Chargers crush defenseless 49ers

Where does Mike Nolan have left to turn for answers? The 49ers spent the past two offseasons upgrading their offense. Those moves continue to show promising signs. But the defense appears in need of a complete restructuring, with the latest argument coming Sunday in the form of a total annihilation by the San Diego Chargers. "That's a good way to put it," Nolan said after a crushing 48-19 loss.

Nolan said he will consider a lot of options during his team's upcoming bye week, as the 2-4 49ers set their sights on being competitive for their Oct. 29 game against the Chicago Bears.

But the restructuring appears to have already started on a small scale. Strong safety Mark Roman received his first start in place of nine-year veteran Tony Parrish, and second-year player Ronald Fields got the start at nose tackle in place of Anthony Adams.

"As much as I know some of our shortcomings going into it, I know that when you play well as a unit, you can play better than we have a couple times," Nolan said. "That's the disappointing thing. When you play together, you don't have to be that poor, in particular, whether it's the pass rush or pass defense."

Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson scored four touchdowns on runs of 5, 1, 1 and 5 yards, but he was actually held in check for most of the game with 71 yards rushing on 21 carries.

However, the 49ers did not have any luck against quarterback Philip Rivers, making just his fifth NFL start.

Rivers passed for 334 yards and two touchdowns while compiling a passer rating of 116.8. The Chargers (4-1) converted an extraordinary 12 of 15 (80 percent) of their third-down chances and rolled up 421 total yards. They scored six touchdowns and two field goals in their 10 offensive possessions.

"The bright spot on defense is that we can stop the run," Nolan said. "It's the other things that give us trouble."

Two head-scratching plays stood out above everything else for the 49ers defense.

The first occurred on the Chargers' first offensive series of the game when Rivers spotted All-Pro tight end Antonio Gates split out wide to the left being matched up against 49ers reserve linebacker T.J. Slaughter.

"I saw that they had a linebacker out there on him and I thought to myself, ‘Could that be?'" Rivers said.

When asked if that was the match-up he wanted against Gates, Nolan answered, "Not at all. But there was an error on the play. We didn't have anyone in the post. We did have some mental errors."

Rivers delivered a short pass to Gates, who broke past Slaughter and eluded several other 49ers defenders who had a chance to bring him down. The 57-yard strike was the longest pass completion of Rivers' career and gave the Chargers a 7-0 lead just three minutes into the game.

"They exploited some of our weaknesses, particularly on defense with third downs and pass defense," Nolan said.

The 49ers were exploited again later in the first half.

San Francisco was playing without three starters on offense, but the absence of cornerback Walt Harris (hamstring) clearly hurt just as bad. The 49ers had to call on rookie Marcus Hudson for one play when fill-in starter Sammy Davis went out of the lineup after getting the wind knocked out of him. It was predictable that the Chargers would go after Hudson.

Nolan said Hudson's responsibility was the deep ball. But Hudson was up at the line of scrimmage to try to jam receiver Vince Jackson, who ran a "go route" down the left sideline. Rivers, a college teammate of Hudson at North Carolina State, lofted a perfect pass for a 33-yard touchdown.

Rivers told Hudson after the game that Chargers offensive coordinator Cam Cameron called the play specifically to test the rookie.

"His offensive coordinator told him to come after me," said Hudson, a sixth-round draft pick. "We kind of joked about it at the end. It hurts a lot, but it's one of the rookie processes I have to go through."

Nolan said Hudson should not have been in press coverage on that play.

The blame for the pass defense is shared equally by the coverage in the secondary and the lack of a pass rush, Nolan said. In their past three games, the 49ers have recorded just one sack for no yards.

"It's nothing they did. It's all on us," Roman said. "We got to play better individually and as a unit. We got to get off the field on third downs. It's no secret. There's no magic serum. There are no magic words. We just got to do it."

While the 49ers (2-4) certainly had little hope in stopping the Chargers, their offense played pretty well for most of the first half. In fact, the 49ers had gathered some momentum late in the second quarter.

For a few brief moments, the 49ers looked as if they might make a game out of it. Fields, making his first NFL start, forced a safety when Rivers was called for intentional grounding in the end zone while in Fields' grasp.

The safety, which cut the 49ers' deficit to 28-19, came two plays after fullback Moran Norris caught a 2-yard scoring pass from Alex Smith. But all the momentum came to a halt on the 49ers' first offensive play after the free kick when Smith was intercepted. His pass was deflected by Chargers linebacker Shaun Phillips at the line of scrimmage and intercepted by lineman Luis Castillo.

"To turn the ball over and let them get that score before halftime really changed the momentum," Smith said. "If we could have at least put some first downs together on that possession, the game would have been different."

The Chargers converted a third-and-12 and a third-and-7 en route to Tomlinson's 1-yard springboard jump into the end zone for a 35-19 lead with 33 seconds remaining in the half.

The 49ers were shut out in the second half, while the Chargers piled on with another 13 points. Smith had a solid outing, despite his interception. He completed 20 of 31 passes for 214 yards with two touchdowns. His first scoring pass was a beautifully thrown 15-yard scoring strike to Bryan Gilmore that tied the score at 7-7.

But San Francisco never would be that close again as the Chargers poured it on, with the 49ers unable to do anything to stop them.

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