Owens is the key

If the 49ers are going to turn it around in the second half of the season, they have to start immediately. If the 49ers are going to turn it around immediately, they need to get much more production from star receiver Terrell Owens. Owens has not played well this season. His play has dropped so much that 49ers consultant Bill Walsh estimates that his free-agent value has dropped approximately $10 million.

Owens is in the final year of his contract, and when the season began he was seeking a deal that included more than $20 million in guaranteed money. Walsh, making his comments as a co-host on a San Francisco radio show, added that it is not too late for him to turn his season around and, perhaps, recoup the money he has already lost.

Niners general manager Terry Donahue said it is much too early to speculate how much, if any, Owens has lost with his uninspired play this season.

"The season's not over, so I think it would be speculative to talk about that at this point," Donahue said. "There are an awful lot of games to be played. At this point in time, he (Owens) has not had a good start to the season. There are plenty of games left. There are 10 games left. There are a whole lot of catches to be had and yards to be made."

Although Owens has posted pretty good statistics through the first six games of the season, they do not tell half the story. Owens has 34 receptions for 414 yards and two touchdowns.

Yet, the 49ers have directed 66 passes at him, a whopping 32.5 percent of all their pass attempts. Owens had three drops in the 49ers' 20-19 loss to the Seattle Seahawks last week. He has failed to reach out for a number of other catchable passes this season.

There are two theories that abound for Owens' atypical play: 1) He is intent on making it through this season to secure a big payday without getting injured; and 2) He took a big hit from St. Louis free safety Aeneas Williams in Week 2, giving him a mild concussion, and he is still feeling the effects from it.

Whatever the case, the 49ers need Owens to return to his old form in a hurry if they are to have any chance of salvaging the season.

"All of us aren't playing very well," 49ers coach Dennis Erickson said. "It is not like him to make some mistakes and drop some balls. But I look for him to come back and get back on track this week and make some plays."

The 49ers are 2-4 and have to begin stringing together some victories in order to make a run at the postseason. They can virtually assure themselves of a playoff berth with eight victories in their final 10 games. A 7-3 mark, which would yield a 9-7 record, might not be good enough for the playoffs.

The 49ers have lost four of their last five games, and it does not figure to get any easier this weekend with the Buccaneers coming to town.

The defending Super Bowl champions are still considered among the elite teams in the league. But the Buccaneers are just 3-2 and in need of wins to keep up with the unbeaten Carolina Panthers in the NFC South.

The 49ers have lost three of their games by a combined five points. In need of a game that will help them build some momentum, 49ers linebacker Jeff Ulbrich said a victory over the Buccaneers could be just what the team needs.

"At this point, a win over a team that's not regarded highly probably would not be the best thing for us," Ulbrich said. "We want to beat a team that is considered the best to help us get on track to where we want to go."

Where the 49ers want to go is back to the playoffs, where they suffered a season-ending 31-6 loss to the Buccaneers in the divisional round a year ago.

They need a better T.O. to get them there

Niners Digest Top Stories