49ers vs. Titans: What we learned

Five things we learned about the 49ers during their 34-27 upset loss to the Tennessee Titans: Not so good after all; identity tilting; Davis need a dozen; defense dropping in clutch; and time to get it together – fast.

THE 49ERS AREN'T AS GOOD AS THEY THOUGHT THEY WERE
Coach Mike Singletary still was promising a playoff berth this season after last week's close loss at undefeated Indianapolis, and he still believes the 49ers can reach their goals this year with half a season still remaining. But at the midpoint of the season, the stark reality is the 49ers are a struggling team still attempting to find itself rather than a good team that can start envisioning the things it will take to make a postseason run down the stretch. For the latter to actually happen, the 49ers would have to improve in several areas and then remain consistent in them. The reality of today is they're a team riding a four-game losing streak that has fallen to two games below .500. Their offense ranks 27th among the NFL's 32 teams and their once-formidable defense has fallen all the way to 19th in this week's rankings. Those all are not signs of a good team, and the 49ers are looking more like a team on the other side of that fence as they attempt to right their season with half of their season still remaining.

THE SEARCH FOR OFFENSIVE IDENTITY IS TILTING TOWARD THE PASS
After Sunday's loss to the Titans, it's pretty clear the 49ers aren't the physical, smashmouth offensive team they intended to be this season. In fact, they're not even the power rushing team they intended to be. There was no power rushing against the Titans, even though running back Frank Gore had another strong day with 83 yards on 15 carries. But several of Gore's runs came out of the diversion of a shotgun formation, and a more telling statistic may be the 75 yards Gore gained on seven receptions. The 49ers handed the ball to Gore just six more times than they tried to pass it to him Sunday (9 passes went his way). And the most telling statistic of the day is this one: Even though the 49ers were in the lead a good portion of the afternoon, the offensive game plan consisted of 51 called pass plays and just 18 running plays. The identity of this offense is shifting to better suit its personnel, and better suit the 49ers' chances of victory.

THE 49ERS NEED TO THROW THE BALL TO VERNON DAVIS A DOZEN TIMES A GAME
Look what happened when the Niners threw it to their talented tight end 11 times against Tennessee: He responded with career-high totals of 10 receptions for 102 yards. Davis made several nice grabs on the run and his 40-yard reception displayed excellent adjustment with the ball in the air despite Davis facing double coverage. He is the go-to guy in this offense now, and the 49ers need to go to him regularly like they did on Sunday. He is a playmaker who made the offense move throughout the day against the Titans, and considering the matchup problems he creates and the mismatches he gets, the 49ers simply can't go to him enough.

THE DEFENSE ISN'T MAKING THE PLAYS IT USED TO
When the 49ers were off to a 3-1 start and their defense was riding high with a top-10 NFL ranking, that unit was making the plays necessary to win in key situations and crucial sequences of games. But that wasn't the case Sunday as the Niners failed several times on plays that could have shut down the Titans and swayed the outcome. Linebacker Parys Haralson had running back Chris Johnson trapped near the sideline on a fourth-and-goal play midway through the fourth quarter with the 49ers still leading 20-17, but he left his feet and allowed the elusive scatback to slip around him and into the end zone for the go-ahead touchdown. A few plays before that, defensive backs Dre Bly and Dashon Goldson allowed receiver Justin Gage to stand between them and then out-leap them for an air ball delivered by quarterback Vince Young on a second-and-14 play that kept the drive moving. The two DBs had plenty of time to prevent that pass from being completed, but basically waited for it to come down instead of getting in position to defend it. The two big whiffs on that drive were typical of the way San Francisco's defenders performed when they needed to come up with a big play.

THE 49ERS NEED TO GET THEIR ACT TOGETHER – AND FAST
The Titans actually are better than they're 1-6 record entering Sunday's game might suggest – remember, they went 13-3 last year – but losing to a struggling inter-conference opponent at home in such an important game pretty much represents the low point of the season for the 49ers. A four-game losing streak has threatened to ruin the season, and the Niners certainly can't let that slide stretch to five on Thursday night against the Chicago Bears. The time to turn around the season is now – as in this week. If the 49ers can't clean up the operation in a hurry, there are only going to be more days like Sunday on the horizon – and soon nobody will be talking about saving the season.



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