Distrust turns to disgust in 'unacceptable' loss

After the 49ers gagged at the finish Sunday afternoon and absorbed a come-from-ahead 34-31 loss to the Dallas Cowboys, Mike Nolan vowed to never let it happen again. Smoldering at low broil, Nolan repeatedly called the loss "unacceptable." He then proceeded to call out unnamed players while all but promising there will be changes made after the Niners let a 12-point lead entering the fourth quarter evaporate into a galling defeat San Francisco's new head coach wasn't at all willing to shrug off.

In a departure from standard NFL protocol, Nolan waited more than half an hour after the game to address the media – even after the 49ers had already opened their locker room to reporters.

"I wanted to gather my thoughts," Nolan said. "It took a little longer to gather them today."

Boy, did it.

This was a game of good, bad and ugly for the Niners who, unfortunately, saved their worst defense for last as the Cowboys whisked down the field on a 76-yard touchdown drive late in the fourth quarter to steal away a game in which they never led until the final two minutes.

That completed a fourth-quarter meltdown by the 49ers, who entered the final period with a 31-19 lead that disintegrated thanks to two Tim Rattay interceptions and a defense that simply couldn't make the plays it needed to hold onto a victory that was right there in San Francisco's hands.

When Nolan finally took the post-game podium, it was obvious from the start he wouldn't be chalking up this gut-wrenching defeat as a learning experience or growing pains for his revamped team.

"It was a game we should have won," Nolan said. "In that (49ers locker) room, it's unacceptable to lose. They ought to feel the same way. It's unacceptable. I want our players to know that. We're not a 2-14 football team. When you all of a sudden start thinking you're a 2-14 football team, then that's an OK performance. I want our players to know that's unacceptable. When you lose a game like that at home, that's unacceptable."

And Nolan was just getting started.

He went on to talk about "trust," and the apparent lack some players have of that virtue Nolan and his coaching crew are trying to instill in the team and its scheme. Nolan pretty much said that lack of trust cost the 49ers what would have been another exhilarating, eye-opening victory – much like the season-opening upset of the St. Louis Rams – and he then proceeded to state that kind of lack of trust also is unacceptable.

"There's an awful lot of champions in that room," Nolan went on. "I want that message to be loud and clear to our players. Those are guys that will be here, who will be here because they are champions and are part of exactly what I see as the vision for this football team and the target I want to hit. Sometimes, it takes the regular season to bring that out (in players). It's (all about) things as far as trust, who believes in the things we're doing, who seems to think they have a better idea. And the ones with trust, who I believe are champions, will remain here. We'll find a place for those people who think they have a better idea."

That place could be on the bench or even off the roster – as soon as tomorrow.

When Nolan was asked if there could potentially be roster moves Monday, he responded cryptically.

"Oh, there might be," he said.

Before he was done, Nolan elaborated a bit more on the "trust" issue.

"When you call a defensive or offensive play, you can do what you're supposed to do on that play, or you can think you know better and kind of do what you want to do," he said. "One is called trust, one is called distrust."

There obviously was some distrust going on within the San Francisco defense, which allowed four passing plays of 27 yards or longer that allowed the Cowboys to move down the field quickly after they had fallen behind by scores of 21-6, 24-12 and 31-19.

It ultimately led to another big day by an opposing quarterback. This time, it was Dallas' Drew Bledsoe, who completed 24 of 38 passes for 363 yards and two touchdowns. Included in that total was the winning touchdown – Bledsoe's 14-yard scoring pass to Keyshawn Johnson with 1:51 remaining to play. The Cowboys then added the two-point conversion on the same Bledsoe-to-Johnson collaboration in front of Niners cornerback Ahmed Plummer.

A 44-yard pass from Bledsoe to Terry Glenn allowed the Cowboys to move quickly within striking distance of the San Francisco end zone. Glenn also had a 58-yard reception that allowed the Cowboys to strike quickly on a four-play, 72-yard touchdown drive that brought them within 31-26 early in the fourth quarter.

"I'm very disappointed in a lot of ways," said Niners defensive end Bryant Young, who had six tackles, a sack and knocked down a pass. "Because I know we're a lot better than what we showed out there on the field. I think we just have to trust in what we're doing. It's all about consistency. You can't take any plays off in this league."

The "trust" issue reverberated around the 49ers locker room afterward, just as Nolan's words to the team must have in his post-game speech.

"We saw a different side of him, but we definitely heard where he was coming from," said safety Tony Parrish, who had a game-high nine tackles and two interceptions – the first of which he returned 34 yards for a touchdown that gave the Niners a sudden 21-6 lead midway through the second quarter.

Said Young: "This hurts. And it starts with coach and the way he came off. I think it's important that he convey his feelings about this game, because that's where it starts – with him. And every guy should be upset about the way this game turned out."

What made it so upsetting is the 49ers played well enough to win, particularly on offense, where the team had struggled mightily the first two weeks of the season.

This time, the San Francisco offense produced 390 yards – more than the combined total of the first two games – and got some big plays from its passing game and a solid performance on the ground.

The one-two rushing tandem of Kevan Barlow and Frank Gore combined for 107 yards on 19 carries as the 49ers finished with 124 yards on the ground – again, more than their first two games combined.

Despite his two late interceptions – both of which were tipped – Rattay also had a good game, completing 21 of 34 throws for 269 yards and three touchdowns. Two of those touchdown passes went to Brandon Lloyd, who burned Dallas cornerback Anthony Henry for scoring receptions of 89 and 13 yards.

But all that offense only left the Niners with was a sinking, what-could-have-been feeling afterward, not to mention plenty of angst from a head coach who wasn't going to sit by and take it without making everybody else on the team feel as uneasy as he did.

"We're not where we want to be right now," Nolan said. "We're not even close. There are some things that are becoming clearer to me. I will wait until I see the film to make some decisions."

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