State of the team

Owner John York spoke recently about the team's performance on the field and its salary-cap problems. The 49ers are playing with approximately one-third of their $80.6 million salary cap being devoted to players no longer on the roster. In the world of college football, it's like being penalized a large number of scholarships.

"I personally think we should have won the Atlanta game and I think we should have won the New Orleans game," York said. "So criticize us for not coming through and winning those two games. But those things are all due to the salary-cap problems, and the salary cap problems were created by ourselves."

Yes, the 49ers have no one to blame but themselves for the salary-cap mess. But even with the problems of the front office, the team on the field has experienced chances to hover around the .500 mark this season.

Well, add one more game that the 49ers could've/should've won.

The 49ers squandered a 14-point lead to the New York Jets and lost 22-14 last weekend, sending the team into its bye week with a 1-5 record. It's the team's worst start since going 0-7 to being the 1979 season.

"We're all frustrated," 49ers coach Dennis Erickson said. "That's the nature of athletics when you lose close games. We're all in it to win. We're not in it to be close. When you lose close games like that, you get frustrated.

"No single thing is to blame. The biggest thing with our team is I see us getting better all the time, and even in the tough situations."

These are definitely a new breed of 49ers, from the ownership all the way down. Defensive tackle Bryant Young is the only player on the roster who has won a Super Bowl title with the 49ers. He is the last remnant from the 1994 champions.

"Is the reputation still here?" Young asked. "This is a different team. The things that were established before, we're just trying to continue them."

The 49ers were expected to be among the worst teams in the league before the season began, but a rash of injuries have also done the club no favors.

The team has lost its biggest offensive and defensive leaders. Center Jeremy Newberry underwent surgery to stabilize his kneecap after just one game, and All-Pro linebacker Julian Peterson was lost for the season with a torn left Achilles' tendon.

In addition, they've lost defensive end Andre Carter and leading tackler Derek Smith, a linebacker, for a combined seven games. They hope to get both of those players back on the field after the bye week.

"It's a good time for us, physically and mentally," Erickson said of the bye week. "It's been a tough six weeks. We just need to rest up and get ourselves healthy. And mentally after losing a game like we just did, it's hard.

"We've had a lot of opportunities and not taken advantage of them. We just need some time off."

Although the 49ers began the season with the fifth-youngest roster in the league (an average age of 25.77 years), that label is no longer applicable as an excuse for their struggles, said wide receiver Brandon Lloyd, 23.

"We're about done saying we're too young," Lloyd said. "There is no quit in us. We just have to start evaluating ourselves and minimize our mistakes. We just have to put it on ourselves as players to get better."

NOTES AND QUOTES

--- WR Jerry Rice is back in the NFC West.

Rice, who was dealt from the Raiders to the Seahawks this week, is scheduled to make his first regular-season appearance on the 49ers' home field in the visitors' uniform on Nov. 7.

"It'll be strange -- almost as strange as seeing him with Oakland," 49ers linebacker Jeff Ulbrich said.

Quarterback Tim Rattay, who spent one season on the 49ers' roster with Rice, said he expects the future Hall of Famer will help the Seahawks as they make a push for the NFC West title.

"Seattle's got a good team, and he's obviously going to add to that team," Rattay said. "I think it's going to help. It adds to their roster, definitely."

--- RB Kevan Barlow has been bothered by a left shoulder bruise this season. On several occasions this season, he has run out of bounds - or, in one instance, slid - to avoid being hit.

"I think that might be a little bit of it," Erickson said. "When he has someplace to go, he's going to take it. If it's a wasted deal, like in that (Jets) game when he ran out, he'll do it because there was no place to go. I don't blame him."

--- Defensive line coach Dan Quinn has been working overtime in the early part of the season, as he's had to integrate new defensive linemen in the scheme almost every week. The 49ers have added seven new defensive linemen to the roster since the final cuts were made, and each of them has suited up for a game.

"It's a great tribute to Dan," 49ers linebacker Jeff Ulbrich said. "He's had to squeeze training camp and minicamps into a week for some of these guys. And the facts are, the level of play has not dropped that much."

--- York reiterated that he has no intention of selling the 49ers, though the possibility was raised in reporter Ira Miller's San Francisco Chronicle story that Oracle founder Larry Ellison might be interested.

York said he is making progress toward building a new stadium to replace antiquated Monster Park (formerly Candlestick Park), and that will help the 49ers generate new revenues and remain competitive.

But York also said it doesn't matter how much revenue is coming into the team now, their salary-cap issues are a different problem altogether.

"If we had all the money in the world, we couldn't do anything right now with regards to the problems that the salary cap has created," York said. "Once we get rid of the salary cap problems that have been created by how we've spent money in the past, then (added revenues) will be of assistance."

--- Responding to a query about Miller's article, in which some unidentified NFL owners said they wish York would sell the team, York said, "No one has ever spoken to me. When I've spoken with (executive vice president and chief operation officer) Roger Goodell in the league office, he's been very supportive. I've never heard anything about other owners that have been upset. If they're not going to identify themselves, there's nothing I can do about it."

--- The 49ers waived tight end Gabe Crecion, defensive end Melvin Williams and linebacker Ray Wells during the bye week. Assuming the 49ers will wait until next week to fill those three roster spots, the moves saved the club nearly $50,000.

BY THE NUMBERS: 7 - Number of 49ers who have started all six games at the same position this season.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "T.O. had it initially and he let it go. He wasn't a Jerry-esque-type guy toward the end there" - 49ers LB Jeff Ulbrich on how Jerry Rice's work ethic was passed down to the younger players, except Terrell Owens, who rarely practiced his last two seasons with the club.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

Tight end Eric Johnson, who heads into the bye week with a league-leading 45 catches, can figure on seeing a lot more double-teams in the second half of the season.

But that also might mean that the 49ers' wide receivers will get a lot more single coverage on the outside. Split end Brandon Lloyd, who had been quiet for most of the season, took advantage of some single coverage (as well as a blown coverage or two) to catch six passes for 93 yards against the Jets.

"First they double-teamed me and Eric emerged," Lloyd said. "Now, they're doing it with Eric. Sooner or later, it's got to be somebody else."

But Erickson said he believes Johnson will continue to receive a lot of attention from opposing defenses this season.

"I see it continuing," Erickson said. "You're not going to let a guy catch as many balls as he has. It kind of depends on what their scheme is. But they are going to try to eliminate him from our pass offense. We have to have guys outside that can make plays."

The 49ers entered the season not really knowing who would step up and make plays after the departures of Terrell Owens and Tai Streets. So far, the answer appears to be a different player every week.

The leading wide receiver through the first six games is actually the 49ers' No. 3 receiver.

Curtis Conway has started three games this season because injuries kept Lloyd out for two games and Cedrick Wilson sidelined for one. Conway has 25 catches for 266 yards and a touchdown. Wilson is third on the team behind Johnson and Conway with 23 catches for 281 yards, while Lloyd has 16 receptions for 185 yards and two touchdowns.

--- Newberry, who major surgery on Sept. 21 to stabilize his right kneecap, will not be returning to action anytime soon. The 49ers are holding out hope that Newberry will be able to return to action late in the season, but there is also a possibility that the club could place him on injured reserve.

--- DE Otis Leverette, who has missed two games with a high left ankle sprain, should be ready to resume practice next week after the bye.

--- CB Ahmed Plummer experienced stiffness and soreness in his neck and underwent some examinations to determine the extent of the injury and if it might be caused by back problems. Coach Dennis Erickson said it does not appear to be anything serious, and he expects Plummer to play Oct. 31 vs. the Bears.

--- CB Shawntae Spencer, a rookie, played very well in his third career start. "He's getting better all the time," 49ers coach Dennis Erickson said. "Of all the guys that we've drafted, he's probably the most pleasant surprise. He's starting to play every down."

--- WR Rashaun Woods has fallen to the No. 5 receiver after making an early season push to replace Arnaz Battle for the role. Woods has caught just two passes for 25 yards and a touchdown this season. "Rashaun has to continue to practice and get better," Erickson said. "The fifth receiver doesn't get to see a lot of action if everybody is healthy."

--- LB Jamie Winborn continues to make a big impact when he's on the field. Winborn, starting just his second game of the season, responded with 13 tackles, including 11 solo stops, in the loss to the Jets.

INJURY IMPACT: Rattay, who missed three weeks of training camp with a muscle strain in his right forearm, is resting a similar condition during the bye week. Rattay said he would not pick up a football this week, as he hopes to be back to full strength next week after some rest. Rattay passed for 286 yards with the condition last week against the N.Y. Jets. ... Johnson should benefit greatly from the week off, as he rests a cracked rib that has plagued him for several weeks. Johnson has not missed a game this season. He also has a bruised right hand. ... LB Saleem Rasheed underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right knee and is expected to miss a game or two after the bye. ... Smith, who has missed two games with torn ligaments in his right ankle, is expected to return to action Oct. 31 vs. the Bears. ... There is an outside chance DE Andre Carter will return Oct. 31 to face the Bears after missing the last five games with a back condition. He originally was out with a bulging disc in his back, then he underwent surgery to remove a cyst. ... DE Andrew Williams, who sustained a broken right lower leg in an Aug. 4 practice, might return a week or two after the 49ers' Oct. 24 bye week.


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