Another 'Frisco fiasco

The 49ers wasted no time in letting the hideousness begin Sunday. After one play on offense, they already trailed by seven points. By the time the latest fiasco finally was over in a 27-7 loss to Minnesota, San Francisco's starting quarterback was in a nearby hospital, his replacement was turning boos to cheers at Monster Park and the Vikings had three defensive tackles with one interception each.

That, in a nutshell, was the way it went for the home team on a wacky afternoon that left the 49ers with yet another forgettable, mistake-filled defeat, this one leaving San Francisco with a 3-10 record that seems bound to only get worse with three weeks remaining in the season.

If that game recap is beginning to sound a little old, just think how it sounds to 49ers who can remember when days like this almost never happened instead of them happening now practically every week.

"You know what?" 14th-year veteran Bryant Young said. "You hope for the best in any game. You don't expect to lose, but when it gets there, it's like, you know, we've been there before."

Have they ever. In losing for the 10th time in 11 games, the 49ers committed five costly turnovers, allowed big plays at inopportune times and produced an uneven performance that saw them limit Minnesota rookie phenom Adrian Peterson, the NFL's leading rusher, to just three net yards on 14 carries.

The first of those San Francisco turnovers came on the game's first play from scrimmage, and it was a killer.

Starting at his own 22-yard line after a false-start penalty, quarterback Trent Dilfer took a short drop and fired over the middle – right into the face of Minnesota defensive tackle Kevin Williams. The ball bounced off Williams' facemask and popped gratuitously in the air, where Williams grabbed it and then rumbled 18 yards around the left side for a shocking, game-opening touchdown.

Just like that, Minnesota led 7-0, and there were only 14 seconds elapsed in the game.

As early bad omens go, that one is hard to top. The 49ers, reeling from the start, allowed Minnesota to drive for a field goal on its first offensive possession, then saw the Vikings go 58 yards for a touchdown on their second possession to make it 17-0 with just 46 seconds elapsed in the second quarter.

The rout was on. Boy, was it ever on.

Frank Gore coughed up the first of his two lost fumbles six minutes later, a turnover the Vikings quickly turned into another Ryan Longwell field goal. Two minutes after that, the Minnesota lead was up to 27-0 after Chester Taylor took a handoff in the face of a blitz, broke to the outside, then made five different San Francisco defenders miss on an 84-yard jaunt to the end zone.

It was the one glaring breakdown for a San Francisco defense that played reasonably well the rest of the day, shutting out the Vikings over the game's final 36 minutes.

"Outside of that one big run, I don't know what they really had rushing," said rookie linebacker Patrick Willis, who led the 49ers with eight tackles and recovered a fumble. "We really came in with the intent of stopping the run and, unfortunately, we let one big run hurt us."

Minutes later, with the 49ers trying to get into the end zone before the first half expired, the Vikings added injury to insult.

Facing a fourth-and-2 situation at the Minnesota 9, Dilfer couldn't find an open target, but found some room to scramble on the left side. As he crossed the field, he turned up and dove for the first down, getting crunched as he landed by cornerback Charles Gordon.

Dilfer didn't get up. In fact, he didn't move as team trainers raced to his aid. Down on the field for five minutes, Dilfer finally got to his feet and was helped to the sidelines while being propped up by two trainers. He was taken to nearby Stanford Hospital at halftime, where he was diagnosed with a concussion.

And to top it off, once Dilfer was off the field and the chain gang came out, it was revealed that Dilfer had come up just inches short of the first down, leaving the 49ers with nothing after their best drive of the first half.

"Good things happen, bad things happen," 49ers receiver Ashley Lelie said. "You just have to deal with it and overcome it."

And that's what the Niners did in a second half that at least looked much better than the first, even though three San Francisco drives ended with turnovers.

But in the impending gloom, there was a bright spot. His name is Shaun Hill.

Hill trotted out with the offense to begin the second half and take the first meaningful snaps of his six-year NFL career. Hill, in fact, had only taken two snaps in a regular-season game his previous five NFL seasons, including none in his first season with the 49ers last year. Both of those snaps resulted in kneel-downs at the end of a game with his previous team, which happens to be the Vikings.

But Hill certainly looked like he knew what he was doing when given the chance Sunday. Completing his first four passes, Hill went 6 of 7 passing while directing the first drive of his career, which ended with his five-yard scoring pass to Arnaz Battle.

That got the hissing crowd roaring with approval for a while, and Hill in fact had the 49ers moving well on three other drives before each of them ended with turnovers.

One of them came on an interception by Minnesota tackle Pat Williams – no, he's not related to Kevin Williams – and another on what looked like an interception by backup defensive tackle Spencer Johnson. That play later was ruled a fumble, even though it never hit the ground before finding Johnson's grasp.

Hill, throwing quickly and standing strong in the pocket, finished 22 of 28 for 180 yards and a quarterback rating of 90.5. In other words, it was one of the best halves of football played by a San Francisco quarterback this season. And in the end, the 49ers had 284 yards of offense and had actually out-gained an opponent (the Vikings finished with 280 yards of offense) for the first time this season.

"Shaun is a competitor and can make plays," Battle said. "In the preseason and in practice our guys could see it. He came in and led the first drive for a touchdown and had a couple of good drives late in the game. This is an opportunity for another guy to step in and get this thing rolling for us."

Hill could be given another opportunity to do that in six days when the 49ers host the Cincinnati Bengals. With Alex Smith unlikely to play again this season and Dilfer's status uncertain, Hill could get his first career start against the Bengals.

As has been evidenced throughout this dismal season, the 49ers certainly could do worse.

In announcing that initial reports indicate Dilfer's injury is nothing more severe than a concussion, 49er coach Mike Nolan said, "I don't know about the following week and what will occur tomorrow."

But Nolan, like everybody else at Monster Park, knew well what had just occurred on the field in front of him. And once again, it was a sorry sight for the 49ers.


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