Another lost cause

Decent defense, respectable effort. But no offense. This is what the 2004 49ers are, and once again, that incomplete display of football wasn't nearly enough to get it done.

On Sunday at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis, the 49ers knocked Rams quarterback Marc Bulger – the NFL leader in passing yards – out of the game in the first quarter. Their defense produced two key turnovers and allowed the Rams to get past the San Francisco 22-yard line only once.

The recipe for a big upset against the heavily-favored Rams?

Not even close.

Not with the way the 49ers are playing on offense, at least. Facing the NFL's 28th-ranked defense, San Francisco made St. Louis' beleaguered unit look almost fearsome, producing just a season-low 160 yards and two Todd Peterson field goals in a feeble 16-6 defeat that lowered the Niners' league-worst record another notch to 1-11.

"When you're having a season like this, it always seems like it's something," said Niners running back/special teams captain Terry Jackson, who exemplified San Francisco's offensive woes by collecting minus-8 yards on his three rushing attempts. "That's the one problem we've been having, and that's scoring points."

On an afternoon when the Niners held an opponent to fewer than 21 points for the first time this season – this coming against a St. Louis team ranked sixth in the league in total offense – San Francisco once again was undone by its offensive deficiencies.

And, once again, by a crucial Tim Rattay turnover in the fourth quarter.

This one came after the defense had made a big play late in the third period to give the Niners a prime opportunity to close in on St. Louis' 13-6 lead.

But, after getting the ball on a Jamie Winborn fumble recovery at the St. Louis 36, the 49ers wasted the opportunity when Rattay was intercepted by cornerback Jerametrius Butler at the St. Louis 8.

It was the 49ers' best shot – and their last shot. The Rams drove 60 yards on 10 plays after the interception to set up the second of two 52-yard field goals by Jeff Wilkins that sealed the victory with 6:48 remaining.

"Our plan was to try to get it in the fourth quarter, and we had it in the fourth quarter and we couldn't make a play," 49ers coach Dennis Erickson said. "We just didn't make plays – again, I'm repeating myself – when we needed to."

All Erickson can do these days when talking about his offense is repeat himself.

It was the same old sorry story for the 49ers, who couldn't open holes for the running game or give Rattay adequate time to throw.

Facing a defense that was 31st in the NFL in stopping the run – and dead-last in average allowed per rush – the Niners finished with just 63 rushing yards on 27 carries, a paltry 2.3 average.

That averaged was bolstered by Maurice Hicks' 16 yards on three carries as starting tailback Kevan Barlow – though he ran with more authority than usual – was limited to just 48 yards on 19 carries.

The 49ers managed just nine first downs, converted on just two of 15 third-down opportunities and averaged a pathetic 3.1 yards on their 52 offensive plays to reach yet another low in this season of offensive lows.

Against an opponent that was drilled for 446 yards and 45 points six days earlier, the 49ers couldn't sustain any drives and never produced more than two first downs on any offensive possession.

"Execution, protection – you name it, we've done it, to play like we have (on offense)" Erickson said. "I thought we played very well defensively, kept plays in front of us, didn't give up the big play and held them to 16 points, which is pretty good against that football team."

But not nearly good enough. The defense did, however, play well enough to keep the Niners in the game from start to finish, despite bending for 350 total yards of St. Louis offense.

The Rams were able to control the clock and dictate the pace behind the rushing of Steven Jackson (119 yards on 26 carries) and passing of 39-year-old backup Chris Chandler (18 of 27, 216 yards, 1 touchdown through the air), who entered the game late in the first quarter after Niners defensive tackle Bryant Young crushed Bulger to the ground on a sack.

Bulger was forced to leave the game with a sprained shoulder, never to return, but Chandler took the controls and kept the St. Louis offense moving sufficiently, keeping several drives alive with third-down completions.

"I thought with Bulger coming out and Chandler coming in, we probably would have an opportunity just with (Chandler) not being in sync with the offense," Young said. "But he came in and made some plays for them. We hit him a couple of times, we got a turnover off him. But we just couldn't get the victory, still."

It's not difficult to identify the primary reasons why. They're the same reasons that have been appearing regularly the past two months in this lost cause of a season.

"You can't point fingers directly at our offense," Young said.

But that certainly was the place to start Sunday.

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