SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- The San Francisco 49ers, just days ago so confident about their playoff chances and the opportunity to win the NFC West, have been brought down a notch.
No touchdowns in an embarrassing 31-6 loss at division rival Seattle in their season opener. Zero points after halftime. Miscues and poor execution, with problems getting the offensive plays to quarterback Alex Smith in time. And, finally, a late-night meeting back at team headquarters led by coach Mike Singletary, who had given some brutally honest criticisms of his players immediately after the game.
All this after such high hopes on the heels of the franchise's first unbeaten preseason campaign since 1992.
"I just felt that after the game some of the comments that I made were very hard comments, very honest comments," Singletary said Monday. "And I just wanted to make sure that everybody was on the same page and didn't leave here having conversations in the parking lot and having conversations in the bathroom, not fully understanding what I was saying.
"Because there was only so much time after the game to talk about those things. And while we were on the plane, while we were on the bus, I heard guys saying, 'Well, coach, that may have been a little too harsh.' Or 'I didn't understand what you meant by that.' I said: 'You know what, we're going to get together and get this all ironed out so that when we come in today, we can look at the game for what it is as a team and learn from it, put it behind us, and get on to New Orleans.'"
Star linebacker Patrick Willis didn't mind Singletary telling it like it is. They all know he's a fiery, no-nonsense coach who won't settle for anything less than his players playing to their potential.
Perhaps this team needed a wake-up call of sorts, even if it was only Week 1?
"Coach Sing is coach Sing," Willis said. "He speaks from his heart, so when he says things, sometimes he just says what he feels. Especially at a time like this, when there's a lot of emotion from players, from coach, sometimes things can be misinterpreted. You never know. He just wanted to clear the air."
San Francisco's players said throughout training camp that the team had learned from its mistakes on the road last season, when the 49ers lost six consecutive away from home, five in a row by a combined 19 points. It played a huge role in denying them a playoff berth and a winning season. They went 8-8.
Some of those troubles reappeared Sunday against the Seahawks: penalties, miscommunication, mental errors.
"I think (Singletary) was just disappointed in us," tight end Delanie Walker said. "We had that game, and we didn't finish. All year and all training camp we talked about finishing, and we came out in our opener and didn't finish."
Of concern is that Smith isn't getting the entire play in his ear before the headset cuts off with 15 seconds left on the play clock.
It was enough of a problem Sunday that Singletary is considering bringing offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye down from the booth to the field to directly give the play to Smith, rather than going through quarterbacks coach Mike Johnson. It's slowing down the process; take away the middle man, and it might make a difference.
Smith believes he should perhaps wear a wristband with key plays written on it in case he has to improvise when he doesn't receive the necessary information from a coach.
"Frustration was definitely the key thing for everybody," Smith said. "Knowing the expectations we had, and then how the game played out -- very frustrating, from the first half to the second half. We couldn't finish, we let them back in, and then the second half we just continued to dig ourselves deeper. ...
"I don't think you can look at the tape yesterday and say there were any standouts by any means. We all had a hand in this, from every aspect of the game -- offense, defense, special teams, players, coaches alike."
Singletary most certainly will consider every option to get his team on track. He's even self-evaluating after every win and loss.
Singletary still believes he has a talented, playoff-caliber team with one of the best defenses in the NFL. The 49ers still must show it.
"When you talk about confidence, I don't think all of a sudden, 'Oh man, we're not any good,'" Singletary said. "Maybe dumb ... but I wouldn't say we're not good. I feel we're going to be a very good football team."
Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press