Niners notebook

The 49ers have thrown seven touchdown passes this season, and Tim Rattay is responsible for five of them. Since Rattay was benched after Week 4 and traded shortly thereafter, the 49ers have received virtually no production from their passing game. In fact, rookie Alex Smith is still in search of his first NFL scoring pass after 136 attempts. The 49ers have thrown just two touchdown passes in their past 12 games.

The 49ers conclude a record-setting season on Sunday against the Texans with faint hopes of being awarded the No. 1 overall draft pick for the second year in a row.

The 49ers need a lot of games Saturday and Sunday to fall their way to get back in a position to choose first in the draft. Among the upsets that need to occur: The Giants must lose to the Raiders, and the Saints have to defeat the heavily favored Buccaneers.

Of course, the 49ers would also have to lose Sunday to the Texans. But a loss by itself guarantees the 49ers no better than the No. 5 overall draft choice. If the 49ers win Sunday, thus finishing with a two-game winning streak, the 49ers could slip as far back as the No. 7 overall pick.

The 49ers are closing in on a number of dubious team records - both offensive and defensive.

The 49ers have already punted a team-record 98 times heading into their final game this season. Defensively, they have broken team records with 197 passing first downs allowed, 5,975 net yards allowed, 356 completions allowed and 4,231 net passing yards allowed.

They need four offensive touchdowns to avoid setting a team low. They enter the final game with just 16 offensive touchdowns. They have just 61 first downs rushing - the team low is 76 in 1959. Their seven TD passes threatens the mark of eight scoring passes by the '56 team.

--- A week ago, it looked as if the 49ers-Texans game would be the Bush Bowl - with the loser of the game getting to hold the No. 1 overall pick in the draft and an opportunity to select USC tailback and Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush with the top selection.

The 49ers hurt their draft standing with a 24-20 victory last Saturday over the Rams, but coach Mike Nolan said the win was an important building block for the organization.

"It's a hurdle that you have to get over when you're losing in order to win," Nolan said. "And that hurdle is much greater than your draft status. It's always good to have good players, but I believe wherever we pick, we're going to do well. My confidence in our (scouting) department and (vice president of player personnel) Scot McCloughan makes it a lot easier for me to say that."

The 49ers lost their first seven games on the road this season, so Nolan sees a long-term benefit from his team playing well and winning a game away from San Francisco. He said he believes it would be equally important to finish the season with another win.

"A victory in the final week would be important because, if anything else, we'd have a streak going now," Nolan said. "We'd have back-to-back wins."

The 49ers played a lot better away from home last week because they finally got their running game going. And they did it without starter Kevan Barlow, who has been placed on injured reserve with a left knee injury.

Running backs Maurice Hicks and Frank Gore both ran well in the 49ers' victory over the Rams, combining for 177 yards on 20 carries.

Some in the organization believe Gore will be the team's starting tailback next season, supplanting Barlow, who signed a five-year, $20 million contract with $8 million in guaranteed money in 2004. Barlow is scheduled to earn $2.5 million in salary next season, but Nolan said he expects at this point that he will return next season.

Still, $2.5 million is a lot to pay a backup on a building team.

"He is not a free agent, and at this point we haven't made any decisions on that," Nolan said. "He certainly hasn't done anything to change that."

Nolan said Barlow has been a pleasant surprise. When he took the job, he heard from people inside the 49ers that Barlow could be a problem. But Nolan said he has not had any issues with the player.

"Kevan is not a problem child, he just needs structure around him," Nolan said. "I think (running backs coach Bishop Harris) has been a great match for him. He needs a parent to coach him, he doesn't need a pal. I think that's why he responded so well."

A lot of attention this off-season will be focused on the receivers. The only receiver assured of returning is Arnaz Battle, who signed a contract extension recently. Nolan has praised Battle's all-around game. Battle played a key role in the 49ers' victory over St. Louis. He caught a team-high four passes for 37 yards and also impressed Nolan with his blocking.

"Arnaz Battle adds a spark to our offense any time he's in there," Nolan said. "He does it in the passing game with his physical nature of going after the ball, and he does it in the running game. He did a great job with some run blocks that freed up our ball carriers.

"I'd be correct in saying that a lot of the yards came on his blocks. It caught my eyes several times."

Battle is the most willing of the team's receivers to catch passes over the middle - something Brandon Lloyd has yet to demonstrate a willingness to do. But Nolan said he has not given up on Lloyd, yet.

"He might need to show that as we go forward," Nolan said of Lloyd.

Lloyd is scheduled to be a restricted free agent at the end of the season. The 49ers are debating at which level to tender Lloyd. They could tender him at the low amount, which would earn the 49ers a fourth-round pick as compensation if another team signed him to an offer sheet that the 49ers decline to match. Or they could give him a higher tender, which would enable the 49ers to get a first-round pick as compensation if he signed with another team.

"Everybody sees the talent," Nolan said. "He can make an acrobatic catch and do a lot of good things, but you have to be consistent. You can't just be making the acrobatic catch. You have to make the other ones as well."

--- Nolan did not appear to be pleased when he found out that owner John York had asked team consultant Dr. Harry Edwards to conduct a study on why the 49ers had performed so poorly on the road this season.

York had apparently asked Edwards to perform the analysis without first speaking to Nolan about whether the study was necessary. When a reporter initially asked Nolan about the study a couple weeks ago, Nolan said he had no knowledge that it was taking place.

After the 49ers' victory Saturday in St. Louis, which enabled the team to avert its first winless road season since 1979, Nolan said he put an end to the study before it had a chance to be performed.

"Once I found out, it didn't happen," Nolan said.

--- Here's one statistic in which 49ers rookie quarterback Alex Smith ranks among the league-leaders: He is tied for second in the league and first in the NFC with five fumble recoveries. Of course, all of those recoveries have come on his own fumbles. Smith has fumbled 10 times this season, losing three of them.

--- One change that Nolan has decided to make is with the team's travel plans. Generally, the 49ers have traveled on Friday for Sunday games whenever the trip takes them to the Mississippi River or farther east. But the 49ers traveled on Friday for a Saturday game to St. Louis, and Nolan said he liked that structure better.

"There'll be some adjusting in the future, but not for East Coast trips," Nolan said. "Anytime you go to the East Coast, it'll be a Friday trip because of all the time we're losing. It's actually about a nine-hour swing for us sometimes."

Nolan said if he had to plan the team's trip to Chicago again, he would've gone on Saturday. He'll get his chance next year, as the 49ers have Central Time Zone trips to Chicago, Detroit, Kansas City and St. Louis.

"It's a bigger knock on schedule, on your routine," Nolan said about traveling two days before a game. "It gets complex when you go with another day. I don't think it has a large effect on win-loss thing, I just think it's simpler and more manageable."

--- Assistant head coach/linebackers Mike Singletary's name has come up with any of a number of potential head-coaching openings. Although he only entered the coaching ranks in 2003 with the Ravens, Singletary appears to be on the fast track to becoming a head coach. He said he believes he is ready for the opportunity.

"In my mind, I'm ready now," Singletary said. "But that's not for me to decide. The most important thing is for me to continue to work and learn to be the absolute best that I can be, but in my mind I'm ready now.

"I never delve into speculation and all those other things. I always do the best that I can where I'm at, and if the opportunity presents itself and the situation is right, then you make a move. I would like the opportunity to have interviews (this year) and possibly the next step. But yes, I would like to have the opportunity to be the guy."

--- The 49ers do not appear inclined to give linebacker Julian Peterson a one-year contract worth at least $8.7 million to retain his services as a franchise player again. And they probably aren't going to go higher than a $10 million signing bonus to sign him to a long-term deal, so it appears likely that Peterson will test the free-agent market for the first time in his career.

Depending on what the market dictates for Peterson, the 49ers' most signable free agent linebacker appears to be leading tackler Derek Smith. The nine-year veteran may have had his best season in the NFL. Nolan has spoken highly of Smith's play this season, and has mentioned him as a player the 49ers definitely want to keep around.

The 49ers have signed linebackers Jeff Ulbrich and Corey Smith to long-term deals. Ulbrich, a six-year veteran, received a $2 million signing bonus as part of a four-year, $8,955,000 extension through the 2009 season. Ulbrich went on injured reserve after five games this season with a torn left biceps muscle. He recorded 41 tackles and broke up two passes this season. Last year, he recorded a career-high 167 tackles.

Corey Smith signed a three-year, $1,825,000 deal that includes $275,000 in guaranteed money. Smith has seen little action on defense but has been one of the team's top special teams performers.

The 49ers also signed receiver Arnaz Battle to a contract extension through the 2009 season.

The 49ers also would like to sign kicker Joe Nedney to a contract extension, but they are unable to make a deal with him until after the season because he signed a veteran exemption one-year, $665,000 contract that counts only $455,000 against this year's cap.

--- RB Terry Jackson leads the 49ers with 21 special teams tackles. He made two tackles inside the 20-yard line Saturday against the Rams on kickoffs. Jackson has also caught eight passes for 59 yards as the team's third-down back.

--- CB Kris Richard, a fourth-year pro, was signed as an insurance policy because of all the injuries in the 49ers' secondary. Richard was traded from the Seahawks to the Dolphins for DE Ronald Flemons in August. The Dolphins released him a week prior to the opening of the regular season.

--- RB Kevan Barlow, who missed three of the previous four games with a bruised left knee, was placed on injured reserve for the season finale against the Texans. Barlow leads the team in rushing despite averaging a career-low 3.3 yards a carry. Barlow has 581 yards and three touchdowns. Backup Frank Gore has 500 yards rushing on 74 fewer carries.

--- LB Brandon Moore, who is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent, is putting a lot of action on film for teams around the league to see. Moore will start his ninth game of the season Sunday against the Texans after taking over for injured Jeff Ulbrich. Moore is second on the team with 86 tackles and second with five sacks.

--- CB B.J. Tucker, who has played in five games for the 49ers since being signed to the active roster Oct. 8 from the practice squad, is likely to make his first NFL start on Sunday. Tucker has seen increased playing time in recent weeks because of a rash of injuries in the 49ers' secondary.

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