Shut down and shut out at home

The 49ers held the hope of a two-game winning streak and the fact they play in an awful division. But they were beaten by the Bucs 21-0 and never got into the red zone. So what's left? They're not out of it yet.

SAN FRANCISCO – Let's review Sunday in the NFC West:

Seattle Seahawks: lost.

St. Louis Rams: lost.

San Francisco 49ers: lost.

Arizona Cardinals: lost.

Does anybody want to win this division?

You've got to wonder. Whoever suggested recently that a 7-9 record might be enough to snag the West might have a point. Even after the 49ers were shut out 21-0 by the Tampa Buccaneers on Sunday – the team's first home shutout loss since 1977 -- they weren't in a mood for concession speeches.

"We're still in it," coach Mike Singletary said

Well, OK. Technically, they are. But even in a division as awful as the West, it would take an eternal optimist to believe the Niners can regroup in the coming weeks.

In one horrendous afternoon, they wiped away all the promise of a two-game winning streak and the hope of a young but untested quarterback. One week after throwing for 356 yards against the St. Louis Rams, Troy Smith totaled less than half that and had his first interception.

"It's rough," Smith said. "You set out to win every game and put your team in position to remain dominant. When it doesn't go your way, it's a reality check. You have to go back to the drawing board. But we can't sit back and harp on this game."

The Bucs did an exceptional job keeping Smith contained in the pocket, and the 49ers were unable to control either line of scrimmage. On offense, they gave up six sacks to a Tampa Bay defense that came into the game with just eight. On defense, the Bucs held the 49ers to 71 yards on the ground – an amazing statistic since the Bucs were ranked 31st against the run.

Frank Gore had 23 yards on 12 attempts, a 1.9-yard average per carry, and no matter how much the Niners tried to establish a solid run game, the Bucs were having none of it. At one point in the third quarter, a two-yard run up the middle by Gore drew boos from Candlestick patrons.

Gore said he knew it might be a tough day running "because they know we're successful when we run the ball and there's a great chance that we can go crazy. But they came in and took it away. They played great defense."

They also limited the 49ers chances. San Francisco never got into the red zone – the closest they got was the Tampa Bay 33 – and was just 3 of 12 on third downs. The Bucs controlled the ball for 36 minutes, 24 seconds and clearly wore down the 49ers' defense.

But at the suggestion they might have been gassed late in the game, linebacker Parys Haralson bristled.

"We play football," he said. "If you get gassed, then you get the backup in there. They made plays, so give them credit. But you can't blame it on being gassed or nothing like that."

Although it's unlikely Singletary will make another quarterback switch and return to seven-game starter Alex Smith, he seemed to be open to the idea.

"I've got to look at the film," said Singletary, who repeated that phrase often in his postgame media session. "We understand right now that Troy is really trying to learn everything as quickly as he can. There's going to be some limitations that hopefully we felt that we can overcome going forward. I think we just have to continue to look at it."

And as flimsy as their chances look with six games left, they refuse to give up hope. Why should they? They're just two games out of first place and have four division games remaining.

"We know who we are," receiver Josh Morgan said. "We're not going to let one game psyche us out or make us second-guess ourselves. We just need to regroup and keep getting better."

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