Niners' offense floundering, but Nolan can't complain at 2-0 Print
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Monday, 17 September 2007 13:31
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 SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) -Like any coach who values his job, Mike Nolan will take an iffy victory over an impressive defeat any week.
So he sees no problems with his San Francisco 49ers' improbable 2-0 start that can't be fixed - even though Nolan knows it'd be tough to look much worse while winning than his club did the last two weeks.
``It was a week of inconsistency again,'' Nolan said. ``Just like I said last week, it's nice to come away from a win with things to work on.''
Nolan called a ``Victory Monday'' at the 49ers' training complex, canceling team meetings and limiting his players to light workouts after returning from a 17-16 victory in St. Louis in which they managed just 186 total yards and eight first downs. San Francisco is off to its first 2-0 start since 1998 despite failing to gain 200 yards in either win.
Though the 49ers were dominated in most statistical categories again Sunday, they thrived with what looked like a series of remarkably good breaks: Nate Clements alertly forcing Torry Holt's fumble through the end zone; Frank Gore's remarkable 43-yard scoring run on fourth down; and Dante Hall's boneheaded misplay of a Niners punt, setting up Joe Nedney's winning field goal with 3:23 left.
Nolan knows all about the ugly details, but he doesn't want fans or his players to forget about that zero in the first-place 49ers' loss column after four consecutive losing campaigns.
``People expect - now they're expecting to win, so they're talking about how you (won),'' Nolan said. ``I don't recall anybody talking about that in the last two years. What that tells me is expectations are changing, and that means the most to me. If we're starting to talk about what kind of win it was, bring it on.''
The Niners' struggles didn't dampen the fun for defensive tackle Bryant Young, who has been to the heights of a Super Bowl title and the lows of a two-win season in his 14 years in San Francisco.
``We haven't been in this position in a long time,'' Young said. ``We can't let our guards down. In the two wins we have, we didn't play our best football all around, (but) this league, it's something different now. Sometimes you're going to win ugly.''
Nolan saw plenty of blame to go around for his offense's struggles under new coordinator Jim Hostler, but the problems emanate from quarterback Alex Smith, who has a 69.1 passer rating without even throwing an interception. He's 26-of-48 for 252 yards - fewer than every full-time NFL starter except Buffalo's J.P. Losman.
In St. Louis, Smith threw just two passes in the direction of tight end Vernon Davis, who has been vocal about wanting the ball more. Nolan still has plenty of faith in his third-year quarterback, whose effectiveness has been limited by a struggling offensive line.
``I expect Alex to do his job and help us win the game,'' Nolan said. ``He hasn't been a big turnover guy, but he's expected to get the ball to guys that are around him and make plays.''
Nolan also had gentle criticism for Gore, who went home to Miami after the game along with fullback Moran Norris, running backs coach Bishop Harris and left tackle Jonas Jennings. They'll attend services for Gore's mother, Liz, who died last week, before returning to California for Wednesday's practice.
Even after his 43-yard broken-field TD run in St. Louis, Gore has just 136 yards in the 49ers' first two games after setting the single-season franchise record last season.
``There were yards left on the field,'' Nolan said. ``As good as Frank is, there's a couple of runs that if he could have had back, he'd still be running.''
Much of the blame also must rest on the Niners' offensive line, which couldn't punch many holes through the Rams' normally mediocre run defense.
Center Eric Heitmann had his second straight tough game. He failed to pick up a block on a well-designed reverse in the third quarter, then got manhandled in the fourth when rookie Clifton Ryan pushed him back and swatted the ball from Smith's hands to set up St. Louis' go-ahead field goal. Sure, there will be plenty to do when the 49ers get back to work Wednesday, but Clements figured the 49ers still had earned a break.
``There's always things we can improve on once we look at the film,'' the $80 million cornerback said. ``It's fun to be in this position, though.''
 

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