Coming off the worst first half in club history, the 49ers are not just playing a football game Sunday against the Vikings at Monster Park. In many ways, the organization's credibility is at stake.
If the 49ers ever needed a bounce-back game, this is it.
"We've had three games where we've gotten blown out of the water," 49ers defensive lineman Bryant Young said. "I'd hope that would be a wake-up call. You'd think it would've happened after the first one, but we didn't get it ... the second one, we didn't get it. And now with the third one, I hope everyone is aware that this can't continue."
Quarterback Alex Smith said the team has not lost faith that it is on the right path.
"I think without question, we're going to rally up," Smith said. "We understand what happened in Chicago is not a true reflection of where we're at. I don't think that's the direction we're heading. I sit in the offensive meeting room and I see us continue to get better as unit. We're making strides in the right direction."
But things have not gotten markedly better since Nolan took over as head coach. In fact, in some ways, things have gotten worse. Earlier this season, the 49ers lost to the Chiefs 41-0 — the worst shutout in team history. On Sunday, they fell behind to the Bears 41-0 at halftime, the most points the club has ever allowed in a half of football.
The 49ers eventually lost to the Bears 41-10. Two weeks ago, the 49ers lost to the Chargers 48-19, so a trend is obviously developing. It makes people — on the outside, anyway — wonder if things are getting better.
"Obviously, the games, with the way they've been, and the scores, I will be the first to say there's no reflection in those games of what's been changed in this building," 49ers coach Mike Nolan said. "But there's been a tremendous amount of things that have been a lot better in the surrounding cast. And if you don't get that right first, then it's a quick fix and it's all superficial.
"From my standpoint, I'm confident in the things we've gotten done. Do I enjoy 41-10, 48-19, 41-0? Not a lick. Should a fan enjoy that? No. Should a fan be patient? If they are, they should be just like me, from a patience standpoint, ‘What are we going to do to make it right?' If I'm a fan I might say, ‘I need to scream a little louder when somebody else has their offense on the field, I'm going to sound like Kansas City, maybe.'"
There appear to be no uncertainty in the 49ers' locker room. Many of the players know what's going on with the organization. The 49ers used the first two offseasons of Nolan's regime to bulk up the offense and create a supporting cast around quarterback Alex Smith, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2005 draft.
Meanwhile, the defensive upgrades will have to wait until this offseason when the 49ers have a lot of salary-cap room and at least seven picks in the first four rounds of the draft.
"I think that's the one thing we're fortunate to have — good character guys who aren't jumping off the ship. I think everybody for the most part's on board and willing to work. That's the only solution I see for turning it around," 49ers linebacker Jeff Ulbrich said.
Still, it's clear that people are getting frustrated in the results. The 49ers are 2-5 entering this week's game against the Vikings (4-3). Luckily, they play a home game after struggling so badly on the road.
"We're better than we're showing," Ulbrich said. "Until we do it, I really have no ground to stand on. Every facet — leadership needs to be improved, execution needs to be improved, communication, everything."
The 49ers have a young team, and many of the veteran players are not considered vocal leaders who can articulate what needs to be said at the right time with a commanding presence.
The 49ers' game against the Bears spiraled out of control, with the Bears scoring 28 points in the first half after turnovers.
"I don't know if leadership keeps the ball security down," Nolan said. "But every good team certainly has a lot of leaders on the team that respond positively to adverse situations."
In the aftermath of the 49ers' loss, Nolan said he thought the 49ers lacked the maturity that's necessary to put one mistake behind them. So one error led to another, led to another and the rout was on.
Other notable native San Franciscans who played for the 49ers are Hall of Famers Bob St. Clair and O.J. Simpson.
Strickland is in his fourth NFL season. The 49ers view him as a safety, who also has some coverage skills at cornerback. He has played 19 games in his career for the Colts and Eagles. All 12 of his career starts were with the Colts.
Gore fired agent David Dunn, who is facing a reported two-year suspension from the NFL Players Association.
"I'm very happy to be representing Frank," Rosenhaus said. "I'm expecting to get a contract extension for him in the near future."
Gore is in the second year of his initial three-year contract. The 49ers have expressed the desire to wait until Gore makes it healthy through an entire season before pursuing an extension.
Gore ranks fifth in the NFL in rushing with 631 yards, already surpassing his team-leading total of 608 from last season.
"He wanted to assure me that he didn't do it because he wanted to make any point to the organization or anyone else that he was unhappy," 49ers coach Mike Nolan said.
The 49ers did not make much of a push to re-sign outside linebackers Julian Peterson and Andre Carter. Peterson signed a seven-year, $54 million contract with the Seattle Seahawks that included $18.5 million guaranteed. Carter signed with the Washington Redskins. His deal was seven years for $32.5 million, including $9 million guaranteed.
Nolan said retaining Peterson and Carter was not worth the cost of doing business because it would have hamstrung the potential to build the roster in other areas.
"Personally, I think they're both good players, but $30 million for the two of them? No," Nolan said.
The 49ers plan to retain players a couple years before they become free agents with contract extensions. They have used that strategy the past two seasons to lock up such players as linebacker Jeff Ulbrich, receiver Arnaz Battle, cornerback Shawntae Spencer and offensive lineman Adam Snyder to long-term contract extensions.
"It's a way to escape, even for me to say, ‘I know what we got out there, and I know there's a time when we can do this and this and this and help this football team,'" Nolan said. "But that's an escape that's only temporary. I resist that temptation because I'm here today and living now and what I do now will affect that football team.
"That's all warm and fuzzy, but that's not today. Today is not warm and fuzzy."
BY THE NUMBERS: 33.6 — The 49ers' NFL-worst average points allowed per game.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "You can find out a lot about yourself and the team when you're down 41-0 at the half and you still have to come out and play for each other." — 49ers quarterback Alex Smith on the lessons learned from the blowout loss to the Bears.