Debacle in D.C.

The last shred of hope for a reason to believe otherwise dissolved quickly into the blue air above FedExField on Sunday afternoon. The 49ers are the worst team in the NFL, even worse than last year, and there is no other way to put it after another total meltdown against the Washington Redskins. Coming off their bye week, the Niners were embarrassed 52-17, and any expectation that the recent time off to regroup would help San Francisco was squashed early and often.

"This game looked so much to me like the Philadelphia game," Niners coach Mike Nolan said after his team absorbed a five-touchdown loss.

Nice comparison, coach. But this one was worse. Much worse.

Because, coming out of Philadelphia after a 42-3 loss to the Eagles in Week 2, the 49ers were still a .500 team with hope for a brighter future. Now they're a 1-5 team with a helpless offense and a helpless defense, and there's no immediate relief in sight.

The Redskins ran through and passed over the 49ers before a crowd of 90,224, building a 35-7 lead at halftime and pushing that advantage to 52-7 early in the fourth quarter before Washington finally pulled back its charges and the Niners scored 10 meaningless points to end the contest.

The last of those points didn't look so meaningless as rookie Frank Gore, stopped initially at the line of scrimmage, broke to the outside and then burst down the left sideline to out-run the entire Washington defense on a 72-yard touchdown scamper with two minutes remaining.

That was a late breath of fresh air on another afternoon when the overmatched 49ers were grabbed by their collective throats and choked into submission by an opponent that appeared to enjoy the opportunity to do so.

At this point, what's the difference?

Here's a brief summation of the latest gory details:

--- Washington's final total was the most points allowed by the 49ers in a game since 1980. In six games this season, San Francisco has allowed 212 points, putting the Niners on a pace to allow 565 this season.

--- The Redskins finished with 457 total yards – five more than the average per game the 49ers were allowing entering the afternoon – but it could have been much worse. Washington sifted through the San Francisco defense for 317 yards of offense in the first half, which finished with quarterback Mark Brunell already having passed for 237 yards and three touchdowns.

--- With the victory already well in hand, the Redskins kept the ball on the ground in the second half, attempting only five passes in the final two quarters. And why not? The 49ers couldn't stop them there, either, even when they knew what was coming. The Redskins finished with 204 yards rushing and almost two 100-yard rushers. Clinton Portis rushed for 101 yards and three touchdowns on 19 carries, and his backup, Ladell Betts, contributed 92 yards rushing on 12 carries.

--- The 49ers finished with 194 yards of offense, the bulk of which came on two plays: Gore's late touchdown run, and Alex Smith's 43-yard pass to Brandon Lloyd in the first quarter. San Francisco's other 45 offensive plays resulted in 79 yards.

The Smith-Lloyd connection temporarily put the 49ers right back in the game after Washington had scored touchdowns on its first two possessions. That big play took San Francisco to the Washington 30-yard line, and the Niners impressively finished off the drive three plays later on a tackle-breaking 17-yard touchdown run by Kevan Barlow to make in 14-7.

But it was just a brief ray of sunshine in another dark day for the rebuilding 49ers. The Washington defense peeled back its ears and came after Smith with full force from the very start, and the Niners could do little about it.

While Smith showed some progress over his horrid starting debut two weeks ago against Indianapolis, he was sacked five times for the second consecutive game and had little time to try and work the 49ers down the field. He completed 8 of 16 passes for 92 yards, throwing an interception and losing a fumble, and finished with a passer rating of 41.7.

Meanwhile, the Washington offense was rumbling through San Francisco's beleaguered defense for touchdowns on five of its first six possessions and six of its first eight to turn the game into a lopsided blowout by halftime.

"We gave up some plays defensively by turning people loose, and you just can't do that," Nolan said. "You have to be more disciplined in your assignments and just stay with your people. It does take 11 guys. If somebody steps out of the framework of the defense, it makes it hard to be successful. We have to rectify that."

Along with several other things. The way the Redskins were finding open space and breaking tackle attempts against the San Francisco defense, it might not have mattered if the 49ers had 12 defenders on the field. Or 13, or 14…

"It's pretty disappointing when you go out and lose like that," Barlow said. "We felt like we could come off this bye week and go in there and get it going. But we've still got a lot of working to do."

To be sure, a lot more than any other team in the NFL. And that's just to get back to respectability. After the latest debacle in D.C., respectability has never looked farther away.


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