After winning their first two games in less-than-impressive fashion, the 49ers went on an ugly eight-game losing streak. The main culprit during the 49ers' slide was the offense.
The 49ers owed the league's lowest-rated offense from the first week of the season. Coach Mike Nolan admitted his team underachieved this season after the club showed steady improvement in his first two years as coach.
The 49ers finished with a 5-11 record after Sunday's 20-7 loss to the Cleveland Browns, and Nolan's job is in serious jeopardy as his season wrap-up news conference was moved back for a second time to 4 p.m. today.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
The 49ers had two first-round draft picks, and they both exceeded expectations. Linebacker Patrick Willis and right tackle Joe Staley played every snap this season.
Willis is the favorite to win NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year honors. He led league in tackles. He became the first 49ers rookie since Ronnie Lott in 1981 to be named to the Pro Bowl team.
Staley, meanwhile, won the starting job during training camp. He is scheduled to make the move to left tackle next season.
Newcomers Nate Clements and Michael Lewis also played well in the 49ers secondary.
The 49ers were widely second-guessed when they signed Clements to a lucrative deal that included $24 million in guaranteed money. But the 49ers believe they got their money's worth from Clements. He played solid at cornerback, while also proving to be a sure tackler. Clements set the tone on defense with his work ethic, becoming an immediate leader in the locker room.
Lewis, who signed with the 49ers on the same day as Clements, was second on the 49ers in tackles and provided some stability at a position that has been a weakness for the club in recent seasons.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Quarterback Alex Smith appeared to be on the verge of becoming a solid NFL quarterback a year ago. Smith, 23, began the season as the league's youngest starting quarterback for the third consecutive year, and his game was expected to take another big step forward.
However, things went terribly wrong. Smith got off to a slow start despite the 49ers' 2-0 record. But he did not get much help from less-than-imaginative play-calling, a porous offensive line and receivers who struggled to get open and hold onto well-thrown passes.
Smith sustained a separated throwing shoulder on the third play of the 49ers' Week 4 game against the Seahawks. When he tried to return after a month, he was clearly hurting. Nolan made many comments critical of Smith, which resulted in a rift between the two men.
Most of the problems that affected the 49ers this season were on the offensive side of the ball. The line was inconsistent, and running back Frank Gore had trouble coming close to providing the 49ers with the same production of 2006, when he rushed for 1,695 yards.
First-year offensive coordinator Jim Hostler appeared overmatched in his new role, as he clearly had difficulty putting his players in positions to succeed. The 49ers tied a club record for fewest points in a 16-game season, averaging just 13.7 points a game.
--- QB Shaun Hill did not play because of three fractures to the transverse process in his lower back. Hill will have surgery on Wednesday to repair his right index finger, too. Hill is scheduled for free agency, but he said he "absolutely" wants to return to the 49ers next season. He expects his back to heal naturally in a few weeks.
--- QB Chris Weinke, who has been with the 49ers just three weeks, got the start Sunday against the Browns. Weinke completed 13 of 22 passes for 104 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions. He was also sacked five times for minus-31 yards.
--- WR Darrell Jackson caught three passes for 28 yards and a touchdown to finish a disappointing season. Jackson finished the year with 46 catches for 497 yards and three TDs after the team traded a fourth-round draft pick to aquire him on draft weekend, expecting him to give the team a legitimate No. 1 receiver.
--- RB Frank Gore finished his season strong. He rushed for 94 yards on 23 carries. Gore had 1,102 yards this season with a 4.2-yard average. After gaining 105 yards from scrimmage Sunday, Gore set a new franchise record most yards from scrimmage over a two-year period with 3,718, breaking Garrison Hearst's mark of 3,658 set in 1998-2001 (Hearst missed the 1999-2000 seasons with a rare form of necrosis in his left ankle). Gore also had the most yards from scrimmage in the NFL since Week 12 with 836.
--- LB Patrick Willis is expected to get some votes for NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Willis capped his season with 12 tackles and his fourth sack of the season. Willis led the NFL with 174 tackles this season, finishing far ahead of Denver's D.J. Williams, who was second in the league with 141 tackles.
The quick overview: What went right and wrong
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