Singletary: Goal is still to win the division

The 49ers are taking a new outlook on things as they begin life with Mike Johnson as offensive coordinator. Do they still consider themselves contenders in the NFC West? Mike Singletary says yes.

SANTA CLARA, Calif. – Whether is was meant to be cathartic or was just his way of saying a page has been turned, San Francisco 49ers coach Mike Singletary insists that an 0-3 start doesn't mean the season is lost.

"It is our focus to win the division," Singletary said. "It is our focus to continue to move forward and get that done."

How they'll do it remains unknown, but the Niners resumed practice on Wednesday with a new offensive coordinator in Mike Johnson and a sense of renewed energy.

"In some ways, it's a fresh outlook," said quarterback Alex Smith. "Coach Johnson is going to bring his personality, his energy, his philosophy to the table now. It's unfortunate that it happens in the middle of the season, but at the same time, you've got to move on."

But even as they tried to move forward, Singletary seemed intent on closing the book on fired coordinator Jimmy Raye, who was let go one day after Sunday's 31-10 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.

On Tuesday, Raye told CSN Bay Area that he was simply implementing Singletary's philosophy for the offense. "I was carrying out the head coach's wishes," Raye said. "I was doing what I was brought here to do under his philosophy he wanted installed. I tried as best I could to carry that out with the quarterbacking and the personnel that we had."

On Wednesday, Singletary said: "I think Jimmy did the best job that he could in terms of what I wanted."

Reading from some handwritten notes, Singletary also said: "First and foremost, I'm excited about the opportunity that we have this week. 0-3 is not the place that we want to be. It's not the place that anybody envisioned being at. But I'm convinced that being at the place we are right now has allowed us to see some things and make some changes that will take us where we need to go.

"Thankfully, it's early in the season. And we still have a tremendous opportunity in front of us. And that's the way we see it."

Johnson, who has never been an offensive coordinator at any level, is expected to make better use of personnel and perhaps open the offense to make it less predictable.

"I think coach Johnson might (use) more personnel, give defenses a different look that they just can't sit and know what we're doing," running back Frank Gore said.

Said tight end Delanie Walker: "Mike's going to try and mix it up. We might have a lot of reverses, a lot of screens, try to open up the run game and keep them on their toes where they can't keep seven men in the box."

All of that would be a nice departure for a team that ranks 27th in the league in rushing, 20th in passing and 31st in points per game. But Singletary said he doesn't want to change his philosophy of a balanced attack based off the run.

"I want the same thing that I've wanted from the very beginning," he said. "I want a physical offense, whether we're running the ball or whether we're passing the ball. I want a balanced attack. I want to be able to run the ball and I want to be able to pass the ball equally. And when we're doing both, I want to be physical doing it."

Singletary said he called Johnson on Sunday night, before deciding to fire Raye, to ask him what he would do if he was given charge of the 49ers' offense. At the same time, he also gave thought to elevating offensive line coach Mike Solari to the coordinator's job.

"I just spent some time with Mike," Singletary said, "and talked about how he sees certain things, how he sees our quarterback, how he sees our team. I told him after the conversation that we had, ‘Do me a favor, let's talk again tomorrow, but what I would like for you to do is just take your time, and sit down, and write out all the things that you would do differently for our offense and how you would help us get to where we need to go.'

"That's kind of how that went. And we talked the next morning. I liked what I saw. I felt good about what I saw. And with the conviction that he spoke on and with some of the things I've seen him do, some of the ideas, some of the creativity, I felt it would be a good move."

The 49ers play the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday and might well be 0-4 by next Monday. But they're trying to stay upbeat about their circumstances.

"Most definitely," Walker said. "It's a long season ahead of us. We're not giving up, the coach is not giving up on us. As players, we've gotta go and play. We feel strong.

HEITMAN BACK: Center Eric Heitmann, who has been sidelined since Aug 9 with a broken fibula, was back in pads and practicing. Singletary said there will be no lineup changes, so expect David Baas to remain at center. … Also wearing pads: wide receiver Josh Morgan, who injured his knee on the last play of Sunday's game.

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