2007. It's not yet known whom the 49ers are interviewing at offensive coordinator. But Martz did his job well this season (32nd to 23rd in total offensse), and whoever succeeds him certainly will be scrutinized because of that.

Top 5 rushing offense
1. Giants 12-4 (NFC East division winner)
2. Falcons 11-5 (NFC Wild Card)
3. Panthers 12-4 (NFC South division winner)
4. Ravens 11-5 (AFC Wild Card)
5. Vikings 10-6 (NFC North division winner)

Top 5 passing offense
1. Saints 8-8 (no playoffs)
2. Cardinals 9-7 (NFC West division winner)
3. Broncos 8-8 (no playoffs)
4. Texans 8-8 (no playoffs)
5. Colts 12-4 (AFC Wild Card)

-- Matt Barrows

December 30, 2008
Report: Martz dismissed ***Updated****

According to Adam Schefter at NFL.com, the 49ers decided not to retain offensive coordinator Mike Martz today. Schefter writes that Martz met with 49ers officials -- presumably Mike Singletary and general manager Scot McCloughan -- at which point it was decided that Martz and the 49ers would part ways. A team spokesman just told me that to his knowledge no decision has been made but that an announcement one way or another would occur at a press conference called for Wednesday at 2 p.m. I have no reason to doubt this report. As I reported last week, when Singletary was asked to lay out his vision for the future, it included a more ball-control, run-ortiented offense than the one Martz runs.

****update**** Stop the presses. MM actually got Martz on the phone a few minutes ago and the offensive coordinator said he hasn't been dismissed. In fact, he hasn't met with Singletary yet, although there is a meeting planned for later today. The soap opera continues ...

-- Matt Barrows

December 29, 2008
With the 10th pick in the 2009 draft ....

Draftniks, start your engines ... The league just released the draft order for April of 2009 and the 49ers are picking 10th, which isn't bad for a team that finished 7-9 and won four of their last five games. After finishing 7-9 in 2006, the 49ers had the 11th pick and ended up taking Patrick Willis. The 49ers barely edged out the Bills for the 10th spot. Both teams finished with the same record, and because they played virtually the same teams this season, had almost the same strength of schedule. The Bills' opponents had a .453 winning percentage; the 49ers' were .447. My ultra-early projection for the 49ers -- Florida receiver Percy Harvin. A creative OC could do wonders with him.

Here are the 49ers' opponents for 2009. (Crossing my fingers that Houston is late in the season while Minnesota and Green Bay are early season).

Home: Arizona, Seattle, St. Louis, Detroit, Chicago, Atlanta, Tennessee and Jacksonville.
Away: Arizona, Seattle, St. Louis, Green Bay, Minnesota, Philadelphia, Indianapolis and Houston.

The 49ers signed the following players to future contracts, which will kick in when the calendar year ends in late February. They are practice squaders WR Mark Bradford, T Joe Toledo, LB Justin Roland and TE J.J. Finley.

-- Matt Barrows

December 29, 2008
Spikes' heart is in San Francisco

Good news on the free-agency front. The one soon-to-be free agent the 49ers absolutely had to have back in 2009 wants to return. Bad. Takeo Spikes, who signed a one-year deal in August, said today that departures are nothing new to him. He's left the Bengals, the Bills and the Eagles in the past. This time? "I would have a regret about leaving this team." Spikes said he feels as if he's in the midst of a building project in San Francisco and wants to be around for its completion. Spikes had an excellent season at a demanding position, and he proved to league observers that, at age 31, a 16-game schedule is not too much for him. In other words, Spikes would get a lot of attention - and a lot of money - if he were to hit the open market. But money, he said, is not his top concern. "To me, right now, winning is important," he said.

The 49ers also need Spikes to return. They've experimented with several youngsters - Dontarrious Thomas, Larry Grant, Ahmad Brooks - at "ted" linebacker, but none has worked out. The only other guy who can be counted on to play there is Jeff Ulbrich, and he's the same age as Spikes. The other benefit is that Spikes is the perfect complement to Patrick Willis both on the field and in the lockerroom. Having Spikes continue to mentor Willis will only make the young linebacker better.

Today is moving day for the players -- the day that they clean out their lockers, meet with coach Mike Singletary (so nice not to have to write "interim") and then get lost until March. Quarterback Shaun Hill was one of the guys we caught up with. Depite his 7-3 record as a starter, neither Singletary nor general manager Scot McCloughan have committed to hi having that job in 2009. "I don't know what to think, to be honest with you. I really don't," Hill said. "... You really never know really what the perception is and all that stuff. And that's not for me to decide at this point. I feel like I defeinitely played hard. Sometimes it wasn't as good as I wanted it to be, but I feel like everyone in this league ... has those moments."

Ask if he thought team officials were keeping him guessing in order to keep him sharp this offseason, Hill said, "I think if you have to use that psychology, you have the wrong person. In order to be a successful player in this league, you have to be pushing constantly anyway. So I hope that's not the perception that there needs to be some sort of psychology because I know I'm the type of guy that no matter what, I'm going to push."

As for the fate of Mike Martz, Hill acknowledged that his relationship with the offensive coordinator was rocky in the beginning. "It's evolved," Hill said with a laugh. "There's definitely been some ups and downs in there, but I feel like certainly a lot better now than it was in training camp. ... Maybe I just had to make a believer out of him. I don't know." As for the possibility of learning yet another offense this offseason, Hill said, "I had to do that plenty of times in my career. Obviously, it's not always ideal, that's for sure. But like I said, we'll roll with the punches, and whatever hapens, happens."

-- Matt Barrows

December 28, 2008
Game ends, Singlary gets four-year extension

Wow. When I learned last week that Mike Singletary would be offered a long-term contract early this week I didn't realize it would be this early. Mere minutes after the 49ers' dramatic 27-24 win today, team employees were handing out single-sheet press releases saying that Singletary would retain his job as head coach. The decision seems to have been made many days ago. After all, how else could you explain why Mrs. Singletary and their seven kids were on hand for the big announcement, for which Singletary ditched his coaching garb and put on a nice suit.
There will be plenty of time later in the week to discuss why Singletary was successful this season, but the root of it is that he is a master psychologist and a master motivator. The 49ers liked Mike Nolan and liked playing for him. They love Mike Singletary and love playing for him.

What of Mike Martz?

Both Singletary and Scot McCloughan were non-committal when asked about Martz's fate. Singletary said the decision on Martz hasn't been made "100 percent." Though Singletary has the power to hire and fire his own assistants, McCloughan said that Singletary has asked for his input on the future of his assistant coaches, including Martz. The two will sit down this week to discuss the topic. Read into it what you want, but if Martz were coming back next season, don't you think he would have received a vote of confidence by now?

Singletary also did not give Shaun Hill a full vote of confidence. Last year, Mike Nolan was quick to say that Hill would get a shot at the starting job in 2008. (Whether he did or didn't is up for debate.) Asked whether Hill would be the starter going into training camp, Singletary said, "Don't know that yet." Hill is 7-3 as the team's starter with two of the losses being narrow defeats in Arizona and Miami. He finished with a 91.7 passer rating today. No, he might not throw the best Hail Mary in the league, but is there a potential free agent out there who's going to come in and give the 49ers a better chance at winning?

-- Matt Barrows

December 28, 2008
49ers-Redskins game-day blog

12:41 p.m.: Jamie Martin, Marcus Hudson, Reggie Smith, Thomas Clayton, Ahmad Brooks, Cody Wallace, Adam Snyder and Sean Ryan are inactive today. The biggest name there is Snyder, who evidently is still dealing with a sprained ankle. Barry Sims will start at right tackle. Brooks' late-season back problems kept him from getting into a game. Clayton -- I guess we'll have to wait until next season to see him. The one that puzzles me a little bit is Ryan, who has been the 49ers' de facto fullback for the last several weeks. Without Ryan, who plays fullback/ Michael Robinson?


- Well, Frank Gore's ankle looks ok. He just ran off right tackle for 7 yards to open the game ...Gore in the Wildcat rushes for 5 yards and first down ... Gore's now on the sideline getting his ankle re-wrapped ... Martz has begun the game with four straight runs ... Beautiful play-action pass to bbajema for 29 yards to the Redskins' 15 ... Gore back in, upended for no gain ... Hill to Hill for short gain, third and 4 ... Hill to Morgan on short crossing route fo eight. First and goal from the three ... Foster sweep with Walker as fullback gains one ... Hill wanted to do shovel pass, keeps it himself for the TD run. Hill then tosses the ball so David Baas can spike it ... 49ers 7, Redskins 0 ... Gore looks fidgety on the 49ers sideline. Obviously, his ankle isn't 100 percent ...

- Skins take over at own 28 ... now third and eight ... Inc. pass to Betts ... PUNT ...

- 49ers take over at own 35 ... Gore is in the offensive huddle ... Gore gains three off right tackle ...Hill on end around gains nine ... Hill short pass to Gore, gain of six ... Foster carries for nine. Ball at the Redskins 38 ... Foster gains five ... Gore gains four, needs three yards to reach 1,000 for the season ... Pass to Bruce on third and one, loss of one ... Bad snap (there's something you never hear in SF) on 48-yard field goal, Nedney's attempt goes wide right ... Redskins take over on 38 ...

- Portis carries, gains four ...Campbell to Thrash for eight and first down ... Pass to Moss, gain of 17 yards ...False start on tackle Jon Jansen ... Pass to Randle El, gain of four ... Portis gains five ... Third and six from the 29 ... Campbell scrambles for nine ... First down at the 20 ... Portis gains four yards ... Portis up middle for seven yards to the 49ers' nine-yard line ... END OF 1st Q


- Portis gains five yards, then four yards for touchdown ... Very remeniscent of 2005 game when portis scored three times from close range ... 49ers 7, Redskins 7

- Gore runs for three yards, goes over 1,000 for the season, becomes first 49ers rusher to go over 1,000 in three consecutive seasons ... Hill picked off by Carlos Rogers, who returns the ball 31 yards to the 49ers' 23 ... Manny Lawson nearly returns the favor but drops an easy pick meant for Moss ...

-- Redskins goe three and out, bringing up a 41-yard field goal that's good. 49ers 7, Redskins 10 .. - BTW, Cleveland's D'Qwell Jackson had 13 tackles today against Pittsburgh, leaving him with 154 on the season. He will be hard to catch ...

- Hill and Gore don't connect on handoff, lose nine yards ...Gore gets eight yards back ... Third and 11 from the 49ers' 27 ... Hill scrambles, forced out of bounds after a seven-yard gain ... PUNT

- Haralson hits Portis for four-yard loss ...Betts gains six ... Third and eight ... 49ers blitz but don't get to campbell in time; hits Moss for 15 yards ... Pass to Randle El gains six, brings up third and two ... timeout Washington. Lewis sacks Campbell, but Spikes flagged for holding ... Lewis injures left knee on the play ... With the help of two trainers, Lewis slowly walks off the field ... Portis gains five on 1st down ... Portis gains four ... Portis carries, hit by Spikes immediately ... Fourth and inches ...Portis gains the first off left guard ...(Lewis walking under own power into locker room) ... Campell inc. to Moss ... Short pass to Moss brings up third and five ... Lawson seems to have a right knee/calf issue ... on third down, well-designed screen to Cooley picks up 12 ... Redskins ball at the Niners' 19 ... 2 min. warning ... Trainers are stretching Lawson's right leg; seems to be a hamstring issue ... Portis carries, gain of three ... Portis gains five ... Third and two ... Mark Roman has an open shot on Campbell but the QB escapes and gains first down to the 6; now Roman seems to be hurt ... Keith Lewis and Dashon Goldson are now the team's safeties ... Pass to Randle El gains exactly six for the TD ... Play is under review ... Reskins 17, 49ers 7 ... Lawson running into locker room ...

- Hill badly misfires on first down; connects with Jason Hill on second; cannot connect on third ... end of half ...

BTW, the 49ers' 2009 opponents are all but set. If the Eagles beat the Cowboys, the 49ers are heading to Philly; If the Cowboys come back, they're heading to Dallas. Otherwise, the home games are against the Falcons, Lions, Bears, Jaguars, Titans Cardinals, Rams and Seahawks. The away games are against the Vikings, Packers, Colts, Texans, Rams, Cardinals, Seahawks and Eagles/Cowboys.


- Portis fumbles; Spikes recovers at the Washington 38 ... Gore off left tackle for eight yards on first down .... Wildcat -- Robinson takes snap, hands off to Gore, who gains 11 and then limps off the field ... Foster breaks an 18-yard run to the 1-yard line ... Foster stopped on 1st and goal ... Foster goes left again for TD, gives ball to Chilo Rachal, who pulled on the play, to spike ... 49ers 14, Redskins 17 ...

- Campbell sacked on first down by Justin Smith, his sixth of the season; loss of 13 ... Pass to Cooley picks up five ... Third and 18 ... Pass to Betts picks up eight ... PUNT ... Roman is back in at safety for the 49ers ...

- Nice defensive play by Goldson on third down to force another Redskins PUNT ... bad punt, but it takes a favorable bounce and rolls to the 18 ...

- The 49ers give up their 55th sack of the season -- Andre Carter got it -- tying the franchise record they established last season. Bad day for safeties -- Redskins rookie Chris Horton was shaken up on the play. Gore stopped for no gain on third down ... Now fourth and inches ... 49ers to punt, drawing boos ... Fair catch at the 11 ...

- Portis runs for six ...Portis for one ... Third and three ... Redskins don't get first down, but Haralson offsides ... 49ers losing the penalty battle, something they have not done under Singletary ... Lawson's back in the game but still seems to be affected by his hamstring ...Third and 10 fom the Redskins 34 ... Campbell hits Cooley for first down ... Redskins driving at 49ers' 48 ...Moss drops third-down pass, PUNT

4th Q

- Hill to Foster gains 12 yards to the Redskins 44-yard line ... Hill lofts a sideline pass to Robinson, who catches it over the linebacker for, appropriately, 24 yards ... First-down pass in corner of the end zone to Bryant Johnson is knocked away by Shawn Springs ... Pass to Bruce gains nine yards, bringing up third and one from the 11 ... Call goes to Robinson, who plows ahead for two yards ... Pass to Hill, who whips around and reaches for the pilon for the touchdown. Hill has shown excellent quickness upon receiving the ball in recent weeks ... Eight plays, 80 yards, 4:11 ... 49ers 21, Redskins 17

- Portis loses one (Clements) on first down ... Campbell to Cooly for nine yards ... Third and two ...Justin Smith breaks through offensive line to nail Portis for a loss of one ... PUNT ... Rossum has an excellent return, 35 yards, to the 50 ...

- Hill pass over the middle to Morgan for a gain of 26 yards ... Pass to Davis for short gain, he fumbles, but recovers. ... Pass to Foster on third down gains three, bringing up 33-yard attempt by Joe Nedney, which is good ... 49ers 24, Redskins 17

- Justin Smith has another big play, knocking down Campbell's pass on first down ... Randle El has a step on Clements but Campbell overthrows him ... 2nd and 10 with 4:09 remaining, pass complete to Moss for 12 to the 49ers' 31 ... Portis carries for three ...false start on LT Stephon Heyer ... second and 12 w/ 3 min. to go ... Campbell pups, finds wide open field, runs 23 yards to the 10 ... Portis runs right, gains 1 yard ... 2min. warning ...Portis carries for two ... Short pass to cooley to the three yard line ... Redskins call timeout, their first, on fourth and goal with 1:15 remaining ... In other words, big play ...Campbell finds more room up the middle, scores a TD ... Redskins to attempt extra point, is good ... 24-24 with 69 seconds remaining ... Redskins went 10 plays, 55 yards, 3:57 ...

- With 1:02 left, Hill throws ball away on first down, connects with Hill for 9 yards to the SF 37 on second down. 49ers use second timeout with 46 seconds left ...Joe "Mustache" Nedney warming up on the sideline ... Pass to Robinson for 19 yards to the Washington 45; Hill spikes it on first down with 31 ticks left ... Great pass over the middle to Johnson for 24 yards to the Washington 21. Hill spikes it with 13 seconds ...Hill kneels, calls timeout with 3 seconds left ... Nedney will attempt a 40 yarder to win the game ... Remember, Nedney missed earlier in the game b/c of a bad snap ... Redskins call timeout ... Kick is GOOD!

December 28, 2008
New face: Jed York named 49ers president

There's been a change - sort of - at the top. Jed York has been named the 49ers' team president, meaning that he will oversee the day-to-day operations of the team in all aspects. On the field a few minutes ago, York downplayed the move, saying the new title "is formalizing his role more than changing it." Indeed, the younger York has been in charge of the day-to-day running of the team for the better part of the year. York was the one, in fact, who carried out the firing of Mike Nolan earlier this year. The new title merely is more evidence that Jed York, not his father, John, is the face of the organization. The title of president also creates a more formal corporate structure. Reporting to Jed York will be general manager Scot McCloughan, COO Andy Dolich, and CFO Larry MacNeil.

"We are excited about the future of the 49ers in Jed's hands" John York said in a press release. Since he joined the organization in 2005, Jed York has had a number of roles, most recently vice president of strategic planning. "It was important that Jed learn every aspect of the 49ers and grow into this leadership role" said his mother, Denise DeBartolo York in the same release. The elder Yorks are officially the co-chairmen of the 49ers.

Jed York did not give any details as far as Mike Singletary's future with the team, saying that he and the 49ers were concentrating on today's game. Asked about how Singletary's performed this season, York said, "awesome. Very fired up." At Singletary's introductory press conference in October, York said that Singletary "out-intensity-ed" other coaches. "I think last week (against the Rams) was a good example of that," York said today.

-- Matt Barrows

December 27, 2008
49ers start, end season on healthy note

One of Mike Nolan's best legacies will be on display tomorrow when the 49ers finish out their season against the Redskins. Nolan, you see, hated injuries, and when he arrived in 2005, he first reshuffled the weight-and-conditioning program and then the training staff in order to minimize the sprains, pulls, tweaks and tears that can demoralize a team. With two major exceptions - tackle Jonas Jennings and quarterback Alex Smith - Nolan can claim mission accomplished. (That's probably a poor choice of phrase). The 49ers began the season with four players listed as probable on the injury report. They'll end it with six players listed as probable on the injury report. Sure, some key players have missed time along the way while others are on injured reserve, but compared to other teams (See: 2007 Rams, 2008 Seahawks) the 49ers by and large have been a resilient bunch in recent years.

Speaking of injuries, it seems that it's almost a given that rookie receivers miss time during the season. Just when it appeared he was ready to break out this season, Josh Morgan went down with a groin strain that is still bothering him. Rookies simply aren't accustomed to the amount of running they have to do on the NFL. Jason Hill, Rashaun Woods, Derrick Hamilton, Arnaz Battle -- all of them struggled with injuries their rookie season. About the only rookie receiver I've covered who hasn't had a problem - Brandon Lloyd. Go figure.

Congratulations to center Eric Heitmann, who won the local beatwriters' Garry Niver Award. Heitmann is smart, approachable and thoughtful, and that's pretty much the essence of the award. Savvy veteran Takeo Spikes and Vernon Davis, who to his credit did not shy away from controversial subjects this season, also were in the running.

-- Matt Barrows

December 24, 2008
Singletary sidesteps questions about future, Martz

Mike Singletary just held his Wednesday press event. I asked about the meeting he had earlier this week, and predictably, he didn't want to talk about that, saying that doing so would disrupt the focus on Sunday's game against the Redskins. He also was asked about offensive coordinator Mike Martz, to which he gave an intersting response. See for yourself:

Positive meeting Monday? Did you come away with a good feeling?
"I will just say this: I think for me, right now, I don't interpret anything. 'Wow! This is really good or this is really bad.' I think the most important things is that I continue to stay focused and the team continues to stay focused on Sunday's game. When all is said and done, then sit back and look at how positive things are, directions or whatever. We can fully pay attention to it then and direct all your energies in that direction."

How has the experience been working with Mike Martz? Do you see him as your offensive coordinator for next year?
"I would say this: I think Mike Martz has been great this season. I think everything I've asked him to do, he made every attempt, I think, to do the things that he needs to do. Going forward, I just feel that after the season that we have to sit down - as well as myself, everybody - and try and look at what gives us the best opportunity to move going forward."

Is this the best offense you've seen since you've been in San Francisco?
"I will say this: I think a couple of years ago, we had Norv Turner. I thought Norv ended on a good note. I just think that for us right now as a team, defensively, offensively or special teams, it's just one of those things that we strive to keep the team together, keep the team focuses. I think there's a lot that goes into it. I think guys maturing, guys taking a step up, guys taking ownership. So there's a lot of things that go into it. So, it will be interesting to see what happens when it's all said and done and we can talk about it further then."

-- Matt Barrows

December 24, 2008
Singletary wows team officials in meeting; wanted for 2009

It's not official yet. But it's getting pretty darn close. Barring some unforeseen event, Mike Singletary will be the 49ers head coach in 2009, perhaps as soon as the Monday after the team's finale against the Redskins, according to a source close to the situation. When team officials, including owner Jed York, made Singletary the 49ers' interim coach in late October, they told him that the team would have to show progress in order for him to keep his job. They have done just that, going 4-4 under Singletary. But Singletary sealed the deal - or came tantalizingly close to doing so - on Monday when he met with team officials and laid out his plan for the future, including both offense and defense. Singletary's vision had been the one remaining question in the minds of team officials.

Under Singletary, defensive coordinator Greg Manusky would be retained. Offensive coordinator Mike Martz, however, would not. With Martz directing the offense, the 49ers have climbed from dead last in the league in total offense to 24th this season. But Martz's pass-first mentality, on display in recent games against Miami and St. Louis, clashes with Singletary's ball-control philosophy. It also seems to be at odds with the type of players the 49ers have drafted on offense in recent years. Singletary not only discussed his offensive philosophy in the Monday meeting, he cited several candidates to take over at offensive coordinator next season. Those names are not yet known, although they are believed to include both current head coaches and assistants. The 49ers' biggest concern is for offensive continuity over the next several seasons.

The 49ers are prevented from signing Singletary to an extension during the season. However, they are prepared to move quickly as soon as Sunday's game against the Redskins is over. About the only thing that could prevent Singletary's hiring at this point would be if there were a string of firings around the league and Singletary became a hot candidate. The 49ers apparently are prepared to move quickly to prevent that.

-- Matt Barrows

December 23, 2008
49ers free-agent crystal ball

The free-agent market is like a mirage - the closer you get, the more quickly it evaporates. All those big-name players on the list right now? Over the next two months, most will sign long-terms deals with, or get franchised by, their current employers. The 49er are a little different. None of their potential free agents is a big name, and the team seems content to let most of them test their worth on the open market. They are:

Tight end Billy Bajema - This is a common theme for the 49ers this free-agency period - they like Bajema, but they will not break the bank for him. Bajema is a tough blocker and he never gets injured, which is an under appreciated trait in the NFL. But he's caught exactly one pass in the last three seasons, and a pure-blocking tight end doesn't fetch much on the open market.

Defensive lineman Ronald Fields - Look for the defensive lineman to hit the open market where he'll have value as both a 4-3 tackle and a 3-4 nose guard. (You're welcome, Drew Rosenhaus) The 49ers are fond of Fields, and he's very popular in the locker room. But they have several players who are of the same caliber and won't get into a bidding war with a defensive-tackle desperate team.

Running back DeShaun Foster -The seven-year veteran has played well in Frank Gore's place late in the season. However, the 49ers want to inject youth into the position. They'll certainly take a look at re-signing Foster if the youth movement fails to materialize. But they won't be in a rush to re-sign him come late February.

Linebacker Roderick Green - He'll likely be in camp again, but the 49ers feel confident they can release and re-sign him with no risk that he'll be picked up by another squad. That is, Green is expendable, and the 49ers certainly could stand to add another pass rusher in free agency or the draft.

Receiver Bryant Johnson - This was supposed to be Johnson's grand audition. Instead he's never become a big part of the offense, mainly because of a nagging hamstring injury and because of the potential of rookie Josh Morgan. Johnson is another guy the 49ers will take back if he comes cheap. But he would have to come back knowing he'd be behind both Morgan and Jason Hill in the pecking order, and Johnson will likely find better opportunities elsewhere.

Quarterback J.T. O'Sullivan - O'Sullivan's future in San Francisco depends on whether Mike Martz stays put. The offensive coordinator not only brought him to the 49ers but also gave him his starring role. O'Sullivan certainly showed he had more than a few qualities. But if Martz leaves - and, by the way, it's looking likely that he will -- the powers that be would prefer Alex Smith in the no. 2 role and a rookie as No. 3.

Fullback Zak Keasey - Keasey is another Martz-specific player. If Martz goes, the 49ers will bring in a Moran Norris-type thumper to be Frank Gore's lead blocker. Still, Keasey has excellent value as a special teams player. Unless Martz goes to another team and snags Keasey, Keasey at least will have the opportunity to keep his job next summer.

Returner Allen Rossum - Here's another player the 49ers say they'd like to have back but don't really need next season. That, however, is likely a bit of posturing. Special teams coach Al Everest loves Rossum, and why not? He is sure-handed and is a threat to break both punt and kickoff returns. The only drawback to Rossum is his age, 33, and the fact that he's been nicked up despite not being a full-time player at any other position. The 49ers certainly could make Rossum obsolete through the draft (See: Harvin, Percy) but that would be a long shot.

Linebacker Takeo Spikes - Spikes is almost a must-have. First of all, the 49ers have failed to develop any young players at "Ted" linebacker despite their best efforts. Dontarrious Thomas, Larry Grant and Ahmad Brooks all were given a tryout there, but none worked. Secondly, Spikes has been a better and more durable player than the 49ers predicted. He's also an excellent addition to the locker room and a perfect compliment to Patrick Willis. Being the savvy veteran that he is, Spikes will likely take a while to decide whether he'll play in 2009. Look for him to copy what he did this season by waiting until mid August or later to make a decision. As far as the 49ers are concerned, Spikes is holding all the cards.

Cornerback Donald Strickland - The 49ers love Strickland's toughness and intelligence, and he played well in a pinch against the Jets this season. Tarell Brown is definitely the team's best young cornerback and the 49ers need to groom third-round pick Reggie Smith, who got almost zero on-the-job training this season. But you can never be too thin, too rich or have too many cornerbacks. Other teams know that, too. The question is whether Strickland's audition tape is good enough to spark a feeding frenzy for him. The 49ers will not attempt to re-sign him before free agency begins.

-- Matt Barrows

December 22, 2008
Niners have a case of the 'Moustache Mondays.'

It was like an episode of "Starsky and Hutch" in the 49ers locker room today. As an homage to the 49ers of yesteryear - think: Randy Cross, Keith Fahnhorst, John Ayers and the like - the 49ers players have instituted "Moustache Monday." Shaun Hill, the unofficial spokesman for "Moustache Monday," noted that the 49ers also would be wearing their throwback jerseys in Sunday's finale against the Redskins. So why not have throwback upper lips as well, right?

Hill, it must be pointed out, has the Fredo Corleone-style moustache. (see: below). The most Ron Bergundy-esque so far are center Eric Heitmann and kicker Joe Nedney. "He looks like a garage-door broom with the bristles sticking out of his face," Hill said of Nedney. And while it might sound like fun and games, the endeavor seems like a good team-building concept, which is exactly what Mike Singletary's been pushing for since he took over. Speaking of Singletary, what are the chances he resurrects his 1985 Super Bowl Shuffle 'stache? "I'd like to see him bring it back," Hill said. "I don't know. We'll see...

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No new injury information today. Both Michael Lewis (stinger) and Parys Haralson (ankle) were nicked, but both should be okay for the finale. The big injury continues to be Frank Gore's left ankle. I watched Gore through the binocs for a good half hour while he warmed up before Sunday's game. Gore never made any football moves - cuts, etc. - but he jogged up and down the field. I'd be very surprised if he doesn't play against Washington. First, he badly wants to reach the 1,000-yard milestone. Second, he wants to have more yards in the game than fellow former Hurricane Clinton Portis. It's a Miami thing; you wouldn't understand.

A couple of notes from Sunday's game ...

Hill was sacked four times yesterday, bringing the season total to 54. Last year, the 49ers set a season record with 55. The good news is that the Redskins have only 23 sacks on the season, 26th best in the league.

When I was on the radio last week I noted that neither Lewis nor Mark Roman had produced a turnover this year. While that's technically true, I would be remise if I didn't point out that Roman recovered a fumble this season ...

So, how about that Ahmad Brooks experiment? Singletary has insisted for the last eight weeks that he will get Brooks into a game some time this season. The last chance comes Sunday, ironically against the Redkins. Brooks' father, Perry, played for Washington from 1978-1984.

-- Matt Barrows

December 21, 2008
49ers-Rams game-day blog; Gore won't go

9:44 a.m. -- Just took a short walk to the stadium in bitterly cold, and virtually abandoned, St. Louis. Temperature: 8 degrees (Feels like minus-6). I lived, but the really important thing is that my computer made the trip OK.

10:02: Frank Gore and strength and conditioning coach Duane Carlisle are testing his ankle. No decision has been made yet on Gore's availibility, though the chances seem slim.

10:24: Gore and Carlisle now doing some light jogging from one end of the field to the other.

10:41: Gore and Carlisle have been chit chatting in the end zone for the last 15 minutes. Gore seems happy. But he has yet to test the ankle with any football moves .... Gore now signing autographs in the end-zone stands.

10:49: Gore won't play. The other inactives are 3rd QB Jamie Martin, CB Marcus Hudson, CB Reggie Smith, RB Thomas Clayton, LB Ahmad Brooks, C Cody Wallace and T Jacob Bender. Who's the third-string RB? My guess is Delanie Walker ...

11:24: Here are the inactives for STL:
3rd QB Brock Berlin
RB Antonio Pitmann
CB Quincy Butler
S Eric Roach
G Roy Schuening
T Anthony Davis
DT Antwon Burton

DE Victor Adeyanju will replace Loenard Little at DE; Adam Carriker will replace La'Roi Glover at DT; Chris Draft replaces Will Witherspoon at MLB.

... For the 49ers, Barry Sims will start at RT, but Adam Snyder will be active for the game.

11:41: Time to move back to L.A. It's 19 minutes to kickoff, and I'm conservatively estimating there are 7,000 fannies in the seats here...


- Mark Roman has his first INT in two years!! ... Well, if it weren't for Aubrayo Franklin's off-sides penalty. Rams marching. ... Keenan Burton upended by Walt Harris on an end around ...Not a lot of Manny Lawson early because the 49ers are playing a lot of, gulp, big nickel ...Speak of the devil, Lawson has a nice hit on Jackson, setting up 3rd and five ... Pass inc. to S. Jackson, PUNT and Rossum is back ...

- SF takes over at 21. Two runs go nowhere ... Third-down pass to Bruce broken up. ... Booming Andy Lee PUNT and Jeff Ulbrich makes his second special teams tackle at Rams 34 ...

-- Two Jackson runs gain a first down. ... Short pass to Avery, inc. to Avery bring up third and seven ...Pass to Klopfenstein gains six ... Rams going for it on fourth and one ...Get it easily with Jackson run ...Kenneth Darby gets knocked down by the ref on second down, gets decleated by P. Willy on third. But the Rams go for it on fourth and three ... Deep end-zone pass knocked down by Harris; Niners take over at own 36 ...

- Hill to B.Johnson on first down gains 9 yards ...Wildcat by M.Robinson gains two and first down ...BRUUUUUUCE gets nice gain of 21, meaning he's 39 yards from Tim Brown ...Third down; Bruce on sideline with equipment malfunction; Hill's deep pass to V. Davis slips through tight end's mits ... Nedney nails a 48 yarder to give SF 3-0 lead ...

- Illegal-block-in-the back penalty gaves STL 1st and 20 and their own 30 ...They get 18 of that on a pass to Torry Holt ...


- 1st and 10 at SF 49, Bulger hits Holt to the 33 ...Bulger to Darby picks up eight yards; S. jackson carries for one, making it 3rd and 1 1/2 from the 25 ...Bulger misses Jackson on swing pass (good coverage by Parys Haralson) ... Rams hit 43-yarder: SF 3, STL 3.

- Rossum evidently is handling ko returns, too. He darts to the 29 ...Two Foster runs bring a first down ...Huge run down right sidelines by Hill, who picks up 24 ... Dump off to Davis, nice gain but fumbles and Rams recover ... Looks like it might be challenged but it's not ...

- Rams take over at own 18 ... 3rd and three at own 25, pass dropped by Avery ... PUNT ... 49ers take over at own 40 after weak punt ...49ers give it right back when Hill underthrows Davis and it's picked off by Atogwe at the 18 ... 49ers not obeying first tenet of Mike Singletary's credo: total ball security ...

- Now 3rd and 3 at STL 25 ... After false start, now third and eight ....Pass to Burton skips off the turf and draws boos from the crowd ...Huge PUNT that Rossum nearly breaks, but he's tripped up by Darby ...

- Foster doesn't do a very good job picking up blitzing DB Fakhir Brown, who knocks ball out of Hill's grasp. On third and 13, Hill hits Foster, but it gains only six ..PUNT goes for a touchback ... 49ers nearly turn ball over on third straight possession ...

- Bulger to Avery for an 18-yard gain to the 49ers' 45 yard line ... Rams driving ...Wildcat to Jackson picks up 12 to the 33. Jackson already has 71 yards ...2 min. warning ...Darby to the 30 ...Pass to Holt inc. 3rd and 7 at the 30 with 1:19 ... Bulger to Burton for touchdown; Did 49ers' dbs even see the ball? Seems like Harris and Michael Lewis might have been confused as to who had coverage ... 1:12 left in half ...

- Rossum returns to the 32, 1:05 left, 49ers have all three timeouts ...Hill rushed on first down, pass inc. ...7-yard pass to Morgan, his first since Nov. 10; 49ers use first timeout... Hill hits Jason Hill for first down at own 45 yard line; 2nd timeout ... Hill's pass downfield sails, INT by Ron Bartell. ... Singletary chews out Hill on the sideline ...

-- Bulger throws screen that picks up 16; Rams ball at own 47 with: 28 ... McDonald goes offsides for second time in game ...Singletary very worked up on sideline ... Another big screen to Darby goes 25 yards to the SF 23 ...Bulger has all day but only completes short pass to Darby to the 20; Rams take final t.o. with :10, send in field goal unit ...38 yarder = 13-3 Rams ... Singletary still talking (forecfully) to Hill ...

Notes: Well, if ever the 49ers needed a prime motivator, it's now. They're playing flat, making mistakes and turning the ball over. It will be interesting to see if Singletary can work any second-half magic.

Here are some key stats from the 1st half:

49ers have three turnovers; St. Louis has none
The 49ers have eight rushing attempts; STL has 19
Hill has thrown to Isaac Bruce three times; connecting once for 21 yards
Hill has a passer rating of 22.8; Marc Bulger's is 93.9

3rd Q

- After two Foster runs go nowhere, it's 3rd and three ... Hill's pass to Johnson nearly picked off by linebacker Witherspoon... PUNT ... Ball downed at STL 7-yard line ...

- Jackson loses two yards on first down (Lewis) ...Pass to Jackson disrupted by Lawson who upends Jackson as the ball arrives ... Third and 12 draw play to Jackson gains seven ... PUNT, a good one (66 yards) backs Rossum up and he's only able to get back to the 37 ...

-- Hill misses Bruce for third time today ... 2nd and 10 ...Another shoddy job of blitz pickup by Foster leaves Hill sacked ... 3rd and 17 ... Hill sacked again, this time by Little ...PUNT ... Line-drive punt and excellent tackle by Zeigler at the STL 27

- Wildcat end around, Looker throws to Bulger for six yrads ...Long gain to Jackson coming back for holding on Richie Incognito (I'm surprised they saw it) ...Draw to Darby picks up six, bringing up third and eight ...Sack by Takeo Spikes and Harris forces PUNT ...Another huge punt by Donnie Jones ... This is becoming a punt battle ...49ers need a spark ...

- Foster carries for three on first down to the 31 ... Long pass to Bryant Johnson gains 21, holding on defense declined ... Hill to Hill loses a yard ... Nice run by Foster gains nine, brings up third and 2 from the STL 40 ...Draw to Foster fails, loses one ... 4th and three ... Hill finds a seam, rushes for five ... First down at the 35 ....Hill picked off again on quick route to Hill, again by Bartell ... Can't tell whether Singletary just yanked Hill from the game; JTO got up off the bench, took a practice thrown, but is now sitting again with a ball cap ...

-- Pass interfernce on Nate Clements gives rams first down at the SF 41 ... Wildcat, Jackson runs for six yards ...Clements gets caught blitzing; Bulger completes to Holt to the SF 16 .... End of 3rd Q

4th Q

- STL at the SF 9 ... 3rd and three, draw to Jackson gets first down at the six yard line ....Jackson loses three yards, Lewis injured on the tackle ... Lewis walks off under own power; Goldson in to replace him ...Jackson run out of bounds by P.Willis ... third and goal from the 7 ...49ers tackle Bulger on sneak at the 4, brings up short field goal attempt; 22 yarder is good ... 16-3

- Foster gains six on 1st down ...Hill rushed, isn't on same page as Davis ... Hill inc. to Hill on third down, PUNT with 10:55 left to play ...

-- Haralson sacks Bulger for an eight-yard loss, Haralson's eighth sack on the season ...Jackson loses ball on next play but knee was down ...Singletary challenges ...Ruling on the field stands ...third and 13 ...Bulger inc. to Holt ... PUNT

-- Niners have 7 min to pull something out of this mess... Hill to Bruce for 12 yards (He's now 27 off pace) ...Hill dumps to Foster, gain of 11 ... Hill in. to Foster, 2nd down, Hill to Bruce gains six yards ... third and four, Hill runs up the middle, gains 17 yards ... Pass to Jason Hill in the endzone, he was wide open, hung up, and is nearly INT'd ... Hill to Johnson INC., third and 10 from the 34 .... Neutral-zone infraction makes it 3rd and five ...SF burns second timeout ... Pass to B. Johnson gains 20 to the STL 15 ... 4:20 to play ... Pass to Bruce gains four ... Hill to Bruce to the 3, gain of seven ... First and goal from the three, Hill hits Bruce for TD; Chant of BRUUUUCE fills arena; That was Bruce's 1,000th career catch; He's seven yards from passing Tim Brown ... STL 16, SF 10 with 4:03 ...

-- Wildcat, this time (finally) the 49ers aren't hesitant. Gain of three ...Lewis tackles Jackson after gain of one ... third and six from the 24, Bulger to Holt, but Clements knocks it down w/ 2:34 ... 49ers have one timeout and 2-minute warning ... Make-or-break drive will begin from their own 33 ...

- Hill has nothing on first, sacked, loses seven yards ... Clock goes to the 2 min. warning ... 49ers again seem to have problems getting set ... Another neutral-zone infraction on STL makes it second and 12 from the 31 ...Hill to Bruce for eight (second place) ... Hill to Johnson, gains 15 to the rams 48 ... Hill lofts down near sideline 48 yards to Morgan for the TD ... 49ers 17, Rams 16... Morgan took the ball from the Rams' Atogwe, who was covering Jason Hill on the play ... The question now, with 1:22, is whether, the 49ers scored too quickly ... Rams have three timeouts ...

-- Rams take over at own 26 ...Bulger to Avery gains 11 ... Play reviewed, shouldn't clock be going? ...Bulger sacked by Smith, loss of five, STL takes first timeout ...Bulger to Holt, Willis chases him down, gain of six ...Bulger pass to Jackson inc., 4th and nine ... Deep pass to Avery tipped by Harris but caught by Avery, who gets two toes in, for first down ... 25 seconds left, ball on SF 45 ... Draw to Jackson loses three, STL uses second timeout with :22 ...
Pass to Avery picked off by Tarell Brown who wisely kneels and is touched down. GAME OVER.

December 20, 2008
Martz on Bruce, Staley, Hill, communication snafus

About to jet off to scary-cold St. Louis (high of 17 degrees Sunday) and I remembered I had promised to post the Mike Martz transcript from earlier this week. Here are the salient remarks. Have at it .... Also, you'll notice that after a months-long hiatus, the Q&A portion of the blog is back. So ask away ...

RE: Shaun Hill was talking about Isaac Bruce's suddenness, the way he changes speeds. Is that sort of the key to his success, what keeps cornerbacks from being able to keep up with him?

"I think that suddenness...I think there are guys that have that, but he absolutely has such a great feel for how and when to use that. He understands his position so well and has such a great library of information, if you will on how to deal with every kind of corner play there is and how to change your speed, when to come out of things, burst, all that stuff, but certainly that's a real asset of his and I think that's something that quarterback, when they first throw the ball to them, gradually get used to because he is out of it so fast it kind of shocks them a little bit."

RE: He seems to have a special knack with the out patterns, the ones on the sideline with the tippy toe and just get the first down. What is it about him, just being a professional that he can make those plays look so effortless?

"I think that his...He's always so aware of everything that's happening around him where he is, the relationship of his body on the sideline. The suddenness that got him out the cut to beat the corner. All those things come into play. He's just so aware of everything. He's the most aware player I've ever been around. He sees everything, the whole picture, the defense, everything, it's amazing when you talk to him, what he sees."

RE: Has he always been like that or was that something that he...

"No, he's been like that since he was a rookie. He's always had such a great understanding and a feel for playing this game at the position particularly."

RE: Another position, coming off the type of game that Joe Staley had last Sunday in Miami going against [Joey] Porter. Is that something that you look at...

"Joe is very young, this is his first shot at left tackle. Our expectations for him and the standard we have for him is awfully high and he reached that standard or approached our expectations of what we think he's capable of in that game. The bad news is we expect him to be like that every week. Good news, or bad news, however you want to look at it. Tease Joe a little bit about it but that's who Joe is, that's ascending like that, that's pretty exciting to see him move up like he's doing. It allows us to do things and helps us immensely offensively when a guy can do that and play like that on the left side."

RE: And that was the first time that he's reached that level?

"Well that was an outstanding performance, he's played really well all year, but that game was a real high standard for him to hold himself to."

RE: DeShaun Foster had some big shoes to fill last week, what did you think of his performance?

"I thought he was outstanding. I wish we could have gotten him the ball a little bit more, but I thought he was outstanding. He had some runs in there where he just moved the whole pile, pushed it real well. I am very pleased with DeShaun, he did a nice job on checkdowns, showing up for the quarterback. He had a real early one that was very critical. He did a nice job in blitz pickup, I thought he was outstanding in the game, he really was."

RE: I'm sure the score had something to do with it, but you ended the game with 21 straight passes and a spike. What happened out there that made you have to stick to the passing game?

"I wasn't even aware of that. Now you see, we're in two 2-minute drills which however many plays that is two 2-minute drills we're going to gobble up a lot of that and than prior to that a lot of it has to do with defensively what they're doing and the best way to move the ball. If there are too many guys down inside there then you got to change gears a little bit and you don't worry about the ratios at that point. You try to push that ball down the field and get in scoring position. That's what happened and we were moving the ball very effectively moving the ball and we just kept getting those first downs. The one-on-one matchups, the guys kept winning and they did a great job of it so we've tried to stay with it a little bit and once we got down there we kind of didn't do as well as we probably could have and missed a chance to win it."

RE: The communication problems at the end of the game is that something that you've ever experienced...

"Yeah I know, it happens all of the time. It's frustrating you'd like to have the formations set a different way and [Quarterback Shaun Hill] can't hear it but the success of the play we still have a chance to play so it happens. It does happen particularly in Seattle obviously when it gets so loud that t it just absolutely just shuts off. It was awfully loud down there in the red zone at the end of the game and he was getting bits and pieces of the play. You just do the best that you can."

RE: The headphone issues are not specific to 2008? Has that's happened to you in the past?

"No, here it's a little different in our stadium than up in Seattle because there's interference and then, the way I understood it in Seattle, the noise gets to such a level when it actually shuts down which is unique to that place. Sometimes just the clarity of it you just don't quite get it. That's happened quite a bit in other places."

RE: Are you talking directly to Shaun, or is it Adam [Gase]?

"Adam does."

RE: So you relay to Adam and he relays to [Shaun Hill]?

"Yeah, Adam does a great job getting that stuff in and it's certainly not his fault. It's just that sometimes that stuff isn't real clear and it's really loud. You could that's why you always see the quarterbacks like this [making signal hand signs] and still it's kind of jumbled. In loud stadiums that happens all of the time."

RE: Is there a way that you could do hand signals...?

"Yeah, we do. We do all of those things but you've got to remember now in the two minute drill precious seconds are going and you might get 'I didn't quite get that. Was it this or was it that?' When the clock is running, you've got to guess at it, call it and go. But like I said, that part of not hearing the communication is not unique, that happens. It just happens."

RE: How do you feel about the progress of the rceiver group in general? It seems like Isaac [Bruce] and Bryant [Johnson] have been good, the young guys are coming on, young guys like Jason [Hill] and Dominique Zeigler. Can you see this same receiver group playing back? Would that get the job done?

"I think that Jason has really made the most remarkable progress, I think that [Bryant Johnson] has really settled down and has been very consistent and made some big plays for us. The consistency of how they play, the less mistakes and making big plays that are there to be made those guys are starting to make those plays now where in the past it was kind of a hit or miss deal. Dominique [Zeigler] has stepped forward and made some plays. He's starting to grow as a receiver. Josh [Morgan] is frustrated because he's been injured so much. When he was injured here a few weeks ago we really felt like he was going to break out. To answer your question all of these recovers have potential. Now whether or not they do that I don't know, but all of them have terrific potential."

RE: You mentioned Jason [Hill] as being a remarkable progress, in what way?

"Early when he was trying to learn what we do he was very indecisive and you didn't see his speed and the run after the catch that you see now. It's like anybody, when they're not really quite sure, they're not running as fast, they make mistakes, I think it says a lot. Jerry [Sullivan] has done a real good job with him in terms of settling down and he's very sure of himself and he's playing fast. When guys start going like that, the don't have to think about what they're doing and then they watch Isaac [Bruce] and they just know 'ok, here's what I have to do' and boom and then they go. The one-on-one situation is a big deal. It's when we get corners or [defensive back] one-on-one with wide receivers they've got to always win on their routes and he's doing that right now."

December 19, 2008
Gore truly questionable this week

A week ago, I thought that Frank Gore's designation as questionable was questionable. I mean, the guy was walking with a noticeable limp and didn't practice all week. Gore has missed practice again this week, but he has much more of a spring in his step. He's been working with trainers the last couple of days. "He warmed it up a little more, stretched it a little more," Mike Singletary said today. "Hoping for the best."

Gore is only 22 yards from becoming the first 49er to have 1,000 rushing yards in three consecutive seasons, and he said that distinction is important to him. Of course, if he missed Sunday's game, he'd almost assuredly reach the 1,000-yard hump the next week against the Redskins. So, do I think Gore will play against St. Louis? Sorry, fantasy football fans. This time it's truly 50-50.

In other injury news, Adam Snyder (ankle) was limited today. He'll be questionable for the game, but Singletary said he'll be active. ... Ahmad Brooks missed another practice with a bad back. Looks like the Redskins finale will be Brooks' final chance to show his stuff. Brooks' dad, Perry Brooks, is a former Redskin... Mark Roman and Josh Morgan were limited today. Both are showing no ill effects of their Wednesday collision, though both will be listed as probable with head injuries. ... Allen Rossum (ankle) practiced this week and should at least handle punt returns Sunday. ... Ronald Fields was added to the injury report today with a foot injury. However, he sprinted off the practice field and was the first player in the locker room.

-- Matt Barrows

December 19, 2008
Why Vegas loves Vernon

Vernon Davis tends to get a lot of autograph requests when he's in Vegas. The recipients, however, are often puzzled with the result. That's because Las Vegas is the hometown of Rams running back Steven Jackson, and, well, people think the two NFC West players look alike.

"It's, 'Hey, Stevie! Stevie J!'" Davis said. "If I'm in Vegas or something like that - oh man. He calls me, and says it's the same thing (for him)." Separated at birth? You be the judge ....

Steven jackson1.jpg Steven jackson.jpg Steven jackson4.jpg Steven Jackson2.jpg

Caught up with former receiver Tim Brown, who is about to be surpassed by Isaac Bruce for career receiving yards. Brown said he wasn't all that broken up about it, saying he figured it was only a matter of time before someone bumped into bronze-medal position. I know 49ers fans don't like to hear how great ex-Raiders are, but you have to admire how busy Brown has been since retiring. He's not only trying to get Tim Brown Racing up and running - tough in this economy, Brown said - he's also heavily involved with the Tim Brown Foundation and smartgivingcards.com, which are designed to help non-profits.

-- Matt Barrows

December 18, 2008
Singletary still trying to figure out Letterman skit

For the second time in his life, Mike Singletary has broken through. The first, of course, occurred in 1985 when a mustachioed "Samurai Mike" starred in the Super Bowl Shuffle. Lately, a Singletary look-alike (except not really) has been featured in a skit on "The Late Show with David Letterman." So far, there have been two skits featuring a Singletary character. "I haven't seen the second one," Singletary said today. "I've seen the first one. I'm still trying to figure it out." You're not the only one, Mike ....

As for that collision yesterday between Mark Roman and Josh Morgan, Singletary said the team was following protocol as far as holding them out of practice. He said that trainers wanted to make sure neither had any nausea or dizziness today. Both players were fine, and there appear to be no lingeriong effects from what was apparently a doozy of an impact.

"I didn't see it," Singeltary said. "I just heard it. It was a heck of a collision."

-- Matt Barrows

December 18, 2008
Radio man Joe Starkey to leave 49ers gig

Joe Starkey, who has been the play-by-play man for 49ers radio broadcasts since 1989, will step down at the end of the season, he announced today. Starkey, who perhaps is best known for his call in the frantic final seconds of the "Big Game" between Cal and Stanford in 1982, has been juggling both Cal and 49ers broadcasts for nearly 20 years. Starkey, 67, said today that the travel burden simply had become too much to handle.

That became clear, he said, following this year's Cal-Stanford game on Nov. 22. That game ended at 4:30 p.m., and Starkey said he couldn't get a flight to Dallas, where the 49ers were playing the next day, until 12:45 a.m. He said he arrived in Dallas, borrowed a hotel room from a team official for an hour and then headed off to the game. "It was that trip," Starkey said, "that I think created the illness that put me out two weeks." Starkey battled a bad case of laryngitis that kept him from conducting the 49ers' broadcasts in Buffalo and against the Jets. They were the first games he ever missed, he said. "I don't want to do this," Starkey said. "I don't want to be somebody who struggles through and stumbles through broadcasts."

Starkey said he would continue to handle the Cal football broadcasts, which he's done since 1975, "as long as they let me." "I think if I drop down to one team," he said, "I can go a long time."

KTVU's Joe Fonzi filled in for Starkey for the games in Buffalo and against the Jets. Team chief operating officer Andy Dolich said the team would begin a search at season's end. "There's obviously talent in this market place," Dolich said. "We're replacing an individual that is very hard to replace." Dolich said no changes were planned for the color position, which has been handled by ex-NFL linebacker Gary Plummer for the last 11 seasons.

-- Matt Barrows

December 18, 2008
Gore says he's 50-50 for St. Louis

strong>Frank Gore seemed much more sprightly today than he did a week ago, but he said his availability for Sunday was "50-50." Gore, who is dealing with a sprained ligament in his left ankle, will not practice today but he will do some on-field work with trainers, something he wasn't able to do last week. As was the case a week ago, the 49ers are calling Gore's ankle injury a game-time decision. Gore didn't even test the ankle before Sunday's game in Miami, but he said he planned to do so this coming Sunday in St. Louis.

A few other players will be joining Gore on the sideline today. Apparently, safety Mark Roman and receiver Josh Morgan collided with each other during yesterday's practice. They are being held out today as a precaution. Ahmad Brooks (back) and Michael Lewis (abdomen) should be back today. Adam Snyder (ankle) will miss another practice. Joe Staley (ankle) ended up practicing yesterday and will do so again today.


Mike Martz held his bi-weekly press conference today. One of the things that caught my ear was his appraisal of receiver Jason Hill. He said the second-year wideout has "really made the most remarkable progress" of all his receivers. Martz described Hill the way that Urban Meyer once described Alex Smith. That is, he said that until Hill understood everything about his role, he was cautious. Hill is beginning to have that understanding, and with it has gained a confidence that has translated into quicker play. With Arnaz Battle out for the season, Hill will get two more opportunities that ought to send him into 2009 with good momentum.

-- Matt Barrows

December 17, 2008
Long-time Ram gracious in accepting 49ers highest honor

Isaac Bruce has been a wee bit prickly when it comes to interviews this season. He gives a lot of one-word answers. He often questions the questions. He conducted his first group session facing his locker thereby forcing reporters to ask questions to the back of his head. But today Bruce said all the right things after being given the Len Eshmont Award, the 49ers' most prestigious honor. Here are the salient quotes:

On what it means to receive an award from his peers:
That's the biggest thing - when your peers vote for you. That stands out more than anything else because they're around you every day.

On what's stood out to him about the 49ers since joining the team:
I think what's stood out is that most of the young guys don't realize who they play for as far as the tradition that's with this organization - guys who have been here, the championships this team has. I don't think they relish it. They could do a little bit more in studying the history of the San Francisco 49ers from the standpoint of being part of this organization and truly understanding how they played and what they played for.

On whether he's heard of Len Eshmont:
Honestly, I didn't. I didn't know too much - just what the staff has told me. I think it's a great award. I see many faces on the wall and it's truly a wall full of hall of famers if you ask me.

On former 49er Bryant Young, who has won the Eshmont more than any other 49er:
I faced him a lot of times, and he's disrupted a lot of things I was trying to get done on numerous occasions. Hard-nose guy, and I don't know. I think if they were giving it for toughness and accountability, I think he'd be up there even more.

As for Eshmont, he was part of the 49ers' original 49ers team in 1946 and scored the franchise's first rushing touchdown. He was originally drafted by the New York Giants in 1941 but joined the Navy a year later. After his career with the 49ers, Eshmont coached at Navy and later for the University of Virginia. He died in 1957 of infectious hepatitis at age 39. That year, the 49ers established the award. The first player to win it was Y.A. Tittle. Tittle, Joe Perry, Leo Nomellini, Bob St. Clair, Jimmy Johnson, Joe Montana and Steve Young are the Pro Football Hall of Famers who have won it. The honor is awarded to the most "inspirational and courageous player" but oddly enough (to me, at least) it never was given to another Hall of Famer, Ronnie Lott.

-- Matt Barrows

December 17, 2008
Alex Smith open to staying in SF; open to pay cut

Alex Smith today said that he's keeping an open mind about returning to the 49ers next season. "At this point, a lot of things are in the air as far as coaching and some other things. For me to talk about that right now would be hard." Smith is scheduled to earn just under $10 million next season. In order to remain with the 49ers -- indeed, for Smith to join any team -- he would have to restructure his contract. Asked if he was open to doing so, Smith said, "Absolutely. Absolutely ... I think ..." before trailing off.

Smith, of course, hasn't had a regular-season snap since his shoulder was separated in the fourth game last season. Smith fractured his shoulder just before the regular season began and had surgery in late October to remove the small piece of bone from his throwing shoulder. He said he hasn't resumed throwing, although he thought he probably could. He said he thought he'd be fine when teams reassemble in the spring for their first minicamps. "Long-term there will be no issues," he said. "There will be no difference from where I was before."

Smith also was asked about recent comments from former coach Mike Nolan, who has continued to take swipes at Smith since being fired by the 49ers. The latest volley came in a Yahoo! Sports story about former receiver Antonio Bryant, whom Nolan released before the 2007 season. "He was the best receiver we had in San Francisco, in the time I was here," said Nolan, fired by the 49ers in October. "Looking back on it, I actually made a mistake in letting him go. I think I put too much blame on Antonio, as far as his relationship with the quarterback. As it turns out, it was not all his doing. I blamed him for more than he should have been blamed for. There's no question he was making more effort than I was made aware of. I truly regret that."

Smith, who feuded with Nolan over the handling of his shoulder injury, seemed amused that Nolan continued to take jabs at him, but he had no comments about his former coach. "That's not even pertinent to comment on," he said.

Smith said he would wait to see how "things would shake out" before deciding whether to return to San Francisco. He says he routinely speaks with general manager Scot McCloughan and that he also has a good relationship with Mike Singletary. "I talk to him whenever I can. It's hard for a player on IR. I like being around as much as I can." He said that Singletary has done a good job of removing "the gray area" as far as what is expected of the players. He acknowledged that the process of reinventing himself in San Francisco would be more difficult than in another NFL city because of the expectations that have come with being the team's first overall draft pick. But he also said that he would enjoy the challenge of winning over skeptical fans. "It's something that gets me going," Smith said. "You start to get that chip on your shoulder, trying to prove everybody wrong."

So, what are the chances that Smith actually returns to the 49ers? Two things this season helped facilitate his return. The most important -- by a wide margin -- is Nolan's departure. Nolan seems to have made it his life-mission to undermine his former quarterback. The second is the emergence of Shaun Hill. Hill has played well enough to go into 2009 as the starter. That gives the 49ers two luxuries: They don't have to use a first-round draft pick on a quarterback. Instead, they can use a mid-round pick and let him develop. It also allows them to see whether Smith has fully recovered. Smith and Hill also get along well, and there would be no ego clash if Smith had to play behind Hill.

McCloughan's presence also bodes well for a Smith return. After all, what other general manager in the league would give Smith a better opportunity as the GM who drafted him in the first place? In that regard, Smith's decision to stick around the team facility this season -- and more importantly, to stay in contact with McCloughan -- was a wise one.

-- Matt Barrows

December 17, 2008
49ers team awards: And the winners are ...

The 49ers doled out their team awards today. The most important award, The Len Eshmont, was a bit of a surprise. It went to Isaac Bruce, a player who spent the first 14 years of his career on the 49ers' arch rival. Mike Singletary said that the players resepcted Bruce's professionalism. And indeed, he's been the most consistent performer on offense all season. "He's that message in the flesh," Singletary said. "If you could have that in the locker room, it's a heck of a lot better than a billboard."

Other team awards:

Bill Walsh Award, given to the team MVP: Defensive lineman Justin Smith

Bobb McKittrick Award, given to the offensive lineman who best exemplifies the former offensive line coach: Eric Heitmann

Matt Hazeltine Award, given to the most courageous and inspirational player: Linebacker Takeo Spikes

The Thomas Herrion Award, given to the rookie or first-year player who best exemplifies the spirit of herrion, who died shortly after a preseason game in 2005: Receiver Dominique Zeigler.

Frank Gore will not practice today and, once again, he is iffy for Sunday's game in St. Louis. "It just depends," Singletary said of Gore's availibility. I would say that right now, yes, hopefully he has a chance to play."

Walt Harris (rest), Michael Lewis (abdomen), Adam Snyder (ankle) and Joe Staley (ankle) did not practice. Of those, Snyder is the most serious. Allen Rossum (ankle) will fully participate in practice.

-- Matt Barrows

December 16, 2008
49ers Pro Bowl: Willis starts, four alternates

For the second straight season, Patrick Willis will represent the NFC in the Pro Bowl, the team announced this afternoon. Willis could possibly have company in Honolulu. Return man Allen Rossum was named a second alternate, Michael Robinson was named a second alternate for special teams, Vernon Davis was named a third alternate at tight end and Andy Lee is a third alternate at punter.

Willis, who just spoke on a conference call, said he didn't think he'd make the Pro Bowl this season. "I just thought that our record is not good. Also, I know there are some other guys that have had fantastic seasons." Willis does not have the eye-popping tackle numbers he had in 2007 -- he's third in the league in that category -- but that may be a result of an improved 49ers defense more than anything else. The 49ers, for example, have dominated the time-of-possession battle in their last two games, meaning that Willis and his defensive teammates are on the field less often than they were a year ago. The addition of Takeo Spikes and Justin Smith likely have cut into Willis' tackle total as well. "I think we're playing better. I know we're playing better," Willis said. "We have a lot of playmakers on defense."

Perhaps the most surprising selection is Davis, who is behind Dallas' Jason Witten, Washington's Chris Cooley and two other tight ends on the NFC depth chart despite a relatively small number of receptions this season. His selection can be interpreted two ways: One, that national notoriety is not necessarily a bad thing when it comes to Pro Bowl voting. Or two, that blocking prowess may not be as underrated as previously thought. Davis likely received support from the defensive players who have gone up against him. New York's Kevin Boss and Chicago's Greg Olsen also were ahead of Davis in Pro Bowl voting.

Lee, meanwhile, made the Pro Bowl last year. His averages aren't as good this year, a reflection of the offense's ability to move the ball in 2008. New York's Jeff Feagles will represent the NFC.

Rossum has the best punt-return average of any full-time return man and his kick-return average also is one of the league's best. Rossum, however, has been out with injury the last two and half games, which likely cost him some votes from players and coaches that did not have an opportunity to face him. Tampa Bay's Clifton Smith is the NFC's return man.

Robinson is excellent on both returns and coverages. The fact that he delivered not one but two lead blocks on Rossum's nationally televised 104-yard kick return didn't hurt his cause. Arizona's Sean Morey is the NFC's special teamer. Good thing Willis is on his side this time.

Every team save Cincinnati in the AFC and New Orleans, Philadelphia, Detroit and St. Louis in the NFC has at least one starter in the Pro Bowl.

-- Matt Barrows

December 16, 2008
Three who should go to Honolulu ...

The Pro Bowl announcement show is perhaps more popular than the Pro Bowl itself. It begins today at 1 p.m. (I'll be watching, so check here for results), but I fear it will be a disappointment to 49ers fans. The only player likely to make the trip to Honolulu in February is linebacker Patrick Willis. But is he the only one who's deserving?

Patrick Willis
Why he's Hawaii-bound: Sure, his tackle totals are slightly down from last year, but that's a reflection of an improved defense that doesn't spend as much time on the field as it did last season. Besides, Willis is third in the league in tackles and - perhaps most importantly in this popularity contest - he has excellent name recognition from winning defensive rookie of the year in 2007.
Why he's not: Carolina's Jon Beason has more tackles (122 to Willis' 121), more INTs (three) and plays on a better team. Brian Urlacher is 38th in the league in tackles but everyone knows his name.

Eric Heitmann
Why he's Hawaii-bound: He's had an excellent season, is a team captain and fared very well against one of the best nose tackles, Kris Jenkins, in the league. He got some good pub from his offensive coordinator just as votes were being cast.
Why he's not: Next to guard, it's the most anonymous position in the league. The 49ers don't run the ball enough to shine a spotlight on the offensive line. The horrendous sack total from earlier this season hurts the o-line in general. My guess: Olin Kreutz.. ***Update*** The Giants' Shaun O'Hara is in.

Allen Rossum
Why he's Hawaii-bound: Statistically speaking, no one's been a better return man this season. His 104-yard kickoff return for a touchdown came on national television.
Why he's not: He's been dinged up this season and does not have the name recognition of someone like Devin Hester. Those damn Bears strike again!

And a final thought about Miami ... Fantastic town, beautiful people, gorgeous beaches, lovely architecture but WORST. DRIVERS. EVER. The combination of left-lane grannies, Colombian drug runners, Canadians, transients, illegals, illegal transients, stuck-in-the-60s free spirits, Tony Montana wannabes, arrogant German tourists, cell-phone dipwads, disappearing lanes and toll booths every freakin' five miles combines for one interesting ride. Every metropolitan area insists they have the worst traffic conditions. They should all get down on their knees and pay homage to the clusterfudge that is Miami. I felt like I was driving in a Mad Max movie. Touche, Miami. You're No. 1! (A message given to me twice on I-95).

south florida 001.jpg

-- Matt Barrows

December 14, 2008
49ers need a hawk at safety

Asked two weeks ago why he hasn't had an interception in two years, safety Mark Roman explained that quarterbacks simply don't throw the ball his way. Well, Roman got his wish in the first quarter today when Chad Pennington heaved a long pass in his direction. The ball was intended for tight end David Martin, who is hardly a speed demon. Martin saw it coming. Heck, everyone in Dolphins stadium saw it coming. Everyone, that is, except for Roman, who got turned around, lost track of the play then watched as Martin ran in for a 61-yard score.

Ah, but Roman would get revenge, right? In the second quarter, Pennington lofted a meatball down the right sideline to Ted Ginn, Jr. Nate Clements had excellent coverage and Roman was back, too. But the safety ended up crashing into Clements and the ball dropped harmlessly to the ground. Two chances for an interception; zero ball skills; nearly injured own player. Maybe that's the reason Roman has no interceptions in two years. (And we're not even mentioning Ronnie Brown's 4th-quarter run in which Roman failed to hold the edge.)

Other observations:

  • What to make of Vernon Davis? In many ways, he's the only 49er with a real heartbeat, a Joey Porter-like passion that can ignite a team. But Davis continues to be as notable for his miscues as the plays he makes. Sunday it was one third-down pass that bounces off his hands and another - a critical one in the 4th quarter - that bounces off his butt. Those are the types of plays that give the quarterback confidence and the kind that Davis can't routinely make.

  • You know who would make a good mentor for Davis? (No, not Brian Jennings). I'm thinking about Isaac Bruce, who has become Shaun Hill's johnny on the spot because he is always in the right place and because he always makes that toe-tapping catch for a first down. Bruce is the consummate quarterback's aid. Maybe he's no longer a No. 1 receiver, but I wonder how well this offense would work without him.
  • I've been a big supporter of Michael Robinson. The guy's a real leader and he has a unique set of skills. But I'm beginning to wonder whether carrying the ball is one of them. Robinson seems to work well in space - like when he catches a ball in the flat. But he doesn't seem to have that instinct for choosing the right hole and making the right cut that running back's must have. In other words, he plays like a guy who's not a natural running back. (Joe Pa ain't no dummy.) His line from Sunday: five carries, eight yards, 1.6-yd avg.
  • Finally, Mike Singletary. The whispers around the league are that the 49ers still are not sold on Singletary. Is that gamesmanship - trying to coax more victories out a team that's still learning how to win - or do GM Scot McCloughan and owner Jed York have true reservations? I don't know. But apart from a cold game in December at the tail end of 2006, I can't remember a recent 49ers team playing as well on the road in as meaningless a game. That's got to count for something, right?

-- Matt Barrows

December 14, 2008
49ers-Dolphins; Brooks, Clayton to dress; Zeigler on punts

10:50 a.m.: Pass-rush specialist Roderick Green is out for today's game with the same stomach issue that every now and then keeps him out of games. The 49ers are calling it "the flu." I'm skeptical. The bottom line, though, is that means Ahmad Brooks will suit up for the first time this season. Green usually enters the game in obvious pass-rushing situations, and it will be interesting to see whether Brooks or Tully Banta-Cain gets Green's snaps.

11:42 a.m. : Allen Rossum (ankle) won't play today, which means that Dominique Zeigler will handle punts today. Again, this is something that Zeigler has never done in a game, not in the NFL or college. He said he might have handled one punt in high school.

The other inactives for the 49ers:
3rd QB: Jamie Martin
RB Frank Gore
LB Roderick Green
C Cody Wallace
CB Reggie Smith
T Jacob Bender
S Dashon Goldson

For the Dolphins:
3rd QB: John Beck
WR Chris Hannon
FB Casey Cramer
G Shawn Murphy
DE Lionel Dotson
LB Quentin Moses
T Nate Garner
DE Rodrique Wright

12:14 p.m. Wow! Already a lot of jaw-jacking (as Mike Singletary phrases it) between Joey Porter and Vernon Davis. The exchange was initiated by Porter as the teams were coming out of the locker room for pre-game warnups. He approached Davis and started jawing at him. In fact, a good chunk of the Dolphins defense had surrounded Davis. A few seconds later, Davis returned the favor at midfield. No fisticuffs, mind you, but the officials were poised to step in if there were.

Obviously, the heightened tensions are over Davis' comments last week when asked about a potential matchup with Porter, the league's sack leader. Said Davis: "I'm pretty sure I've gone up against a lot of other linebackers/defensive ends who are better than him, And I've pretty much won every battle."

Ever since he was booted from a game on Oct. 24, teams have been trying to bait Davis into silly penalties. Porter, meanwhile, is a master trash talker. Get your popcorn ready ...

- Kickoff nearly goes into the stands, 49ers take over at 20 ... 49ers get a nice first down on a sideline throw to Isaac Bruce. But on second down, no one picks up Matt Roth (Chilo Rachal?) and he sacks Hill. On third down, a draw play to Michael Robinson is not nearly enough ... Punt

- On the Doplhins possession, Mark Roman loses track of the football and tight end David Martin catches it over the safety's head. Martin catches the ball at the 30 and then runs in the rest of the way for the score. Miami 7, SF 0

- Dump off to Foster gains 17 yards ... Hill then throws a misdirection to Davis, who turns upfield and hurdles cornerback Will Allen ... Foster out of the Wildcat gains three ... Snyder limping off field, favoring left leg ... Hill to Walker, Walker fights for first down at Miami's 25 ... Drive stalls, however, and 49ers have to settle for Joe Nedney 39-yard field goal ... BTW, Davis had to block Porter one on one on a running play and handled him easily. Of course, Robinson lost a yard on the play ... Snyder is questionable to return with a left ankle injury ...

- Dolphins take over on the 35 ... Miami marching. In fact, Chad Pennington has just set a franchise record for consecutive completions 917). First and 15 at the 49ers' 44 ... Sack by Aubrayo Franklin makes it second and 21 ... end of 1st Q

- Pennington runs for short gain on third and 21 ... Punt, which means Zeigler gets tested and ... drum roll ... he makes a fair catch at the 11. ... Third and 8 from the 13 and Hill misses a wide open Bruce ... Punt, Dolphins ball at 50 ... BTW, Porter and VD go one on one on another running play. VD wins ...

- Pennington's pass should have been INT'd by Clements, but Roman collides with him and the ball falls incomplete ... After completing 17 straight, Pennington (hereafter Penn) has thrown three straight incompletions ... After a false start, it's now 3rd and 15 from the 45 ... Short pass to R. Williams gains 11 ... PUNT Zeigler fair catches (in traffic) at the 4-yard line. Apparently, he doesn't know the 10-yard-line rule

-- Billy Bajema false start moves ball back to the 2 ...Foster gains five tough yards up the middle .. VD drops wide-open pass for a first down ... Now third and seven ... Hill gains 1 yard under stiff pressure ... Punt ... VD pass blocking JP; needs help from Foster on the play ... 52-yard punt returned to the SF 34 by Davone Bess, who breaks several tackles ..

-- Brown gains one on first down ... Brown goes left, gains 11 ... Williams up the middle for a gain of three ... Penn hits another tight end, this time Joey "Who?"Haynos, for the 19-yard touchdown. It was Haynos' first-ever touchdown ... Miami 14, SF 3

-- More bad field position. Delanie Walker botches kickoff, is tackled at the 11 ... Three straight runs by Foster gain 17 yards ... Quarterback sneak on third and one gets three ... First and 10 at the 34 ... Ouch. Hill's first-down pass to Davis goes over his head and Davis doesn't even raise his hand for it. JP in coverage and, of course, has something to say to Davis at the end of the play. On third and six, the umpire collides with two Dolphins defenders, allowing Hill to sneak for first down ... A very nice drive going to end the end half ... 2nd down screen busted by safety Yeremiah Bell; loss of three; 3rd and 8 at the 37; 2 min. warning ... Hill rushed, throws to Davis, outruns defense for gain of nine .. First and 10 at the 28 ... Hill sacked by Charlie Anderson, minus one ... Hill coulda/shoulda taken off on the play ... Hill's pass to Johnson to the six is called bac b/c illegal formation on Bruce ... 2nd 16 from the 34 ...Corner blitz from Nathan Jones results in sack and third and 23 from the 41 Hill's third-down pass to Morgan incomplete ... Maybe should have done a five-yarder and a FG? ... Punt gets flubbed into end zone for a touchback.

END OF HALF Who would have thought that Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams would have a combined 19 yards, no plays out of the Wildcat, and the 49ers would be down 14-3?


- Penn passes to Davone Bee on second down over Nate Clements, who is playing with a cast on his right hand ... Williams runs to the left side, where the Dolphins have had most of their success this afternoon ... Williams stuffed on third-and-one by Michael Lewis ... Punt ... Zeigler fair catches at the 13 yard line ...

- Foster runs right, gains three ...Pass to Bryant Johnson, gain of 18 ... First and 10 from the 34 ... Reverse pass from Bruce to Johnson goes incomplete (by a matter of yards) ... Seems like Bruce should have kept it and run ...Hill's pass sails over Bruce's head on the sideline ... Third and 10 ... Hill to Jason Hill inc., but Hill draws PI penalty to keep drive alive ... The 49ers are continuing with the short gains ... They dominated the first half in TOP and have another nice drive going. The key, of course, is to score ... third and one at the Miami 38 ... After a personal foul penalty on the dolphins, Hill throws to Sean Ryan, gain of eight ... Foster runs right, picks up 2 for the first down... Davis has something in his eye and has momentarily been taken off the field ... First and 10 from the Miami 12 .... Hill hit as he throws, second and 10 ...Foster gains seven ... Third and three ... Foster hit as the ball arrives, can't hold on, brings up 24-yard Nedney field goal. Miami 14, SF 6 ... Once again, the 49ers control the ball (16 plays!); can't score ....

-- Penn's pass inc. to R. Brown, Lawson in coverage ...Dolphins go three and out and suddenly it's the 49ers who will have good field position if Zeigler gets a good return, which he doesn't ... Also, holding on Jeff Ulbrich and the 49ers are pushed back to their own 20 ...

-- Hill to Hill on hot read, gain of 12 ... On second down, four WR, draw to Foster, gain of 10 for first down ... End of 3Q ... At this point, you have to think that the Dolphins defense is getting pretty exhausted ...

4th Q

- Misdirection pass to Davis gains 1 yard ... Direct handoff to Davis, gains 11 (Baas flatten cornerback on the pull out) ... Hill downfield to Bruce, who double clutches buy hangs on for 20 yards ... Renaldo hill trips up davis on a well-conceived play that would have gone for at least 10 yards, third and six from the Miami 22 ... Hill somehow stays alive in the pocket and fires to Bruce for seven yards. A really fine play by Hill ... Hill sacked for minu-five by CB Nathan Jones ...Third-down-and 15 shovel pass to Robinson goes for 10 yards ... Another short Nedney field goal from 28 makes it 14-9 ... drive was 13 plays, 69 yards ... the Dolphins have only held the ball roughly 16 minutes of the 50 minutes played ...

-- Dolphins takes over at own 17 ... P.I. on WR Brandon London has the Dolphin Stadium fans up in arms ... Loss of eight yards ... First and 10 from the nine ... Penn inc. to Martin, 2nd and 18 ... Draw to Brown to the 14 ... third and 13 from the 14 ...Williams drops third-down pass ... Punt ...Keith Lewis almost blocks punt but hits punter. Luckily for him, it's running into -- and not roughing -- the kicker. Re-punt gives the 49ers the ball at the Dolphins 34 with 7:54 remaining ... Delanie Walker cramped up on the first punt; he is probable to return ...

-- Hill's pass tipped at the line; second down and 10 ... Hill's pass to foster gains on two ... third and 8, Hill sneaks a pass into Isaac Bruce ... First and 19 from the 47 .... Hill quick pass inc., second down pass short gain to Davis; 49ers have started drive with five straight passes ... Hill quick pass to Davis, Davis isn't looking. Punt ... 49ers have thrown 13 straight passes against a Dolphins defense that has been on the field all game ...

-- Penn's first pass from own 20 dropped by Ginn ...First Wildcat gains 16 yards ... 49ers play it tentatively ...Ricky Williams gains three, clocking is 4 min and ticking ... Misdirection to Fasano gains eight ... First down from 47 ... Brown gets around Mark Roman for 18 yards. Bad day for Roman ... Brown carries for five; 49ers call first timeout with 2:50 ...Polite up the middle, gain one, 49ers call timeout ... Third and four from the 29 ... Brown loses three (Lawson) and 49ers call last timeout with 2:41 left .. It's a 49-yard field goal for Dan Carpenter who ... hits the crossbar! 49ers ball at the 39 with 2:36 left ...

-- Hill to Johnson gain five ...Hill to Hill, gain of three out of bounds with 2:04 ...Hill to Bruce to the Dolphins 42 with 1:58 ... 2 min. warning ... Hill tosses it up to BJ who comes down for a gain of eight ... clock ticking ... Hill over the middle to Robinson who's nailed at the Miami 21 ... Hill spikes at 1:18 ... Skinny kid rushes the field; swamped by security ... Hill almost sacked, inc. to Foster ... third down at the 21 with 1:13 ...Inc. to Bruce. Now it's fourth down and here's the ball game ... Hill sacked by Joey Porter to give the ball to Miami. Porter throws off his helmet and is flagged but it's still Miami's ball. Porter went right around Barry Sims for the sack ... GAME OVER

December 14, 2008
Report: Gore won't even test ankle

Adam Schefter of NFL.com spoke to a 49ers official last night who told him that Gore won't play today against the Dolphins. That's not surprising given the fact they elevated a running back, Thomas Clayton, from the practice squad yesterday. Gore had said that he would test his sprained right ankle before the game. Now it appears as if he won't do that.

The scenario is remeniscent of last week when Nate Clements, who was, like Gore, listed as questionable, did not try to play and was ruled out early on Sunday.

-- Matt Barrows

December 13, 2008
Clayton up; Battle finished for the season

As expected, the 49ers elevated running back Thomas Clayton from the practice squad to the active roster today. Frank Gore has not been ruled out for tomorrow's game against the Dolphin's but Clayton's promotion is another indication that Gore is very iffy. To make room, the team placed Arnaz Battle, who aggravated a foot sprain last week, on injured reserve, thus ending his season. The bad news is that the 49ers will be without a sure-handed receiver for the last three weeks. The good news? We'll get to see more of Jason Hill, who -- aside from one goal-line fumble (incompletion) -- looked excellent last week against the Jets.

Got to hand it to the Dolphins media relations staff. When I got back from my soujourn through South Florida (Everglades, South Beach, see below) there was a FedEx package waiting for me in my room that contained press clippings, transcripts, roster information, a felt-tip pen and a a Titleist gold ball with a dolphin on the side. I'm told by my more experienced colleagues that this is old school. That is, this is the way the media used to be received in every city many moons ago. Ah, those were the days ...

everglades 008.jpg everglades 024.jpg everglades 031.jpg

-- Matt Barrows

December 12, 2008
Bam Bam's big hit stands up to scrutiny

Just touched down in the exotic Caribbean nation of Miami, and after six and half hours without sustenance (Thanks, American) I am now happily wolfing down a surprisingly good fettuccine alfredo in my hotel room. Here's a quick recap of everything 49ers' related:

I never thought that Patrick Willis would be fined for his big hit on Jets receiver Brad Smith, but I checked just in case. The league reported back, and ... drum roll ... no fine. First, it was legal in that Willis drove his right shoulder into Smith. The only reason it might have looked suspect was that Smith was being tackled from behind when Willis hit him, which is what led to that awkward Sgt. Elias moment (who gets it?) when Smith was on his knees.

It looks like Arnaz Battle came back too quickly from his foot injury. Battle, who took over punt-return duties against New York because Allen Rossum and Nate Clements couldn't play, aggravated his foot sprain and is out for tomorrow's game. Mike Singletary said the hope is that Rossum (ankle, probable) would be back to handle punts against the Dolphins. If he can't, the job would be up to Dominique Zeigler, whose experience returning punts in games - wait for it - consists of one opportunity while in high school.

Frank Gore did not practice all week and is questionable. It's looking very unlikely that he will play, but you never say never, especially when it comes to someone who's come back from two ACL tears.

The temperature in Miami currently is 66 degrees. I was just watching the local news and the weatherman says he thinks the showers that had been forecast for Sunday might not materialize. That's good new for Zeigler.

-- Matt Barrows

December 11, 2008
49ers afternoon wrap up
  • Mike Singletary insisted again that he he will activate Ahmad Brooks for one of the reamining games this season. "We need to see what he can do," Singletary said. However, it won't be this week. With Frank Gore's injury situation, there is a strong liklihood that Thomas Clayton will be elevated to the active roster Saturday. If that happens, Brooks is a prime candidate to be waived, which was the case two weeks ago in Buffalo.

  • Allen Rossum was back returning punts today and the hope is that with Nate Clements (thumb) and Arnaz Battle (foot) ailing, Rossum can resume his role at punt returner. Singletary, however, said that Michael Robinson and Delanie Walker probably would continue to handle kick returns. Battle, who aggravated his foot Sunday, likely will be listed as questionable. He and Gore were the only 49ers who didn't practice today.
  • Singletary said he expects Josh Morgan will be active for the first time since suffering agroin injury in early November. However, Bryant Johnson will continue to start ahead of the rookie.

-- Matt Barrows

December 11, 2008
Davis confident; Gore gimpy

It's hard to say how often Vernon Davis and Joey Porter will collide on Sunday. Porter, after all, lines up on the weak side of the formation so that he doesn't have to deal with tight ends like Davis. But given Davis' prowess as a blocker, the 49ers might try to steer him in Porter's direction. If they do, Davis certainly isn't intimidated by Porter's league-leading 16 ½ sacks.

"I've gone up against the best," Davis said today. "I'm pretty sure, I've gone up against a lot of other linebackers/d-ends who were better than him. And I pretty much won every battle. ... But it's not about that. It's about technique and playing with your heart. I'm pretty sure he's a competitive guy as well. I'm a competitive guy. He's a competitive guy and we're pretty much going to have to get after it."

Porter is know as much for his trash talking as he is for his pass-rush moves. And Davis has been the target of on-field barbs, especially after Singletary famously booted him from the Oct. 26 game against the Seahawks.

"It seemed like everybody was trying to come at me," Davis said of the atmosphere following that game. "People were telling me ... they were saying little things like, 'I'm gonna tell Singletary to tell you to go in the locker room and things like that.' But it didn't bother me. I know they saw that on TV or whatever."

And if Porter has similar things to say:

"That's fine. He can talk as long as he wants. I'm not going to let that get to me. I've talked to coach Singletary numerous times and we have an understanding that I won't let anybody get under my skin."

The word that best describes how Frank Gore was moving around today: gingerly. Gore, who was on crutches earlier in the week, has been off of them for the past two days. He says his sprained left ankle has been improving every day, but like his coach he said his availability Sunday will be a game-time decision.

Gore also sprained his ankle - the right one - last season and missed one game with the injury. Asked how this sprain compares with last year's, Gore said, "It's about the same." The difference this year is that Gore has extra incentive given that the game is being played in Miami. Gore said he would test the ankle before the game but would pull himself out if he felt he couldn't cut or change direction sufficiently.

Before talking with Gore, we spoke with DeShaun Foster, who answered questions as if he expected to handle the lion's share of carries against the Dolphins. Foster said coaches have spoken to him about the carefree manner with which he held the ball Sunday against the Jets. Foster said he didn't anticipate any problems in that guard in Miami. He said he he tended to hold the ball loosely when he was fighting for extra yardage and that he fought for extra yardage because he wasn't getting many repetitions. "You don't know if it's your last carry or not," he said. Foster said that wouldn't be a concern on Sunday.

-- Matt Barrows

December 10, 2008
Things that make no sense, 49ers style

I must be stupid because I don't understand the Wildcat. I mean, I understand how it works. I just don't get why it works. I asked Mike Singletary that yesterday and he explained that the formation is effective because there are two running backs in the backfield and the defense doesn't know which is going to get the ball. Fair enough, but how is that more difficult to defend than a normal play in which there's a quarterback, a running back and often a fullback in the backfield? Any one of the three can run with the ball, and moreover, the quarterback can throw it downfield. In the Wildcat, all the running backs are going to do (94 percent of the time anyway) is run with the ball.

What I'm getting at is that the most valuable member of your offense, the quarterback, is virtually obsolete in the Wildcat. The guy who accounts for 75 percent of your offense on any given Sunday is reduced to a bit role on the outskirts of the formation. It's like taking the lead actor in "The King and I" and giving him a new role as a tree. The Wildcat, therefore, should be much, much easier to defend than a run-of-the-mill play.

But wait, there's more. In the Wildcat, you also remove a receiver, who by his very nature is good at running and catching the ball, and replace him with a quarterback, someone who is usually not very good at running and catching the ball. (See: Pennington, Chad). So to sum up thus far: You've replaced the quarterback with a player, a running back, who can't throw and you've replaced the wide receiver with someone, a quarterback, who can't run or catch. And this is more effective ... how?

Lastly, it seems dangerous. The quarterback is the most fragile and valuable guy on the field. He's the Faberge egg of football players. And yet you willingly remove him from the cone of protection that the league provides him. That is, what's to stop the 49ers from lining, say, Justin Smith (he does shoulder shrugs of 405 pounds every Tuesday) in front of Pennington and have him play press coverage so hard that Pennington thinks he's waking up on a farm in West Virginia?

If II were defensive coordinator, the Dolphins might gain a few yards the first time they run the Wildcat. But I guarantee they'd never run it again ...

While we're on the subject of things I don't understand ... Lemme get this straight -- the 49ers are forbidden from offering Singletary a long-term contract until after the season because it would undermine the NFL's effort to have more minority coaches? (Raise your hand if you see what's wrong with this picture?)

Ah, but it's true. Teams cannot give an interim coach a long-term contract during the season because it would circumvent the Rooney Rule, which requires them to interview a minority candidate before hiring a head coach ... apparently, even if the interim coach is a minority. (!!!)

-- Matt Barrows

December 10, 2008
49ers sign RB/FB to practice squad

Reading the tea leaves, the situation isn't looking all that good for Frank Gore. The 49ers today added running back Carl Stewart, a 230-pound banger, to their practice squad after losing defensive tackle Atiyyah Ellison to the Jacksonville Jaguars. The move very well could be a precursor to moving Thomas Clayton from the practice squad to the active roster.

Stewart, a rookie, is an Auburn product. He was picked up as an undrafted free agent this year by the Buccaneers, who used him as a fullback. Earlier today Mike Singletary said that Gore would be a game-day decision, but suggested that DeShaun Foster would get all of the practice snaps this week.

****Update***** Nate Clements went through a full practice, as did Dashon Goldson. Roderick Green, however, missed practice with an illness. BTW, I observed Mike Singletary having a long chat with Ahmad Brooks after the morning walk-though. Could this be the week?

-- Matt Barrows

December 10, 2008
Singletary: Gore a game-day decision

Mike Singletary just wrapped up his Wednesday press conference. The big piece of news is that running back Frank Gore has what the coach described as "an inside sprain" of his left ankle and likely will be a game-day decision. Gore will not practice today and Singletary said that DeShaun Foster will get the bulk of the practice repetitions this week. If Thomas Clayton is elevated to the active roster, it will be later this week, perhaps Saturday. The good news is that Gore does not have a high-ankle sprain, which almost certainly would have knocked him out a week or more.

Nate Clements, meanwhile, had the pin removed from his thumb and is probable for Sunday's game in Miami. It's unknown whether he will practice today. Others who won't practice are: Walt Harris, Justin Smith and Takeo Spikes, all of whom are being given rest. Eric Heitmann strained his abdomen and will not practice but is expected to play Sunday. Arnaz Battle aggravated his foot sprain and will not practice. Marcus Hudson suffered a concussion Sunday and will not practice.

Allen Rossum (ankle) and Dashon Goldson (knee) are limited. Josh Morgan will go through a full practice ...

Lots of talk about the now-famous "wildcat" formation the Dolphins like to run. The reason it's been effective for Miami, Singletary said, is because the Dolphins have two capable 'backs in Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams who can get the ball on any given play. The key to stopping it, he said, is not to hesitate and wait to see who gets the ball, but rather to be in the correct position to contain them.

On those wildcat plays, QB Chad Pennington -- who is famously slow afoot -- lines up as a wideout and teams commit a cornerback to cover him. But should they? Pennington said today he hasn't caught a pass since the fifth grade and certainly isn't hoping one comes his way. "I was born to walk; I wasn't born to run," he said. "I don't see any touchdowns coming my way."

-- Matt Barrows

December 9, 2008
No brainers on Hill, Sing -- but what's the rush?

Lots of talk about Mike Singletary's reluctance to give Shaun Hill a full-throated endorsement for next season. Hill, after all, has a robust 95.5 passer rating since taking over in Week 8, and he is 3-2 as the team's starter. Today, he was nominated as a potential FedEx Air Player of the Week (to vote, go to NFL.com), and he is the first 49er nominated for the honor this season.

So why won't Singletary say he thinks Hill should be the team's quarterback of the future? It's the same reason the 49ers won't go ahead and declare Singletary the head coach for 2009 - why disrupt what seems to be a pretty good little end-of-season run? The boxing trainer Teddy Atlas has a quote that Eric Mangini used last week: "Success," he says, "is like a martini - both make you relax." Both Singletary and Hill are thriving under pressure. Reward them now and that pressure eases despite the fact that there are still three games to play.

The truth is that both situations are fast becoming no brainers. Win a couple more games and the 49ers have no choice but to make Singletary their head coach next season. Win a couple more games and Hill is the obvious starter heading into next season. Singletary essentially is doing what he set out to do when he got the interim job, which is make this an easy decision, one that's based on his win-loss record.

The Singletary camp already is posturing - getting the word out that Singletary would be a hot commodity on the open market if the 49ers don't strike quickly and give him a long-term deal. Asked about his contract yesterday, Singletary said it expires at the end of the season. After that, he said, he's a "free agent," which in this league is code for "I can find big bucks elsewhere." The 49ers' brain trust, meanwhile, has gone into bunker mode. They insist they're thinking only about the Dolphins game and they are cautious in praising Singletary.

The bottom line is that both sides need each other. Singletary needs the 49ers because he's comfortable here and he has a staff in place. Go somewhere else and it exposes one of his weaknesses - what kind of staff can a guy who's been coaching for only 5 ½ seasons assemble, and how quickly? The 49ers, meanwhile, need Singletary because he not only has energized the players, he's energized the fan base, which at midseason was in full revolt (and revulsion). Singletary's honesty and frankness have struck a chord with fans, and it's getting to the point where there would be a backlash if the 49ers didn't hire him for next season.

-- Matt Barrows

December 8, 2008
The 49ers cast their ballots ...

It's award season in the NFL. The 49ers, for example, walked out of their afternoon meetings today to find two sheets of paper taped to their lockers. On one was the balloting for the Pro Bowl. On the other was the player's vote for the most esteemed in-house honor, the Len Eshmont Award. The Eshmont is given to the most courageous and inspirational player on the team. For four years running, it has gone to Bryant Young. In fact, Young has won it eight times in the last 12 seasons. With Young no longer on the team, who gets it this year? My guess would be Patrick Willis, who has had to deal with an array of tweaks, sprains and pulls in recent weeks but who hasn't made a peep or missed a play.

Willis may end up being the lone 49er to go to Hawaii, too. Punter Andy Lee joined Willis last season, but this year he ranks fifth in the NFC in net yardage. Frank Gore is 10th in the league in rushing, and moreover, there are six NFC running backs ahead of him through Week 15. The 49ers can give Vernon Davis all the credit in the world for his blocking prowess. But it's pass-catching that gets you to Honolulu, and Jason Witten and Chris Cooley have him beaten - handily in that regard. In fact, Davis ranks 31st in pass receptions, behind such notable tight ends as Cleveland's Steve Heiden and Cincinnati's Reggie Kelly. Eric Heitmann probably is Pro Bowl-worthy, especially after handling Kris Jenkins Sunday. But he has a number of things going against him 1.) The 49ers have a losing record. 2.) The 49ers rarely play on national television. 3.) They've given up the third-most sacks of any offensive line.

Imagine Thomas Clayton's frustration. Not only has he been stuck on the practice squad for two seasons, his housemate is Dominique Zeigler. Zeigler, of course, made the switch from practice squad to active roster this season and has received steady work in the last five contests. Is Clayton jealous? "My happiness goes beyond my frustration. I'm happy for him," Clayton said today. "I know my opportunity will come. I'm a good player, so I know my opportunity will come."

Clayton also said he has received interest from other teams this season who have seen a running back - or two - go down with an injury. Interest, but no action. It seems that Clayton's best shot at playing time will be if Frank Gore's ankle heals slowly this week.

-- Matt Barrows

December 8, 2008
Gore ailing; Clayton looming

Everyone who's been hoping to see Thomas Clayton in action in a regular season game - here's your best chance. In his Monday press conference, Mike Singletary said there was a chance that Clayton, stuck on the practice squad the last two seasons, could be elevated to the 53-man list this week. That, of course, is contingent on Frank Gore's left ankle, which he sprained early in the third quarter this week. Singletary said Gore would be evaluated throughout the week but had not been ruled out at this point. Said Singletary of Clayton: "All I know (about him) is he runs hard and he does everything he's asked to do. ... I'll say this: Mike Martz is a big fan of his. And that tells you something. ... he works his tail off."

Clayton has two things going against him. One is that Gore is heading home to Miami, a city that, if he were to remain with the 49ers, he wouldn't play in again until 2016. the other is that Gore is just 22 yards from reaching 1,000 for the season, thus becoming the first 49ers 'back in franchise history to rush for 1,000 yards in three consecutive seasons.

If Gore can't play, DeShaun Foster would start at tailback and Clayton would be his back-up. Foster was one of five 49ers who fumbled Sunday against the Jets, and Singletary said today he was concerned with the careless manner in which Foster holds the ball. "Absolutely. Yes I am (concerned)," Singletary said. "But he will get better at it."

Mike Nolan's no longer with the 49ers, but his presence lives on. Singletary said today that he routinely communicates with Nolan via text message. Apparently, they're huge BFFs. In fact, Singletary gave Nolan one of the game balls following Singletary's first-ever win Nov. 16 against St. Louis. Said Singletary: "I wanted to make sure that I let him know that I'm always indebted to him as a friend." Both men live in Saratoga, and Singletary drove the game ball to Nolan's home.

Asked about Sunday's win over the Jets, Singletary singled out one player -- Vernon Davis. The tight end's contribution in the passing game was modest: three catches for 29 yards. But Singletary raved about how Davis performed as a blocker. "For him to be on a defensive end, linebacker -- I don't care who it was. He was on 'em, he was driving 'em, he was moving 'em. And it wasn't like they didn't know he was coming. it was impressive."

The defensive end with whom Davis mostly was locking horns was Shaun Ellis. Davis said he knew he was getting the better of his opponents when they started chattering. Said Davis after Sunday's game: "As soon as they started talking trash, that's when I knew they were getting mad. On one play, no. 92 (that's Ellis), he just came after me and choked me. We knew they were getting frustrated."

-- Matt Barrows

December 7, 2008
Singletary, Hill looking fine for 2009

That knocking sound you hear? It's Mike Singletary showing up early for his 2008 exit interview. For the last few weeks, reporters have asked Singletary if he has thought about what he'll say to the team owners at season's end. Singletary's answer invariably has been the same: He said he hopes the team's performance does all the talking for him. If that's the case, the 49ers did a lot of talking today. To wit:

  • For the second straight week, they beat a team in the thick of the AFC East playoff hunt. Some people sloughed off last week's game in Buffalo, arguing that the Bills did as much to insure their loss - two missed field goals - as the 49ers did to get a win. The Jets, however, were coming off a bad loss and were thought to be focused on getting back to their winning ways. They were leading the AFC East and they were two weeks away from beating the then-best team in football, Tennessee. In other words, this was a quality team.

  • The 49ers beat the Jets by essentially keeping the ball out of the hands of their playmakers. Their two top wideouts, Jerricho Cotchery and Laveranues Coles, had one catch apiece. The team's leading receiver was Chansi "Who?" Stuckey. Brett Favre also had his lowest output of the season - 137 yards.
  • The 49ers offense deserves a huge chunk of the credit after holding onto the ball for nearly two-thirds of the game. They did so playing nearly the entire second half without Frank Gore, who had to be helped off the field with a sprained left ankle. X-rays taken at halftime were negative (i.e., nothing broken) and Gore is listed as questionable for next week's game. It's a shame - Gore really was looking forward to his first game in his hometown of Miami. He also is just 22 yards shy of becoming the first 49ers 'back to rush for 1,000 yards in three consecutive seasons. He would have easily reached that mark today had he not gotten injured.
  • The defense also had a significant injury. Nate Clements did not even attempt to suit up. He said that the pin in his thumb essentially prevented him from playing, which raises the question of whether he had any real chance of participating once he had his surgery on Tuesday. No matter. What's significant now is that his replacements, namely Donald Strickland and Tarell Brown, played very well in his absence. Brown needs to be more physical, but he is turning into an excellent cover corner.
  • A few unheralded players who deserve recognition: Chilo Rachal continues to look impressive. He was doing a number on Kris Jenkins, especially late in the game. On defense, Justin Smith is all over the field. He doesn't finish with a lot of statistics, but offenses have to commit a number of players to defend him. And finally, Shaun Hill ... The 49ers may still need more time before they decide to give Singletary the job for next season. Hill, it would seem, is making a similarly strong case to retain his job for 2009. His line from Sunday: 285 yards and a 98.8 passer rating.

That's it for now. Lots more tomorrow. Enjoy the win, 49ers fan ...

-- Matt Barrows

December 7, 2008
Clements, Morgan out; Battle in: 49ers game-day blog

Nate Clements won't suit up for today's game, the first the cornerback has missed since entering the league in 2001. Clements had been listed as questionable heading into today, but for all intents and purposed was ruled out when he had surgery Tuesday. Clements did not test out the thumb in pre-game warm-ups. He said the pin that was inserted Tuesday did not allow him to play. Donald Strickland will replace Clements at cornerback.

The other inactives are:
Jamie Martin, 3rd QB
- Allen Rossum (ankle)
- S Dashon Goldson (knee)
- LB Ahmad Brooks
- C Cody Wallace
- T Jacob Bender
- WR Josh Morgan (groin)

The Jets' inactives:
Brett Ratliff, 3rd QB
- K Mike Nugent
- WR David Clowney
- RB Marcus Mason
- S Eric Smith
- CB David Barrett
- LB Jason Trusnik
- TE Bubba Franks

*** a couple of pre-game notes *** For the second straight game, Joe Fonzi will handle the play-by-play duties on the team's flagship radionstation, KNBR, while regular play-by-play man Joe Starkey continues to recover from a bad bout of laryngitis. The bigger news -- for me, at least -- is that Alyssa Milano is in the stadium today to watch the game. Who's the Boss? You are, Alyssa ...


Niners win toss, elect to defer, then start the game with an on-side kick., that's recovered by the Jets' Brad Smith ... Favre and the Jets, however, go three and out when Dustin Keller drops a 3rd-down pass. Arnaz Battle is back to receive the punt, which goes for a touchback ...

-- 49ers have a great drive going, are on the NY 24 when Michael Robinson coughs up the ball ... SF had a great rhythm going with solid runs to Frank Gore and and passes to Isaac Bruce. Might have gotten a little too creative on that one. Kris Jenkins forced the fumble ...

-- Favre and the Jets got three and out again when Parys Haralson and Walt Harris stuff Thomas Jones on 3rd and one. (Give a big assist to Takeo Spikes). Battle flubs the punt but it's recovered by Reggie Smith. 1st and 10 from the NY 24 ...

-- Joe Staley just performed one of the worst end-zone spikes in the history of the NFL. He doesn't care after recovering Jason Hill's fumble on the goal line. The 49ers again strike quickly, and it's 7-0. the key play was a 31-yard pass to Dominique Zeigler on second and 12 ...

-- The 49ers get a couple of good runs from Gore but the drive stalls on a third-and-five incompletion to Bruce. A so-so punt gives the Jets the ball at the SF 39 ...

-- The Jets go 61 plays in nine plays and get a TD run by some guy named Favre.Laveranues Coles and Jerricho Cotchery are quiet but Chansi Stuckey has been going nuts for NY to the tune of four catches for 43 yards. SF 7, NY 7

-- Shawn Hill has become the king of first halfs. After that short swing pass to Gore for a TD, his rating is 116.5 and would have been higher save for a goal-line fumble by Jason Hill. If Hill had gone in, Shawn Hill's rating would be 133.3 SF 14, NY 7 ... If Shawn Hill continues to play like this, it gives the 49ers two luxuries: 1.) They don't have to get in a bidding war for a free-agent quarterback and 2.) It would allow them to draft a quarterback and then let him develop behind Hill.


-- Someone lands on Gore's left ankle and he is taken off the field in considerable discomfort. DeShaun Foster replaces him. ... Gore was just carted off the field and taken into the locker room, presumably for x-rays ...

-- 49ers hold the Jets to a three-and-out deep in their own territory. A great punt, however, leaves the 49ers will the ball at their own 34 ... Gore is still in the lockerroom. His return to the game is questionable. Another 4th-and-inches at midfield; this time Jenkins jumps offsides for a 49ers first down ...The 49ers have had fumbletis all game, the latest culprit being Foster, who really has poor habits when it comes to protecting the ball ... Speak of the devil, Hill just threw a pass to Bruce that was picked off by DE David Bowens. Seemed to be miscommunication on the play between Hill and Bruce ... Jets have the ball at the Niners' 45

-- Wow. That turnover really changed the momentum. The jets march down for a score, a 17-yard run by Jones. It's now SF 14, NYJ 14. ... Gore, BTW, is back on the sideline but he doesn't have his helmet. He's walking with a noticeable limp...

-- Touchdown from Hill to Walker called back because of a (rather weak, IMO) holding call on Joe Staley. ...Even after a sack, however, the 49ers still pick up the first down on a 13-yard catch and run by Bruce. Hill is inching up to 300 yards on the day and,am I wrong is saying that this has been one of Mike Martz's best games of the season?... Of course, still a quarter to go ...

4th Q

- 49ers go three and out at the 14 and have to settle for a 32-yard FG by Joe Nedney. SF 17, NY 14

-- On 3rd and 22, the Jets settle for a short dump to Washington and the 49ers get a good return from Battle. Niners ball at their own 49 and a chance to take control of the game.

-- Billy Bajema catches a pass?!? Wow, I believe that's hist first since his rookie season ... 49ers are driving ... 3rd and 5 at the NYJ 12 ....Hill to Hill to the 5 ...Hill hits Bryant Johnson (could it have been intended for Foster?) on diving, three-yard TD ... SF 24, NY 14 with 6:05 to play ....

December 5, 2008
This just in: Clements had surgery on Tuesday

There's a very good chance that Nate Clements will do something he's never done in his life - miss a football game. Clements revealed today that he had surgery on Tuesday to insert a pin and two screws into the base of his left right thumb, which he fractured Sunday in Buffalo while tackling running back Marshawn Lynch. The 49ers' top cornerback didn't practice at all this week and is listed as questionable for Sunday's game against the Jets. As of now, he's got a bulky, hard cast covering his hand.

Whether Clements plays against Brett Favre and the Jets, coach Mike Singletary said, depends on whether the team doctors give him a green light. Clements said he could play with a hard cast over the thumb. But he said a cast doesn't guarantee full protection, especially considering how aggressively he plays the game. If Clements can't play, it will be the first game he's missed since entering the league in 2001. He couldn't recall missing any games in high school or college, either.

Donald Strickland likely would start at cornerback in Clements' absence, which would allow Tarell Brown to continue his role as the team's nickel cornerback. Punt returner is a little trickier. Allen Rossum (ankle) didn't practice this week and is listed as doubtful. The hope is that Arnaz Battle, who went through a full practice Thursday and Friday, is healthy enough to handle the job Sunday. "So far, so good," Singletary said of Battle, who has been out since Week 10.

In other injury news, Dashon Goldson (knee) and Josh Morgan (groin) also went through a full practice. Both will be listed as probable, as will Battle.

-- Matt Barrows

December 4, 2008
Snyder to start at right tackle

Tidbits from Mike Singletary's afternoon presser:

  • He said that Adam Snyder would continue to start at right tackle but that Barry Sims would play some Sunday against the Jets. Sims injured his foot Oct. 26 and Snyder has started at right tackle - to mixed reviews - ever since.

  • Asked about receivers Josh Morgan and Arnaz Battle, who were both active in practice today, Singletary said, "so far so good." Asked whether Battle would resume playing the slot receiver position (admirably handled by Jason Hill in recent weeks) Singletary said it will depend on Battle's health on Sunday.
  • Nate Clements missed his second straight practice with a slight fracture in his left thum. It was only the second practice he has missed since joining the 49ers. He is questionable for Sunday's game
  • Singletary was surprised to hear that Mark Roman is approaching the two-year anniversary of his last interception. He said he'd use that as fuel for motivating Roman this week. "Hopefully, he's due," Singletary said.
  • Clements and Allen Rossum were the only two players who missed practice. Morgan and Dashon Goldson were limited.
  • Singletary said that it doesn't look as if Ahmad Brooks will be active this week. But he said the linebacker would see some action before the close of the season.
  • And finally, good news about season tickets. While the economy heading downhill, ticket prices are staying put. In a letter signed by Jed York and sent out to all season-ticket holders, the 49ers announced a price freeze for 2009. "We know what our fans want, and more importantly what they deserve," York writes. "I want and expect the same thing. I am committed to making the 49ers a Super Bowl champion again."

-- Matt Barrows

December 4, 2008
Martz: I would never discuss another job

There's still a month left in the regular season but already the rumors are flying about where Mike Martz might land in 2009. The most persistent has him replacing Chuck Long as the head coach at San Diego State. Martz grew up in San Diego and has family there.

Martz, naturally, declined to field questions in that vein today: "You know, someone asked me that yesterday," he said. "Here's what I would say about any of those things. This came up in Detroit. At this time of year, you go through that. The only thing I will say to you (and) this is really important, is the only job I'm concerned about is the job that I have. I would never discuss another job no matter where it is. It's just not appropriate for me. ... It's not right. I'm happy with the job that I have and I'm just trying to do the best I can with it, so let's leave it at that."

Asked if he had thought ahead to next season and the possibility of working under Mike Singletary, Martz said, "Today is just enough in itself. I'll worry about tomorrow when it gets here. See, a month from now who knows what's going to happen to anybody, so I don't worry about tomorrow. I enjoy every day."

He did continue to heap praise on Singletary, insisting that he's been very easy to work with. "He likes what we do, and I think he's pleased with how we're teaching it. So we have a real good relationship. It's terrific. I'm very fortunate to have that relationship."

Martz also was gushing about center Eric Heitmann. Martz has singled out Heitmann all season, but today he went a step further calling him "by far" the best center he's had in the 17 years he's been coaching in the NFL. He also said that Heitmann warranted a spot in the Pro Bowl. The 49ers' center will need a Pro Bowl-caliber performance Sunday. He'll be matched against Jets NT Kris Jenkins, a player some believe is deserving of the defensive MVP award this season.

Martz said that Barry Sims (foot) is ready to return to the lineup. Martz stopped short of saying that Sims would replace Adam Snyder at right tackle, saying that would be up to position coach Chris Foerster. But he did intimate that Sims would see playing time Sunday against the Jets.

-- Matt Barrows

December 3, 2008
49ers sign LB to practice squad, lose WR

The 49ers have nearly filled out their practice squad. They signed linebacker Justin Roland, who was picked up by the Eagles earlier this year as an undrafted free agent out of Kansas State. At 5-11, 242 pounds, Roland has the look of a "ted" linebacker. ... The team had expected to re-sign WR Chris Hannon to the practice squad today, but he was claimed by the Miami Dolphins instead. The 49ers play the Dolphins in a week and a half. Coincidence?

Today's practice is the first that Nate Clements (thumb) has missed since joining the 49ers last year. Don't expect Clements to miss Sunday's game, either. He's played in every game since entering the league in 2001.

The 49ers are petitioning the league to change the sack totals from Sunday's game. As it stands now, Justin Smith has 1 ½ sacks from the game and Roderick Green has a half sack. If the team is successful, Green would get a full sack.

Brett Favre apparently no longer does conference calls, so the Bay Area (and I) media had to settle for our No. 2 choice, receiver Laveranues Coles, who seemed put off that he had to field so many questions about Favre. (Whaa!) Anyway, that got me thinking about which 49ers players the opposing media have asked for this season. Oddly enough, one of the best players on team as far as talking to reporters, quarterback Shaun Hill, has yet to be tapped. Here's the list, courtesy of PR phenom Ryan Moore:

Game 1 - J.T. O'Sullivan (vs. Arizona)

Game 2 -J.T. O'Sullivan (at Seattle)

Game 3 - J.T. O'Sullivan (vs. Detroit)

Game 4 - J.T. O'Sullivan (at New Orleans)

Game 4 - Nate Clements (vs. New England)

Game 5 - Michael Lewis (vs. Philadelphia)

Game 6 - Frank Gore (at New York Giants)

Game 7 - Patrick Willis (vs. Seattle)

Game 8 - Patrick Willis (at Arizona)

Game 9 - No Player (vs. St. Louis)

Game 10 - Frank Gore (at Dallas)

Game 11 - Takeo Spikes (at Buffalo)

Game 12 - Takeo Spikes (vs. New York Jets)

-- Matt Barrows

December 3, 2008
Clements has small fracture in thumb

After Sunday's game in Buffalo, Nate Clements had an air of contentedness about him. His 49ers had just beaten his former team, he had played well and he had put the memories of the Dallas Cowboys game behind him. What was unknown at the time was that Clements had injured his thumb in the game. The 49ers' top cornerback will miss today's practice with what coach Mike Singletary said was a small fracture in the thumb. Singletary said the 49ers will be cautious with Clements this week. It's not known how well he can jam at the line of scrimmage or whether he can return punts.

Punt returns could be a nettlesome problem this week. Allen Rossum (ankle) is not practicing, although he hasn't been ruled out of Sunday's game. Arnaz Battle (foot) will be limited in practice and his availability for Sunday is up in the air. Singletary said Battle would be questionable. Late last week, Singletary said that youngsters Dominique Zeigler or Josh Morgan might be able to handle punt returns. That notion, however, seems to have been dashed by special teams coach Al Everest. During today's press conference, Singletary said that Michael Robinson or Isaac Bruce could be called upon should Rossum, Battle and Clements be unavailable.

Other injuries: Walt Harris (rest) and Michael Lewis (abdomen) also are not practicing. Dashon Goldson (knee) and Morgan (groin) are scheduled to go through individual drills.

Singletary was far more enthusiastic about Chilo Rachal's game against Buffalo than he was Rachal's game against Dallas. "He had one block in the game that was devestating," Singletary said of a play in which Rachal pulled and pancaked his opponent. Singletary said he watched that particular block on the plane ride back to San Jose. "I had to run it over and over because I was excited about it. I had to go back (to the back of the plane) and tell him about it."

The 49ers will need Rachal -- and probably a host of linemen -- to handle Jets nose tackle Kris Jenkins, who is having a defensive MVP-like season.

-- Matt Barrows

December 2, 2008
Will the 49ers get another shot of Norv-ocaine?

Some 49ers fans are doing the unthinkable this week - they're rooting for the Raiders. Should Oakland topple the Chargers, the thinking goes, it would further erode the ground beneath San Diego coach Norv Turner. Turner would be fired, the 49ers would pounce, restore him as offensive coordinator and suddenly San Francisco would be where it was at the tail end of 2006 - with momentum and an OC whose philosophy matches the 49ers' personnel.

How realistic is this? There are many, many variables, the two biggest being. 1.) Will Turner keep his job? and 2.) Who will be the head coach in San Francisco? As far as No. 1 is concerned, Turner received the dreaded "vote of confidence" a few weeks ago, which in NFL circles is tantamount to a pink slip. (See: Davis, Billy; Hostler, Jim). The Chargers are dramatically underachieving, they're having trouble selling out their stadium and it seems that only a miracle finish will save Turner. The Chargers play the Raiders, Chiefs and Bucs before ending the season against the Broncos, who are leading the weak AFC West with a 7-5 record.

As far as no. 2, Mike Singletary is one win away from making a good case, two wins away from making a very good case and three away from sealing the deal. The players, the media and the fan base all seem to love him. Singletary's biggest weakness, however, happens to be the 49ers' biggest bugaboo over the past few years - offense. It's not his area of expertise and he needs a strong OC to run the shown. One thing that owners most should/must/need to hear from Singletary is a long-term plan as far as who that OC might be.

If Singletary gets the job in 2009, and if he were to retain Mike Martz as OC, the 49ers would have something they haven't had since the 2002 offseason - continuity on offense. There are a number of arguments in Martz's favor, including the fact that he's breathed real life into a moribund passing attack and that no one whips a quarterback into shape faster than him. The biggest reason to keep Martz around, however, would be so that the 49ers hit the ground running early in 2009.

But while Martz called perhaps the most Singletary-esque game Sunday in Buffalo, it's still not clear whether the two are a good match. Singletary likes black-and-blue football; Martz doesn't even have a true fullback in his offense. Singletary's philosophy is "game-management;" Martz's is "high-risk/high reward." In all these ways, Turner appears to be a happier fit on a Singletary-led team, not to mention one that was assembled by GM Scot McCloughan to be a power-running team. (see chart below).

The 49ers also would get some of that coveted continuity with Turner. Most of the offensive players are familiar with his system, most notably Frank Gore, who had a record-breaking season under Turner, and quarterbacks Shaun Hill and Alex Smith. Hill definitely will be on the roster next year. The addition of Turner might also prompt Smith to return at a reduced price, something that McCloughan would favor. It all seems like a snug fit. If the Chargers continue to lose and the 49ers continue to win, it could happen

49ers offense ...................Turner 2006......................Martz 2008

total offense......................26th 303.8 ypg..................26th 304.4
3rd down...........................26th 34%...........................26th 35%
turnovers...........................24th -minus 5....................32nd -minus 13
penalties............................18th worse........................5th worse
QB rating............................74.4...................................81.8
passing offense.................29th 168...........................18th 205.8
passing TDs......................25th 16.............................12th (16 thru 12 games)
INTS...................................17th worse 16...................6th (t) worse (14 thru 12 games)
sacks.................................15th worse (35).................2nd (t) worse (43)
rushing offense..................6th 135.5..........................25tg 98.6
rushing tds.........................18th 12.............................23rd (8 thru 12 games)
Gore rushing avg...............5.4 yds.............................4.3 yds
Gore avg. no. carries..........19.5................................18.2
Gore avg. no receptions......3.8.................................3.25

-- Matt Barrows

December 2, 2008
Brooks is back; Hannon waived

The 49ers today re-signed linebacker Ahmad Brooks, who was waived last week in order to promote receiver Chris Hannon from the practice squad to the active roster. The 49ers were short on receivers, and Brooks' return means that at least one of the injured wideouts -- likely Arnaz Battle -- will be back this week. Hannon had to be waived in order to make room. I keep hearing that Brooks will get his chance to play "soon." The one-time Bengals linebacker has been playing defensive end in practice on the 49ers' scout team, but he likely would be an outside linebacker if he were to appear in a regular game. Parys Haralson and Roderick Green played well against the Bills Sunday. My guess is that if Brooks were to receive playing time it would come at the expense of Tully Banta-Cain.

Nate Clements was added to the injury report with a thumb injury. He shouldn't miss any time, but you have to wonder how it will affect the cornerback's ability to jam receivers at the line of scrimmage. Also, should Battle return, he likely would replace Clements as the No. 2 punt returner behind Allen Rossum, who missed Sunday's game with an ankle injury.

It seems that Barrows jumped the gun by declaring that Delanie Walker could become the first tight end to return a kick for a touchdown. What I should have written is that Walker could become the first tight end to return a kick for a long touchdown. According to STATS LLC, three tight ends have wound up in the end zone with the ball after recovering on-side kicks:

  • Casey FitzSimmons - Detroit, September 30, 2007 vs. Chicago - 41 yards
  • Derrick Jensen - Oakland, December 21, 1980 vs. NY Giants - 33 yards
  • Randall Williams - Dallas, October 12, 2003 vs. Philadelphia - 37 yards (Andy Reid onside-kicked to start the game)

-- Matt Barrows

December 1, 2008
Warming up after a rain-soaked win

Still processing yesterday's 10-3 win, which, along with 2006 wins in Seattle and Denver, has to be one of the three most impressive 49ers victories in the last six seasons. The underlying theme of the game is this: That the players have responded to Mike Singletary. Not only have several - most notably Vernon Davis and Takeo Spikes - openly lobbied for Singletary, on Sunday they embodied each of the themes that Singletary has been hammering into them for the last month or so. And for a team that has no shot at the playoffs, that's saying something. ... On the flip side, the 49ers always finished strongly under Mike Nolan as well. Those strong finishes, however, never seemed to translate into fast starts the next season, mainly because the 49ers always were learning a new offense. Other observations:

Was this NT Aubrayo Franklin's best game? The Bills' game plan was to use their massive offensive line - the NFL's biggest - and wear down Franklin and his linemates. The 49ers responded by moving Franklin to different spots on the line. After the game, Takeo Spikes singled out Franklin, whose forte is quickness, not strength and size, for his performance. How can you tell if Franklin played well? Inside linebacker Patrick Willis led all tacklers with 14 stops; Spikes was tied for second on the team with six.

Speaking of Willis, he was the only injured 49er after the game. He suffered bruised ribs but returned to the game. That means that in the last three weeks, Willis has had a hip strain, battled an illness, dealt with a sprained ankle and now will contend with sore ribs. And yet he keeps on ticking. After Sunday's performance, he is four tackles behind Cleveland's D'Qwell Jackson for the league lead.

Davis had exactly one pass thrown in his direction. It's clear that, as far as the passing game is concerned, the tight end is a misfit in Mike Martz's offense. You can talk all you want about Davis dropping passes or, in yesterday's case, committing bad penalties. But when a player had exactly seven passes thrown his way in the last four games, it's a poor use of a Top 10 draft pick.

Didn't it seem as if the Bills and 49ers had done a Freaky Friday thing yesterday? That is, it looked like the Bills were the team from the sunny West Coast and were caught off guard by the ugly weather off Lake Erie. Missing two very make-able field goals is one thing. But the Bills also won the coin toss and decided to defer their possession to the second half when the weather was worse. The 49ers, of course, took the opening kickoff and marched 72 yards for the game's only touchdown.

-- 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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