Davis fans flames after adding fuel to fire

With the 49ers riding a four-game losing streak, it wouldn't seem an appropriate time to be popping off about demolishing an upcoming opponent. Yet that's exactly what TE Vernon Davis did in advance of Thursday's game against the Chicago Bears, providing fuel to fan the flames for the nationally-televised matchup between two teams in desperate need of a victory to remain in NFC playoff contention.

Davis, best known before this year for bearing the brunt of coach Mike Singletary's "I want winners" rant, is having a Pro Bowl-caliber season. He's tied for the league lead with seven touchdown receptions, and his 477 receiving yards are second among NFC tight ends.

However, he'd better deliver Thursday after talking about how easily his team will shred the Chicago defense.

"I think we can destroy their front," Davis said. "The guys up front, I think we can destroy them. I don't see anything spectacular about their front line.

"Their linebackers, I think we can handle them pretty well. I like (Adewale) Ogunleye. I like the way he's playing up front. He's about the only player I like on their defensive line. I think he's doing a good job."

Davis' team has done very little lately to spark his optimism. The 49ers rank 27th in total offense, though they had a productive day on that side of the ball last week against Tennessee, if you discount the four turnovers by quarterback Alex Smith that cost the 49ers in their 34-27 defeat to the Titans that dropped San Francisco to 3-5 at midseason.

The Bears defense, meanwhile, is ranked a respectable 15th overall. Yet Ogunleye's own remarks indicate he agrees, at least in part, with Davis' assessment that the Bears' defensive front is vulnerable.

"I'm just going to speak for myself and the defensive line," Ogunleye said. "I think we need to step it up a little bit better, a lot better to help this team out. For us to get to where we want to go, we've got to play a lot better on the defensive line."

If the Bears can get pressure on Smith, they'd stand a strong shot at pulling the road upset -- and proving Davis a poor prophet.

Davis insisted on Wednesday that he meant no disrespect to the Bears and was just speaking as a competitor, and his teammates seemed to have no problem backing up his words.

Neither did Singletary – sort of.

"I'll put it this way, I talked to him about it, and I know what he meant," Singletary said. "I'm a little frustrated, and I think if you really translate or if you read through the lines, read between the lines, I don't think he was being disrespectful at all. I think basically he was saying, ‘You know what, we can do this. Let's not sit back and talk about what the Bears are going to do. Let's go out there and do what we can do.' You have grown to know Vernon as well. He can get a little excited and that is what he did. As a team, we just have to be ready to go tomorrow night, but I know what he meant.

"I can't say I am glad (Davis said it), but at the same time, it's not one of those things where you sit back and really think a whole lot about it. I just think he said it, OK, it is out there. I'm sure they will read it and have their reaction, but we just have to be ready to play. Some things you wish you could say differently, but we will roll with it."

Davis insisted that he wasn't trying to insult the Chicago defense. He was trying to show confidence in his own team.

"I wasn't trying to stir anything up. I wasn't saying it to put anyone down,'' Davis said. "I was just being confident in me in my teammates because I know our ability and what we can do."

Center Eric Heitmann said the 49ers have an appreciation for Davis' flair and flamboyance and took his words as such. But they won't affect the 49ers' focus.

"Things are going to be said," Heitmann said. "You see bulletin board material all the time. It's happened to me in the NFL and in college. You can't get emotional about it. As a player you have to stay focused. You can't worry about what is being said. If you get too emotional you can mess up. You have to have a level head to be successful."

Linebacker Takeo Spikes pulled Davis aside to remind him that the comments had consequences. Spikes said he told Davis that the spotlight was going to be on him, so he'd better play great.

"His response to me was, ‘I do it every day,''' Spikes said.

Davis, voted as a team captain this year, said his San Francisco teammates were "fired up" by his comments. He also wasn't worried about the Bears using his words as bulletin-board motivation this week.

"Ah, that's no concern,'' he said. "When you're a winner, you want your opponent to come hard. You're looking for competition. That's what it's about. … It's not about putting anybody down or calling anybody out."

Naturally, Davis was asked again if he thought the 49ers will destroy the Bears up front.

This time, he was able to hold back – sort of.

"Wait till game time,'' he said.

Davis would have been in the spotlight of the nationally-televised game even if he hadn't made some incendiary comments.

He's in the midst of a breakout season and is tied for the NFL lead with seven touchdown receptions. San Francisco's team leader with 42 receptions for 477 yards, Davis is coming off the first 100-yard game by a 49ers tight end since 2004. He set career highs with 10 receptions for 102 yards last seek against the Titans.

So is he ready to show his stuff in the spotlight?

"Vernon is going to show up when Vernon has to show up, which is every week,'' Davis said. "So, I'm not worried about anything else."

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The 49ers have gotten away from Singletary's mantra.

Singletary uttered the words that would be used as part of the 49ers' marketing campaign: "Don't tell me. Show me."

But while the 49ers insist that they're going to be a playoff team, they have done little to show it on the field. They take a four-game losing streak into Thursday's game, a must-win situation if San Francisco is to remain in NFC playoff contention.

Singletary has repeatedly said that the 49ers are going to be "special" this season. He has repeatedly said his team will be in the playoffs.

Even during the team's current four-game losing streak, Singletary said it's working out for the best that the 49ers are now going through this stretch of five losses in six games because it will make the club stronger when it bounces back.

"When it does swing around, we'll be enjoying it a lot more, and it'll be much more of a richness to it going forward and an appreciation for it because it doesn't come easy," Singletary said.

"I feel good about these next eight games. I feel good about the situation we're in, and I feel good about our guys having to work through some things, as well as our coaches, to climb back up again and get ready for that next one and let's go."

Singletary said he feels no special emotions that his team will be facing the Bears. Singletary played all 12 seasons of his Hall of Fame career as a Bears linebacker, but the Bears declined to offer him a job when he inquired with the team after deciding to get into coaching.

Singletary entered the NFL coaching ranks in 2003 as an assistant on Brian Billick's staff with the Ravens, then followed Mike Nolan to San Francisco when Nolan became the 49ers' head coach in 2005.

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The 49ers are coming off one of their better offensive showings last week against the Titans. San Francisco's 27 points and 358 yards of total offense were the team's second-highest total in each category this season.

The only problem was quarterback Alex Smith's four turnovers. He threw three interceptions, two of which came on tipped passes, and lost a fumble.

But offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye said there was also a lot to like. The 49ers put together two-minute drills at the end of both halves that resulted in touchdowns. The 49ers were down 14 points late in the game when they drove for a touchdown to set up an onside kick in the final minute that the Titans recovered.

"We were 5-for-5 in the red zone, three touchdowns and two field goals. We had a 19-play drive in that game that overcame three or four penalties and a negative that went down and got points," Raye said. "I thought our 'me-to-you' factor was very good. ... We threw the ball. Alex completed 29 balls."

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When the 49ers opened the regular season, Shaun Hill was at quarterback, Michael Crabtree was working out on his own and Davis was still all about potential and not results.

Correspondingly, Singletary and Raye geared the offense to the run game.

But as the 49ers approach the midpoint of the season, strong-armed Smith has replaced Hill, Crabtree is now the team's No. 1 wideout and Davis is among the most productive tight ends in the business.

Smith excelled in college under Urban Meyer's spread formation while in college at Utah. While the 49ers might gradually shift to a more open offensive attack, Raye said the club is going to remain true to its vision of a power-running team.

"(If) we were going to take this deal and become a shotgun, wide open and throw the ball 48 or 52 times a game, then we'd have to do an awful lot of changing," Raye said. "The quarterback (Smith) has played (10) quarters, and people are now starting to refer to his history in that offense in college, which is five years removed. ... Going forward, if is something that will help us, we'll gravitate toward that."

Singletary fired offensive coordinator Mike Martz at the conclusion of last season because he did not endorse Martz's offensive philosophy. Raye was hired because of his preference for a power running game.

Smith said he is comfortable taking snaps out of the shotgun formation, but he also realizes the importance of a solid run game.

"If there's no run threat, then I'd probably rather be in the gun," Smith said. "But it's that balance we have with Frank (Gore) in the backfield and when you're under center. You give a defense multiple things to think about. They have to worry about if it is a run or pass. They have to be thinking about both things, and that will help us."

Receiver Jason Hill, inactive for five of the 49ers' first seven games of the season, took advantage of his opportunity last Sunday when he replaced struggling veteran Isaac Bruce.

Hill took over for Bruce as the 49ers' No. 3 receiver near the end of the first half. He caught four passes for 50 yards and two touchdowns. Hill simply had gotten few chances to show his stuff before getting called upon against the Titans.

"My focus hasn't changed, but it's been hard on my patience," Hill said Tuesday. "It's about being a professional and knowing it's bigger than just here. It's about other teams and what they're going to look at when I'm on film."

Hill will likely see extensive action Thursday as Bruce aggravated an ankle injury in practice this week and is questionable to play against the Bears.

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Of Smith's three interceptions last week, two came on passes that were deflected. Only one of the picks came as a result of holding the ball too long, he said.

"The one on the boundary could have gone up," Smith said of a first-half pass intended for Michael Crabtree. "That half-second maybe allowed that safety to come over and make a play that allowed that ball to stay inbounds. The other two didn't feel like I was late at all. But the first one I could say, critically looking at it, I could have gone up quicker."

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Cornerback Tarell Brown is expected to be a fixture in the 49ers' starting lineup for years after his promotion corresponded with the demotion of veteran cornerback Nate Clements against the Colts on Nov. 1.

Brown had just signed a contract extension that awarded him a $2.5 million signing bonus and locked him up through the 2013 season.

"I feel it's my job," Brown said. "Coaches gave me the nod. I want to go out there and produce. Everything else will take care of itself. I've got good players around me. I just have to stay consistent. Any time you get an opportunity to step on the field, you have to make the most of it. For me, this is my opportunity, and I have to seize the moment."

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When rookie defensive lineman Ricky Jean-Francois misread his itinerary coming back from the bye week and missed the 49ers' first scheduled practice, he knew he was going to have to pay for it. Singletary made Jean-Francois run and run and run and run.

Now, Jean-Francois said he is in tip-top condition, with the help of the discipline.

"I did some running," Jean-Francois said. "Let's just say I'm in shape for a long game. If we have a long game, I'll be good to go."

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The 49ers allowed just one 100-yard rusher this season, as Titans running back Chris Johnson eclipsed that mark Sunday. The 49ers rank fourth in the league against the run.

The opposition has averaged just 3.4 yards per carry through the first seven games of the season.

The key to the 49ers' success has been outstanding play from defensive linemen Aubrayo Franklin, Justin Smith and Isaac Sopoaga, which has helped linebacker Patrick Willis and Takeo Spikes remain unblocked and make tackles.

"We pride ourselves on stopping the run first and making teams have to pass," Willis said. "That's our goal, to make them one-dimensional."



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