NFC West News & Notes - 10/25/05

The Rams deal with some front office drama, the Cardinals deal with an inferior rushing attack, the 49ers deal with reality, and the Seahawks deal with a little downtime in today's NFC West News & Notes.

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SEATTLE SEAHAWKS
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Coach Mike Holmgren gave his players the entire bye week off, a reward for their 5-2 record and a test of their trustworthiness. One week ago, FS Ken Hamlin suffered severe head injuries celebrating a victory at a Seattle nightclub. That incident should serve as a reminder to err on the side of safety during the bye. "The mood in the building is pretty good, I think mainly because I gave the players the week off," Holmgren said Monday. "They deserve it. They've worked very, very hard."

The Seahawks' bye week falls at a good time. A year ago, the bye came after only three games -- too early. Seattle went from 3-0 to 3-3 after losing its momentum. This time, Seattle has nearly reached the midpoint of the season. Players are banged up. It's time for a break. "We're a little bit sore and a physically, we need the time," Holmgren said. "I'm not sure how many guys can practice."

Holmgren's decision to give the team a full week is not unprecedented. He did it with Green Bay in 1996. "It was a nice story because we won the Super Bowl,"

Holmgren said. "We had a veteran team. I really trusted them. Their focus was very good." The Seahawks are a younger, less proven team. But the roster has been remade with an emphasis on character. "This group, I talked to today and I said, 'Look, I'm going to do this, you deserve it, but this thing is a two-way street.'

"This trust thing goes both ways. They have to be smart about how they handle themselves."

NOTES, QUOTES

--Holmgren couldn't watch when K Josh Brown lined up to attempt the winning 50-yard kick in the final seconds Sunday. The coach actually turned to DT Marcus Tubbs and DT Rocky Bernard and told them he had to turn away. They convinced him to watch. When the kick went through and Seattle owned a 13-10 victory over Dallas, Holmgren's reaction seemed a bit understated. "I put a lot into the games and I was kind of shot," Holmgren said. "I didn't have a lot left to do anything."

--The Seahawks' turned a corner Sunday by doing to the Cowboys what so many teams have done to Seattle: steal a game. The final two minutes featured an 81-yard touchdown drive, a 25-yard interception return and the winning 50-yard field goal as time expired. And for a change, the Seahawks were the beneficiaries of each play.

"I have been here three years and I don't really remember anything like this," K Josh Brown said. "This was special." Seattle's defensive performance was flawed, but the Seahawks never backed down despite taking their lumps. Their determination paid off. "There is no going in the tank," LB D.D. Lewis said. "That's not an option for us, man. We're going to keep fighting, fighting, fighting, fighting. It was just awesome to see that when you fight all the way for it to come out like this."

PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES


--CB Andre Dyson is expected to return from a hamstring injury after the bye week.

--WR Joe Jurevicius' "stinger" injury is not serious. He'll return after the bye week.

--WR Bobby Engram is expected to return from cracked ribs after the bye week.

--FS Ken Hamlin has been released from a Seattle hospital, but his playing future remains in doubt. He suffered head trauma during an altercation last week.

--WR D.J. Hackett was banged up during the game Sunday, but he should return after the bye week.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

REPORT CARD VS. COWBOYS

PASSING OFFENSE: D --
The Seahawks had trouble protecting QB Matt Hasselbeck, who responded with his least disciplined effort since the season opener. The Cowboys roughed up Seattle's undermanned receiving corps, preventing WR D.J. Hackett and WR Joe Jurevicius from getting open consistently. Seattle was able to draw some interference penalties, some in key situations. But the passing game struggled most of the way. Hasselbeck tossed a pair of interceptions and he nearly served up a couple more.

RUSHING OFFENSE: D -- Seattle likes to set up the run with the pass. When the pass never got going, the run had no chance. The Cowboys put eight or more defenders in the box quite frequently and Seattle could not capitalize because its receivers struggled to get open. RB Shaun Alexander managed to set the Seahawks' career rushing record, and his late 11-yard run was hugely important in setting up the tying touchdown. But his 2.9-yard average was a season low.

PASS DEFENSE: A --
The Seahawks collected five sacks and some of them came at the right time. The Cowboys were starting a pair of inexperienced tackles and Seattle made them pay with some frequency. DE Grant Wistrom's sack on third-and-6 forced Dallas to settle for a field goal that sailed wide left. DE Bryce Fisher added two more sacks while working against a rookie right tackle. And with the game on the line, CB Jordan Babineaux picked off Cowboys QB Drew Bledsoe and raced 25 yards to set up the winning field goal.

RUSH DEFENSE: D -- The Seahawks are a try-hard bunch, but they are undersized and therefore vulnerable to strong running games, particularly when defenders cheat on gap responsibility. Those factors explained why Dallas was able to rack up 164 yards on the ground. Seattle does deserve credit for stuffing the Cowboys' ground game in the red zone, holding Dallas to a total of three points on drives that started at the Seattle 9- and 12-yard lines.

SPECIAL TEAMS: C -- These units aren't showing the improvement Seattle expected. CB Jimmy Williams muffed a punt at the Seattle 9, leading to a Dallas recovery. The Seahawks also allowed a 39-yard kickoff return with the score tied at 10 and less than a minute remaining. The only saving graces were a pair of long field goals from K Josh Brown, including the game-winning 50-yarder as time expired. Brown also set a Qwest Field record with a 55-yarder in the first half.

COACHING: B -- Coach Mike Holmgren didn't have many answers for the Cowboys' defensive dominance. He walked away from the game a winner because his players never quit, showing admirable resilience in overcoming a series of potentially costly mistakes. The Seahawks continued to suffer from too many penalties (nine), however.


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ARIZONA CARDINALS
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A week off did nothing to help Arizona's struggling running game, which hasn't produced a touchdown all year. Addressing the rushing attack was a priority in the bye week, coach Dennis Green said, and coaches did a detailed examination of what had gone wrong and what could be improved.

But the Cardinals rushed for only 55 yards on 22 carries in a victory over Tennessee, and starter Marcel Shipp has gained just 30 yards on 27 carries in the past two games. Green appears to be tiring of the questions about his team's anemic rushing attack.

He thinks the Cardinals have to improve in other areas to compensate for the lack of production on the ground. "That's really my concern, because our ability to be a playoff team is not going to be based on whether we run the ball or not," Green said. "The Eagles cannot run the ball. They had 14 carries for 20 yards or 20 carries for 14 yards. It's got nothing to do with winning the game. You have to compensate. I want to run the ball better. Absolutely. But I also want to compensate for any weaknesses that we have, more than anything else."

Green, however, doesn't think the Cardinals can emulate the Eagles. What needs to happen, he said, is the passing game has to be more productive. He thinks the team has missed several scoring opportunities.

"We have got a sufficient amount of yardage," Green said, "but you don't win with yardage. You win with touchdowns."

NOTES, QUOTES

--Green isn't saying if Josh McCown will remain the team's starting quarterback. But it's hard to imagine Green making a change since McCown has started every game the Cardinals have won in Green's tenure.
"I haven't thought about it right now," Green said. "But as I said, we are in the decision-making business. Making decisions doesn't bother us at all."

--WR Anquan Boldin didn't catch a pass last week for first time in 32 NFL games. "It was nothing they did. We were prepared," Boldin said. "It was just the mistakes that we made, whether it be route-running or protections or whatever."

--RB Marcel Shipp rarely shows emotion, but he was obviously upset when he was stopped for a 4-yard loss on his second carry against Tennessee.
"It's frustrating, but at the same time I don't question anyone's effort," Shipp said. "The effort is there. We're just not getting it done."

PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES

--OT Oliver Ross is at least another week away from returning from a broken right hand that's caused him to miss three games. Fred Wakefield has replaced him in the starting lineup.

--DT Langston Moore replaced the injured Calvin Pace in the team's five-man front. Moore played fairly well, making three tackles.
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-DE Chike Okeafor played his best game of the season, finishing with two sacks.

--RB J.J. Arrington showed the big-play ability that prompted the team to take him in the second round of last April's draft. Arrington had a 32-yard run and nearly broke it for a touchdown. However, he finished with 30 yards.

--QB Josh McCown suffered a bruised left hand and a sprained left ankle, but he finished the game and is expected to play Sunday in Dallas.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

REPORT CARD AFTER FIVE GAMES

PASSING OFFENSE: D --
The protection was poor and McCown was inaccurate. Larry Fitzgerald's 34-yard touchdown catch was the game winner.

RUSHING OFFENSE: F -- It's beyond bad. Running back Marcel Shipp didn't have a positive rushing total until seven minutes left in the game. On most plays, he was hit in the backfield.

PASS DEFENSE: A -- They pressured Titans quarterback Billy Volek all day and cornerback David Macklin returned an interception 60 yards for a touchdown.

RUSH DEFENSE: A -- They held Tennessee to under 100 yards and a 3.2-yards per carry average. The team's linebackers played their best overall game.

SPECIAL TEAMS: B -- Punter Scott Player helped give the team good field position, and kicker Neil Rackers has made 20 straight this season. The coverage teams gave up too much, however.


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ST. LOUIS RAMS
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It was just another Manic Monday at Rams Park, as Mike Martz announced he will not coach for the remainder of the season. That came exactly two weeks after Martz began an indefinite leave of absence because he was suffering from endocarditis, a bacterial infection in the lining of the heart. The revelation was surprising, considering that Martz had been feeling better and was talking about returning to the team after their Nov. 6 bye. However, it might not have been surprising, considering two incidents that surrounded Sunday's 28-17 victory over the Saints.

Since being hospitalized Oct. 10, Martz has had consistent contact with the coaching staff. He made an appearance at a team meeting this past Saturday. Prior to the game and at halftime, he talked with offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild.However, according to published reports, in the second half a club official was blocked from delivering to Fairchild a play suggestion from Martz. President of football operations Jay Zygmunt has been conspicuous by his presence in the coach's booth the last two games, and it was Zygmunt that prevented the message from being given to Fairchild in the box.

Monday, club president John Shaw said the story was inaccurate. Shaw said a request was made to Zygmunt that a live phone be placed in the coach's booth, and that Zygmunt approached Shaw about the request. Shaw said, "It was my decision (not to allow it).

Shaw was also asked about a report that claimed the club was considering fining defensive end Leonard Little for missing Sunday's game. Little left the team Oct. 18 to be with his family following the murder of his brother Jermaine the previous day. Reports suggested Martz had told Little to take as much time as he needed. Shaw said Little was excused through Saturday, the day of his brother's funeral, but that Vitt expected him to come to St. Louis in time for the game.

"If it is an unexcused absence, it will be up to Joe to decide whether he is fined," Shaw said. However, when asked later about Little, Vitt said he never expected Little to be at the game and that he wasn't surprised he wasn't there. Vitt said Little would not be fined.

"This is a tough time for Leonard," Vitt said. "His bereavement is ongoing. We know where Leonard's heart is. When he can physically and mentally do it, he will be back to help us win."

As for Martz, he said he needed to step away to ensure that he stays healthy and that the infection is completely gone so he can return to coaching. "I feel I could coach now, but my doctor told me I could end up where I was if I come back too soon and start working the hours coaches work," he said.

Martz also said there would be no further contact regarding coaching decisions between him and the rest of the staff. "It's Joe Vitt's team," Martz said, while indicating he expects to be back with the Rams next season. He said, "I'm under contract, and unless there's something I don't know, I'll be here."

NOTES, QUOTES

--DT Damione Lewis was ejected with 8:24 to play in the first quarter Sunday after punching Saints C LeCharles Bentley in the groin area. The play also cost the Rams a third-down stop because they had sacked QB Aaron Brooks for a 6-yard loss on 3rd-and-3. The 15-yard penalty gave the Saints a first down.
Bentley said Lewis must have been mad because he had dominated him on the play. Bentley also added that Lewis should receive additional sanctions from the NFL. He said, "I hope the league punishes him. I guess that's how he was raised."

The day after the game, interim coach Joe Vitt said, "Inexcusable. We won't tolerate it. It will be dealt with. We're going to play the game the right way, and that's not the right way."

--The start for Rams QB Jamie Martin was just the fourth of his career. He has been in the NFL since 1993, is 35 years old, and had thrown 361 career passes prior to Sunday. His last two starts were for the Rams in 2002. Said Martin, "Yeah, I was nervous. I missed that first throw that I had. I think that was a little bit of nerves, and I jerked it out there. But I calmed down as the game went and was able to hit some long throws. Overall, I think I was all right as the game went along."

The long throws were a 42-yard completion to Kevin Curtis from the Saints 48 to the 6 on the Rams' first drive of the fourth quarter. That set up a Steven Jackson touchdown and cut the Saints lead to 17-14. Earlier, Curtis was interfered with on what turned out to be a 42-yard penalty, one that also took the Rams from the 48 to 6 and set up a Jackson touchdown, cutting the Saints' early lead from 14-0 to 14-7.

"Offensively, we made some plays when we had to make them," interim head coach Joe Vitt said. "Jamie functioned well within the offense; he missed a couple open throws but did not turn the ball over. I think that was the real tell-tale, I believe there was a 2-1 turnover ratio and we won that battle."
Martin also threw a block on Saints cornerback Mike McKenzie that helped WR Kevin Curtis score the go-ahead touchdown on a 5-yard end around.
"I'm not a lineman; I just tried to shield him," Martin said. "I did just enough... just enough."

Said Curtis, "Enough to give me some room to get around the edge."

--The fourth quarter told the tale of this game for the Rams. Through three quarters, the Saints had out-gained the Rams 285-199 and had run 56 plays to the Rams' 38. The Rams had run just four plays in Rams territory to 32 by New Orleans. The fourth quarter started with the Saints at the Rams' 7-yard line with first and goal. But the St. Louis defense held the Saints to a field goal, and New Orleans led 17-7. To that point, the Rams' best starting field position had been the 28-yard line and at one point, they began four consecutive drives inside their own 20-yard line.

But Terry Fair returned the Saints' kickoff 35 yards to the 42, and in eight plays, they had a touchdown. On the second play of the Saints' next drive, Adam Archuleta recovered a Donte Stallworth fumble on an end-around at the New Orleans 42-yard line. In five plays, the Rams scored for a 21-17 lead. The takeaway was the first for the Rams' defense since their third game of the season against Tennessee.

The Rams had 11 consecutive plays in Saints territory, while New Orleans had no plays in Rams territory for the rest of the game after its field goal.
In the fourth quarter, the Saints had 19 plays for 47 yards and the Rams 19 for 99. Aaron Brooks was 3-for-13 for 34 yards in the fourth quarter. The Saints started the game 5 of 6 on third down in the first quarter, and they also got two third downs in the first quarter on two penalties. They ended the game 6 of 16 on third down.

Concluded Vitt, "We talked to the team all week long about No. 1, protecting the ball, No. 2, creating turnovers, and No. 3, the kicking game; let's get some returns. The average starting point for our offense and defense have been really drastic the last three weeks and it was something that our players bought into and we were able to get accomplished."

PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES

--QB Marc Bulger threw for the first time Monday since injuring his shoulder Oct. 17 against the Colts and felt "pretty good," according to interim coach Joe Vitt. Bulger has a chance to play Sunday against Jacksonville.

--LG Claude Terrell spent Sunday night in the hospital after suffering a sprained neck against the Saints Sunday. An MRI was negative, but Terrell was "stiff and sore" Monday, according to interim coach Joe Vitt.

--CB Chris Johnson missed some time in Sunday's game against New Orleans because of a back injury. Johnson was replaced as the kickoff returner by Terry Fair.

--WR Torry Holt has more than a bruised knee, as was originally announced. Holt has a sprained PCL, and missed Sunday's game. His status for next week is unknown.

--WR Dominique Thompson was the team's fourth receiver Sunday with Tory Holt and Isaac Bruce out. An un-drafted free agent, Thompson had a reception for 13 yards, his first NFL catch.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

REPORT CARD VS. SAINTS

PASSING OFFENSE: B --
QB Jamie Martin was solid if not spectacular, compiling a passer rating of 82.3 and completing 18 of 29 passes for 198 yards. Most importantly, he did not throw an interception. With WRs Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt inactive, RB Marshall Faulk was the leading receiver with five catches. WR Kevin Curtis had four receptions for 90 yards.

RUSHING OFFENSE: B --
RB Steven Jackson rushed for 97 yards on 20 carries, but 43 came on the first play of the game. Jackson did score two touchdowns; one on 4th-and-1. Faulk added nine yards on two attempts, and Curtis scored on a 5-yard end around.

PASS DEFENSE: B --
The Rams got off to a rocky start, and had trouble containing QB Aaron Brooks. But they started pressuring Brooks, and it worked to get him out of his rhythm. Brooks completed less than 50 percent of his passes (18 for 39) and was sacked four times.

RUSH DEFENSE: B -- Generally, the Rams did their job limiting the Saints' rushing attack. The long run against was a Brooks 15-yard run, and he accounted for 28 of the Saints' 119 rushing yards. Antowain Smith and Aaron Stecker combined for 89 yards on 26 carries.

SPECIAL TEAMS: B --
Overall, it was one of the team's better special teams efforts. Kick coverage was good, and a 42-yard Terry Fair kickoff return led to the touchdown that brought the Rams to within 17-14. Jeff Wilkins was badly short on a 48-yard field-goal attempt.

COACHING: B-plus -- Interim coach Joe Vitt kept the team in the game after falling behind 14-0, and the Rams captured a much-needed home win over a team that had beat them in St. Louis the last three times the teams had played. The defensive adjustment to blitz QB Aaron Brooks worked, and the team played hard with several elite players out.


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SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
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The 49ers lost their fifth straight game, and they are playing worse than they were a year ago, when they finished with a 4-12 record. But coach Mike Nolan remains upbeat about the direction the franchise is heading. At his Monday press conference, Nolan spoke repeatedly about liking the "smell in the building."

The odor emanating from the playing field is an entirely different matter.

"Obviously, we were 1-4 before this game, and I think anyone traveling through the building would say the players are very upbeat and positive, and they say positive things about the direction we're going," Nolan said. "I think they truly believe it's going in the right direction. I think they have a lot of confidence in their coaches."

Nolan pointed out the progress that has been made at wide receiver and linebacker under position coaches Jerry Sullivan and Mike Singletary, respectively.
"A huge thing is when players are getting better individually," Nolan said. "It makes them feel better about the direction the team is going." Nolan's biggest challenge for the remainder of his first season is to make sure the team sticks together. After all, it is obvious that the 49ers are not going to the playoffs, and they still have 10 games remaining in the season.

"I believe it would be more difficult if we were in the third or fourth year of this regime, because at that point, everybody just says, 'Let's go with a fresh start,'" Nolan said. "One of the reasons I think it is smelling good in the building, so to speak, is because guys have a real confidence in the direction it's going throughout the building."

There has been no evidence thus far that any players are jumping ship. Veteran defensive end Marques Douglas, who signed with the 49ers after three seasons with the Ravens, is adamant that things are heading in the right direction. "I feel good about what we have here," Douglas said. "I love it here and I love what the coaches are doing."

NOTES, QUOTES

--Niners coach Mike Nolan was not too complimentary of LB LaVar Arrington before facing the Redskins, perhaps because he didn't think Arrington would be playing. Arrington had been benched most of the season before playing a big role against the 49ers. In the days leading up to the game, Nolan intimated that Arrington, a three-time Pro Bowl player, was generally overrated. "I think perception and reality are a little askew on that one," Nolan said.

But Arrington played a significant role against the 49ers. He made outstanding plays in pursuit and got the crowd fired up whenever he stepped on the field.
When asked after Sunday's game if Arrington gave the Redskins a spark, Nolan answered, "I hate to say it, but I think we gave them the spark -- I don't think LaVar did. Not to take anything away from him because he did make some plays, but he wasn't the only player on their team who made some plays."

--Defensive end Marques Douglas, who signed with the 49ers as a free agent after spending the last three seasons with the Ravens, said this is all part of the process of a team building for the future. "Right now it's something we have to endure," he said. "Every team has been through it. Teams like Indianapolis and St. Louis had to go through some lean times before they got to where they wanted to go."

--How bad are things for the 49ers? Rookie safety Ben Emanuel, who was elevated from the practice squad for the game, made his NFL debut as the coverage linebacker in the 49ers' dime defense, which consists of six defensive backs. When asked if that is a little strange to see a player just off the practice squad in such a prominent role, starting strong safety Tony Parrish responded, "It does show how thin we are."

PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES


--QB Alex Smith had a rough time, but he showed some improvement over his first NFL starting assignment. Against the Colts, Smith had five turnovers with four interceptions and one lost fumble. On Sunday, he had one interception and one lost fumble against the Redskins. Despite 47 fewer passing attempts this season than Tim Rattay, Smith has been sacked 12 times this season. Rattay was sacked 10 times before getting traded to the Buccaneers last week.

--RB Frank Gore has been the 49ers' best rookie, and he could be setting himself up for a solid second half of the season. Gore gained 89 yards on nine carries with a 72-yard TD run late in the game. Gore is getting nearly half the touches as starter Kevan Barlow, gaining 198 yards on 34 carries for a 5.8 average.

--KR Maurice Hicks had plenty of chances Sunday, but he was unable to break any kind of long returns. He had eight kickoff returns for a lowly 16.6-yard average. The 49ers' average starting point after kickoffs was the 27-yard line.

--WR Brandon Lloyd is the team's leading receiver with 19 catches for 369 yards and three touchdowns. Last year through the first six games, tight end Eric Johnson had 45 catches for 484 yards. In fact, Lloyd's numbers would have ranked him fourth last year through six games.

--P Andy Lee, whose 96 punts last year were just one of the team record for a season, has attempted 36 punts through six games. He is on pace to equal the number of punts he had last year.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

REPORT CARD VS. REDSKINS

PASSING OFFENSE: F --
Quarterback Alex Smith, making his second NFL start, struggled again. He completed 8 of 16 passing attempts for a career-high 92 yards and one interception. He was also sacked five times and lost one of his three fumbles. The 49ers had just 54 net passing yards and 43 of them came on Brandon Lloyd's sensational 43-yard first-quarter catch against the tight coverage of Walt Harris.

RUSHING OFFENSE: C -- The running game wasn't exactly spectacular. After all, the 49ers gained 8 or fewer net yards on 10 of their 13 possessions. If the running game is going well, it needs to get consistent yards and keep the chains moving. However, the 49ers' two touchdowns came on very good running plays. Kevan Barlow got good blocking and made some nice moves on his 17-yard TD run, and rookie Frank Gore scored his first career touchdown on a 72-yarder with two minutes remaining.

PASS DEFENSE: F -- This has become routine for the opposition against the 49ers. Mark Brunell could have thrown for about as many yards as he wanted but the Redskins were also having success with the ground game. Cornerback Shawntae Spencer took the blame for perhaps the ugliest play of the game -- he stopped running with Santana Moss on a deep route, thinking he had safety help from Mike Adams. The mix-up resulted in an uncontested 32-yard TD. Brunell's passer rating was 147.9, as the Redskins averaged 11.5 yards per pass attempt.

RUSH DEFENSE: F -- The 49ers' run defense had been its strength, if you can call it that, through the first five games. But nothing was there on Sunday. Clinton Portis gained 101 yards and three touchdowns on 19 carries. The Redskins attempted 36 running plays (excluding three kneel-downs to run out the clock), and they had 14 rushing first downs.

SPECIAL TEAMS: D-minus -- Offense wasn't working, and neither was defense, so the 49ers needed some big production from special teams. That did not happen. Punter Andy Lee had a 42.4 average, but Redskins return man James Thrash had a 12.5 average on four punt returns. The 49ers generated nothing from their own return game, despite plenty of chances on kickoff returns.

COACHING: F -- Nothing worked. The 49ers were outclassed in every aspect of the game. Mike Nolan might have a bright future as head coach, but the present looks extremely bleak. Through six games, the 49ers have gotten progressively worse. Nolan's biggest faults might be his decisions to trade three of the team's better players from a year ago -- Tim Rattay, John Engelberger and Jamie Winborn -- for next to nothing.


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