Notebook: Another contender coming off a loss

For the fourth game in a row, the 49ers are playing a legitimate playoff contender that just happens to be coming off a loss. When they face the New York Giants on Sunday at Giants Stadium in the Meadowlands, the Niners will be up against a team determined to bounce back from a 35-14 loss to the Cleveland Browns on Monday night.

The 49ers are on a three-game losing streak. They have surrendered 101 points in those losses to New Orleans, New England and Philadelphia. They lost those three games by a combined 37 points.

"We need to play more consistently," 49ers coach Mike Nolan said. "It's not as if we've been blown out the last three weeks. If there's anything that's disappointing it's that these are games we felt we should have won."

The 49ers pulled within six points of the Patriots with 10 minutes remaining on Oct. 5. Last week, the 49ers owned a nine-point lead on the Eagles with 12 minutes remaining in the game.

And things do not figure to get a whole lot easier against the defending Super Bowl champions. But Nolan looks ahead to the second half of the season when he believes the schedule opens up a bit for the 49ers.

However, with games against the Giants and Seattle Seahawks to close out the first half of the 49ers' season before their bye week, there don't appear to be any guarantees that Nolan will remain as head coach if the 49ers' losing streak reaches five games.

"It's a tough skid, but we're 2-4," Nolan said. "We've definitely got winnable games ahead and we've been in the games that we've lost the last two weeks against very good opponents."

The season appears to be slipping away for the 49ers, who have fallen two games behind the NFC West-leading Arizona Cardinals. But Nolan is preaching to his team that there is still a lot of football to be played.

And for inspiration, the 49ers need look no further than the team they're facing on Sunday. After all, the Giants began last season with two straight losses before rallying for six consecutive victories on their way to the Super Bowl title.

"It's a long season," cornerback Walt Harris said. "Look at what New York did last year being able to rebound. I think we're right on the edge of turning it around."

But there is little doubt the 49ers have reason for concern. Their veteran defense was supposed to be the pillar of the team. Instead, it looks worse than it did a year ago, when it ranked 26th in total defense. The 49ers' defense is also tied for 26th in third-down efficiency.

"I'm concerned," Nolan said. "Last year we were strong on defense, now it's a reverse trend. We're exchanging one problem for another."

The 49ers owned the worst offense in the league a year ago, but at least now they're getting some production from that unit. The 49ers rank 19th in the league in total yards.

Under first-year offensive coordinator Mike Martz, the 49ers have improved nearly 70 yards a game. The 49ers averaged 13.7 points per game last season, while that total has improved to 23.5 points through the first six games.

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The 49ers own a 2-4 record (.333 win percentage). Nearly halfway through coach Mike Nolan's fourth season with the 49ers, his overall record is 18-36 (.333).

The pressure on Nlan has never been more intense, as the 49ers travel to face the Giants, followed by a home game against the Seattle Seahawks.

If the 49ers lose the final two games heading into the bye week, club sources expect general manager Scot McCloughan to meet with John and Jed York to discuss their options, the Santa Rosa (Calif.) Press Democrat reported. Nolan's job performance and his future will be Topic No. 1.

When asked if he has talked with the Yorks about his job status, Nolan answered, "I have not had any conversations whatsoever about anything other than just trying to win games."

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Left tackle Joe Staley says he wanted the rematch with Giants defensive end Michael Strahan after Strahan got the upper hand when they met last season. Staley said that game, in which he surrendered 3.5 sacks, was the biggest learning experience of his young career.

Staley said when Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora sustained a season-ending injury in the season-opener, he was rooting for Strahan to come out of retirement.

"I wanted that rematch to redeem myself," Staley said. "I knew I wouldn't do what I did in that game again. I'm a different player now - more confident now than I was then. But it would be good to go against one of the best D-ends in the league again."

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DeShaun Foster has not gotten much action with the 49ers, so he does not figure to have a huge role in Sunday's game. However, in 2006 when he was with the Carolina Panthers, he rushed for 151 yards on 27 carries in a victory over the Giants in the NFC Championship game.

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Quarterback J.T. O'Sullivan ranks 37th in the league with a 48.1 passer rating in the fourth quarter. He has completed just 48.9 percent of his passes (23 of 47) with two touchdowns and four interceptions.

The 49ers rank 31st in the league in third-down efficiency. O'Sullivan's passer rating of 54.2 on third downs ranks him 26th in the league.

Overall, O'Sullivan's numbers are not bad. He has completed 58.2 percent of his passes with seven touchdowns and eight interceptions. His passer rating is 76.4, ranking him 20th in the NFL.

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Former 49ers running back Lenvil Elliott, a key member of the team's 1981 championship season, died Sunday in Richmond, Mo. He was 57.

Elliott was drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals and played from 1973 to '79. He played three seasons under assistant coach Bill Walsh. When Walsh became 49ers head coach in 1979, he acquired Elliott in a trade. Elliott retired after the Super Bowl-winning season.

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The 49ers signed fullback David Kirtman off the Chargers' practice squad to fill the roster spot vacated by fullback Zak Keasey.

Kirtman played six games in 2007 with the Seahawks, who waived him on Aug. 30. He signed with the Chargers' practice squad last month.

Keasey is out for the season after he sustained a torn biceps tendon in his right arm while blocking on a kickoff return in Sunday's game against the Eagles. Keasey underwent season-ending surgery on Tuesday.

The 49ers have, in essence, gone with a 52-man roster for several weeks.

Cornerback Shawntae Spencer sustained a season-ending torn ligament in his knee on Sept. 14. But the 49ers have kept him on the roster for four weeks because they have enough defensive backs on their roster and there is not anyone they could sign who would make it onto the 45-man game day roster, coach Mike Nolan said.

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