Niners reach new depths in 7-game losing skid

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- For nine weeks now, 49ers coach Mike Nolan has been confronted by alarmingly low numbers after every outing by his struggling offense. One week it might be Alex Smith's shrinking completion percentage, another week Frank Gore's meager rushing totals.

At least the Niners' latest, lousiest statistic -- the number on the scoreboard -- can't go lower than zero.

The 49ers' progressively awful season reached another nadir in Monday night's 24-0 loss at Seattle, San Francisco's seventh straight defeat. While the defense forced two turnovers and stuck with the Seahawks, the 49ers' offense had another day of dysfunctional ineptitude in its burgeoning disaster of a season.

With Smith's 12-for-28 performance and just 79 yards from the rushing game, San Francisco (2-7) was shut out for the first time this season while managing just 173 total yards. The 49ers ran only 47 offensive plays, 30 fewer than the Seahawks, while getting just six first downs and going 1-for-15 on third and fourth downs.

"Despite our struggles, we had opportunities to make plays in the game," coach Mike Nolan said Tuesday. "We're not very efficient on the offensive side of the ball."

Nolan is becoming a master of understatement as he deals with his offense's profound woes. He's also showing a stubborn loyalty, standing firmly by offensive coordinator Jim Hostler and Smith while offering no hints of personnel changes or coaching reassignments.

Instead, the team that redefined offensive football in the 1980s seems determined to stay the course with an offense that has no definition.

The 49ers have gained a league-low 1,967 yards -- 448 fewer than 31st-place Buffalo. San Francisco's 128 yards passing per game also are the NFL's fewest, and the Niners average a league-worst 11.6 points.

Bay Area football fans might find it incredible to learn the 49ers' offense is even worse than last season's Oakland Raiders, who were lampooned relentlessly along with coordinator Tom Walsh, the once and future bed-and-breakfast manager. Those 2-14 Raiders averaged nearly 28 more yards per game than Hostler's offense.

In Seattle, the 49ers managed just six first downs for the second time this season, something that hadn't happened since 1963.

Seattle had 17 first downs before San Francisco got its first with a desperate 45-yard heave to Arnaz Battle on the final play before halftime. When the Seahawks went ahead 17-0 late in the first half, they had outgained San Francisco 220-37.

San Francisco's day really seemed doomed from the first play, when Smith underthrew Jackson after the former Seahawks receiver broke well free of Marcus Trufant's coverage for a near-certain touchdown.

"I was by my man about 4, 5 yards," Jackson said. "I wanted to come back and jump over the top of (Trufant), but we never should have been in that position. Like I said, I was 5 yards past my man."

Gore rushed for just 72 yards, and the 49ers failed to gain 200 total yards for the fifth time in nine games. Though Hostler has been less cautious in recent weeks, Smith's inaccuracy has ruined several opportunities to get things started.

Gore wondered aloud whether his teammates believe in Hostler's play-calling abilities, and their body language in Seattle seemed to validate those concerns.

"I ain't the play-caller," Jackson said. "All I can do is keep fighting, make targets for the quarterback, make it easy for him to throw it. ... I can't put my finger on it. I don't want to be politically incorrect."

Perhaps most confoundingly, the 49ers again stopped making use of tight end Vernon Davis, who had 13 catches for 148 yards in the previous two games.

"I'm disappointed we didn't use him more," Nolan said after learning Davis had just one catch for 4 yards.

After spending most of the first three quarters pass-blocking against Seattle, Davis asked Nolan why he wasn't getting more chances to touch the ball. When Nolan asked the same question to Hostler, he didn't have a good answer.

"We had a good game plan," Davis insisted. "We just didn't get a chance to get around to every play we had a plan for."

That's what happens when a team only gets 47 offensive snaps, just 18 in the first half, and 15 more after San Francisco was down by 24 points.

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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