Where has all the offense gone?

<P>The 49ers will begin the new year looking for their lost offense. The NFL's second-ranked unit a month ago, the Niners now find themselves in a four-game offensive rut entering this week's season finale at New Orleans.</P>

 "We haven't been as productive in the last four weeks as an offensive group," Niners quarterback Jeff Garcia said Monday. "That's not good enough. We expect better out of ourselves."

San Francisco's slump was magnified during Sunday's 27-21 upset loss to the lowly Dallas Cowboys. The 49ers gained just two first downs on their first three possessions of the second half and didn't score after halftime until less than a minute remained in the game. That allowed Dallas to pull away after the Cowboys trailed 14-10 at halftime.

The Niners haven't produced more than 285 yards or 21 points in any of their last four games. In their first 11 games, they scored 24 points or more eight times and were held below 340 yards only once. San Francisco faced four teams during December that were ranked among the league's top five in defense. The Niners, who are second in the NFL in rushing, stuck with a ball-control philosophy and went 2-2 in those games. They entered that stretch with a five-game winning streak, producing at least 400 yards four times in those games.

"That's kind of been the emphasis against these strong defensive teams," Garcia said. "Maybe it's taken from our wide-openness or our ability to just spread the field and attack. Maybe that's something we need to look at."

Garcia threw for 229 yards against Dallas, ending a string of five games in which the league's fourth-rated passer had thrown for less than 200 yards. Garcia had thrown for more than 250 yards in each of San Francisco's previous five games. Garcia threw only one pass in the first half to star receiver Terrell Owens, who turned it into a 37-yard gain. Owens, fourth in the NFC with 91 receptions, complained after the game about coach Steve Mariucci's play-calling for the second time this season.

Mariucci said Monday that Owens was first intended target on about 30 plays against the Cowboys, but the progression took the ball elsewhere in the first two quarters. Owens, who leads the NFL with 14 touchdown receptions, finished with five catches for 93 yards. Garcia also suggested that more focus on the passing game might be a good way to get the Niners back on track offensively as they close in on the playoffs. San Francisco will play a wild-card game on the weekend of Jan. 12-13.

"It's a part of the attitude that maybe needs to be emphasized as to how we need more of an attack-mode type of offense," Garcia said. "Let's get after it, because we have the skill people, the players with the ability who can make big plays. We maybe need to be a little bit more explosive. I think that at times when we have gone vertical throughout the year, we've been able to have some success. I just don't think it's done enough. That could potentially be more a part of our offense."

Niners Digest Top Stories