It has been eight years since the Bay Area has seen one of its
NFL teams put together a winning season, a drought that appears
likely to continue in 2010.
For the San Francisco 49ers, one victory would be a start.
The winless 49ers hope to put their worst start in 31 years
behind them as the Oakland Raiders cross the Bay Bridge for a rare
northern California showdown Sunday.
San Francisco’s 8-8 finish last season was the best either team
has managed since 2002, when both clubs made the playoffs and the
Raiders reached the Super Bowl.
But the 49ers (0-5) have encountered the bigger problems this
season despite entering as a potential favorite in the NFC West.
Their first four weeks included two blowout losses and two
last-second defeats, and they were unable to overcome five
turnovers in a 27-24 home loss to Philadelphia last Sunday
It’s already the longest San Francisco has gone without a win
since 1979, when it started 0-7 and finished 2-14. No 0-5 team has
ever rebounded to make the playoffs, but the 49ers are holding out
hope in the wide-open NFC West.
“It’s felt like a whole season already, considering that we
haven’t won a game,” linebacker Patrick Willis said. “It makes the
days feel long, it makes the weeks feel long. In reality, we’re
0-5, that’s what it is. Reality, too, is that we have a chance to
get this right.”
Coach Mike Singletary is hoping a confrontation with quarterback
Alex Smith will help. Smith’s fumble led to an Eagles touchdown
early in the fourth quarter, and Singletary considered replacing
him with backup David Carr.
But Smith spoke up for himself in a heated exchange with his
coach, then led two late touchdown drives as the 49ers’ comeback
attempt fell just short. Although the former No. 1 overall draft
pick has thrown an NFL-high nine interceptions – a huge reason San
Francisco is last in the NFL with a minus-10 turnover differential
– Smith will remain the starter at least one more week.
“When I look at Alex, I’m convinced that there’s something there
that I feel that he can be a good quarterback,” Singletary said.
“But it’s up to him. You’re always a work in progress, but at some
point in time you have to grab hold of it and really come to that
point to where you know, and everybody else around you, that this
guy has arrived.”
The Raiders (2-3) also have some questions at quarterback,
especially after Bruce Gradkowski injured his throwing shoulder
during a 35-27 win over San Diego last Sunday. Jason Campbell is
expected to start in his place against San Francisco.
Campbell began the season as the starter after being acquired
from Washington, but Gradkowski replaced him at halftime in Week 2
and led Oakland to a 16-14 win over St. Louis.
Campbell then replaced the injured Gradkowski last weekend and
went 13 of 18 for 159 yards and a touchdown, although coach Tom
Cable said Gradkowski will remain the starter when healthy.
“I just think it’s a good problem to have two quality players,”
Oakland has also shown it has two quality running backs, with
Darren McFadden averaging 4.6 yards per carry and 98.0 rushing
yards in the first four weeks. With McFadden out with a hamstring
injury – he’s questionable this week – Michael Bush had 26 carries
for 104 yards and a touchdown against San Diego.
The Raiders’ defense and special teams also contributed to the
victory, blocking two punts and sealing the game on Tyvon Branch’s
64-yard fumble return in the final minute. Oakland, which has lost
at least 11 games in seven consecutive seasons, would have a
winning record if not for a missed 32-yard field goal by Sebastian
Janikowski on the final play in a Week 3 loss at Arizona.
“As I said to them, ‘Let’s not make this a 24-hour feel-good
party, let’s make this who we are becoming,'” Cable said. “That’s
where we need to go.”
Getting back to .500 would be especially meaningful against
their local rivals in a matchup that has only occurred six times
while the Raiders have been based in Oakland. Each team has won
three, with the 49ers taking the last two – most recently 34-20 on
Oct. 8, 2006.
Smith was 15 of 19 for 165 yards and three touchdowns in that
game, and he continues to have the support of tight end Vernon
“I’m a big fan of Alex Smith,” said Davis, who leads the 49ers
with 313 receiving yards. “He’s talented. He makes mistakes. His
thing is he definitely has to learn from them. We don’t have time
to play around and just make careless mistakes. We’ve got to