Frustration turning to anger for fading 49ers

Frustration just doesn't tell the story any more. After another mistake-filled, turnover-prone, missed-opportunity kind of afternoon Sunday in Carolina, Mike Nolan and the 49ers have reached a new depth of emotion in a season filled with failure and difficult-to-fathom defeats.

It's anger, which ranks somewhere just below exasperation on the scale of skidding sentiments.

"It angers me that we lost the game," Nolan said during his Monday news conference while recapping another ugly defeat, this one a 31-14 stinker against the Carolina Panthers in which San Francisco lost for the ninth time in 10 games.

How angry? Yes, Nolan said, it's a new sensation that he's feeling 2¾ seasons into his tenure with the 49ers.

"No question," Nolan said. "It's becoming angry to lose, and lose a game like that. I don't speak only for myself, but I speak for our players, I think I speak for our fans, I speak for everyone. They have been as angry as I have. It has left the frustration point."

That, indeed, it has.

A week after showing such color and flair in their 37-31 overtime upset at Arizona – not to mention explosive offense, opportunistic defense and a newfound ability to make plays in the clutch – the 49ers fell back into their standard pattern of struggling on offense, failing to make plays in key situations and leaving their beleaguered, overworked defense on the field far too long.

This time, that defense was on the field for more than 38 minutes, raising the season average well past 34 minutes, which is by far the worst figure in the NFL. That means the offense is on the field fewer minutes than any NFL team. And that just makes the 49ers angry.

"I think that's very appropriate," quarterback Trent Dilfer said about a team getting a little incensed about its predicament. "I've always felt that way."

Dilfer went on: "I think early in the year, you're maybe a little more disappointed, frustrated," he said. "But any time you hit the midway point of the season, past then, if you've been in this thing long enough, you realize how important winning week in and week out is late in the season. And when you don't, I think the only natural response is anger."

The 49ers seemed to shed a lot of frustration when they snapped their eight-game skid in Arizona in dramatic fashion, forcing turnovers, setting a season high with 374 yards of offense and scoring their most points in a game since 2003. It was a true team victory in which the 49ers received significant contributions from their offense, defense and special teams.

But instead of building on that performance, San Francisco committed six turnovers, fell behind 17-0 in the second quarter and then imploded against the Panthers after scoring two touchdowns in a three-minute span of the third period to close within three points.

In the process, the 49ers assured themselves of finishing with a losing record for the fifth consecutive season, the first time that has happened in the franchise's 62-year history.

And when that kind of thing happens, anger is bound to rise to the surface. It got so bad for Nolan that the usually stoic coach lashed out at his team after cornerback Richard Marshall's 67-yard interception return for a touchdown gave Carolina its 17-point bulge midway through the second quarter.

Nolan called the 49ers together on the sideline after the play and let loose with one of his most demonstrative displays of emotion during his three seasons with the team.

"I certainly show my players who I am," Nolan said. "They've seen me there several times. I would like to get out of that. Because for 2½ years now we've kind of been in that boat every so often, and that's not where you want to go. That's the thing that's angering about this year. I have had to do that a few more times than I like."

Said Dilfer of Nolan's sideline rant, "I appreciate it. I appreciate any time people in a leadership position are themselves. Coach Nolan is a very poised leader most of the time, but at the same time, when he needs to explode, that's fine. It sends a message. It's frustrating, because he's done all the right things from my perspective. We just haven't responded as well as I wish we would have."

Dilfer in particular. He threw a career-high four interceptions and the 49ers produced just 195 yards of total offense against the Panthers, the sixth time in 12 games this year they've been limited to 195 yards or fewer. Dilfer also was sacked six times by a Carolina defense that entered the game with a NFL-low 10 sacks.

"I wish I had the answers for all that," Dilfer said. "We're all part of this, and we just haven't found that really good rhythm and cohesiveness that prevents us from making mistakes, especially turnovers."

Just as disappointing to the 49ers was the play of their usually reliable special teams. After Dilfer threw two touchdown passes during the first seven minutes of the third quarter to quickly get San Francisco back in the game, the defense forced a three-and-out on Carolina's next possession.

But return specialist Michael Lewis muffed the ensuing punt, the Panthers fell on it, Carolina scored a touchdown four plays later to push its lead back to double digits, and the 49ers never recovered.

"That was disappointing," Nolan said. "We had the momentum and that turnover hurt us. Certainly, the special teams right now would be the strongest unit on our football team because week in and week out they continue to play at a high level.

"But as a whole, obviously, that's where it counts as a football team. You have to play together collectively in order to win the game. We're not doing that."

Which leaves the 49ers, as they enter the final quarter of a season gone bad, with plenty of reasons for a bit of December rage.

Niners Digest Top Stories