Tuesday notebook

The 49ers returned from their bye week with a few reasons for optimism as they head into a 10-game stretch to end the season.

The Seahawks and Rams both lost on Sunday, tightening up the NFC West even further. Although the 49ers are 1-5, they have an absurdly soft schedule the rest of the season. The 49ers' next nine games are against teams with a combined record of 17-40. Five of those games are at home.

"There are still a lot of opportunities out there for us," 49ers linebacker Derek Smith said. "If we can find a way not to turn the ball over, that can add two or three more wins for us."

The 49ers have been plagued by inconsistencies across the board. They are minus-12 in giveaway/takeaway margin, tied for worst in the league with the Dolphins. But the 49ers have a chance to kick-start the home stretch of their season on Sunday with a game against the struggling Chicago Bears, who are also 1-5. Coach Dennis Erickson was able to get some encouragement with the Seahawks and Rams both losing.

"It just goes to show you that anybody can beat anybody at any time," Erickson said. "Any division, particularly our division, looks like it will go down to the wire. For us, our concern is winning our second game more than anything. It just goes to show you that in this league a lot of things don't make sense."


--- QB Tim Rattay is expected to practice Wednesday, Erickson said. But he did not want Rattay to go through the team's light workout on Monday as a precaution. Rattay sustained a right forearm strain before the 49ers' Oct. 17 game against the Jets.

"He could have thrown (Monday)," Erickson said. "I didn't think there was any reason to. He's got Wednesday and Thursday and Friday to get ready, so we'll just lay him off and he'll practice on Wednesday."

--- RB Kevan Barlow said he received phone calls Sunday evening from former 49ers Jeff Garcia and Terrell Owens, whose Cleveland Browns and Philadelphia Eagles faced each other earlier in the day.

Barlow said Garcia and Owens called Barlow to "talk about each other." Owens has been publicly criticizing Garcia since he left the 49ers in the offseason. Garcia has not added any fuel to the rift. Barlow remains good friends with both players.

"T.O was calling for me to massage his ego a little bit, but I didn't feed into it," Barlow said.

--- LB Ray Wells, who was released last week, was expected to be re-signed to the active roster and be ready to play Sunday against the Bears. The roster move saved the 49ers nearly $18,000.

--- LT Kwame Harris has not reclaimed his starting job. Erickson said Harris will play Sunday vs. the Bears but might not start until he's 100 percent. Harris sustained high ankle and knee sprains Sept. 19 against the Saints. Kyle Kosier will likely start again at left tackle.

--- RB Maurice Hicks, who was among the 49ers' final cuts and latched onto the practice squad, is expected to be elevated to the 53-man roster for this week's game against the Bears.

--- LB Saleem Rasheed, who underwent arthroscopic knee surgery last week, is not expected to play Sunday against the Bears.

--- LB Derek Smith, who missed the last two games with torn ligaments in his right ankle, declared himself ready to play Sunday night's game against the Bears. Smith will return to his role at middle linebacker and also could play other spots in the team's linebacker rotation.

--- CB Ahmed Plummer did not practice Monday because of a sore neck, but coach Dennis Erickson said he expects him to be ready to start Sunday's game.



PASSING OFFENSE: B-minus -- Quarterback Tim Rattay, when healthy, has generally played very well. He has compiled a 92.5 passer rating with seven touchdowns and three interceptions. In the 49ers' lone victory, Rattay completed a team-record 38 passes for 417 yards. Backup Ken Dorsey started two games. He played well in one game and could not prevent the 49ers from being shut out in the other, ending a scoring streak that had reached 420 games. Tight end Eric Johnson has been the team's top receiver, catching 45 passes for 484 yards and two touchdowns. They are still waiting for a No. 1 wide receiver to emerge from the group.

RUSHING OFFENSE: F -- Running back Kevan Barlow has been a disappointment as he takes over the featured role after the club parted ways with Garrison Hearst in the offseason. Barlow has averaged just 3.7 yards a carry. Some of the problem is that Barlow has not hit holes aggressively, and part of the blame goes to the offensive line, which has failed to create holes. Also, backup running back Jamal Robertson has fumbled twice at crucial times, including one that helped cost the 49ers a loss at New Orleans in Week 2.

PASS DEFENSE: F -- Opposing quarterbacks have torched the 49ers for a passer rating of 102.5. In six games, the 49ers have intercepted just two passes while giving up 10 touchdowns through the air. Part of the problem has been the 49ers' lack of a pass rush. The 49ers have recorded just 10 sacks in six games as the pass rush has been hurting from the losses of Andre Carter and Julian Peterson.

RUSH DEFENSE: B-minus -- The run defense has been very good at times -- as the 49ers are holding the opposition to just 3.7 yards a carry. Marshall Faulk rushed for 121 yards and Curtis Martin had 111 yards against them. Other than that, the 49ers' defense has done a good job with defensive tackles Bryant Young and Anthony Adams in the middle. Linebackers Derek Smith, who missed the last two games with an ankle injury, and Jeff Ulbrich have performed well against the run.

SPECIAL TEAMS: C-minus -- Kicker Todd Peterson has given the 49ers what they expected. He's made 7 of 8 field-goal attempts, but his lack of range has not given the team an opportunity to attempt some field goals beyond 46 yards. Rookie punter Andy Lee has a 40.8-yard average, with a net 34.3. Arnaz Battle has performed well in the return game, averaging 11.2 yards and a touchdown on punt returns.

COACHING: C -- It's difficult to pin too much of the 49ers' problems on coach Dennis Erickson because of the way the roster has been decimated this season. Team management parted ways with seven offensive starters from a year ago, and injuries to Carter and Peterson have not helped things, either. The easiest thing to second-guess in the first half of the season was the play-calling late in the 49ers' 22-14 loss to the Jets. The 49ers were down by a point and had moved to the Jets 27-yard line. But on a second-down play, Battle fumbled a reverse handoff from Rattay, and the play lost 8 yards. The 49ers were knocked out of field-goal range and had to punt.

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