Singletary still upbeat about 49ers' direction despite 0-5 start

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Mike Singletary sees the San Francisco 49ers' 0-5 start as the biggest challenge he has ever faced as a coach.

But he continues to focus on the upside of his predicament as the 49ers prepare for a must-win game Sunday against the Bay Area rival Oakland Raiders.

"It's a tremendous opportunity that we have as a team," Singletary said Wednesday. "So I'm excited about where we are. When I look at the first five games we've had, a lot of different things have transpired, but through those things, I think we have become a better football team. And as time goes on, we will show that."

The 49ers, however, are rapidly running out of time to reach their goals of a playoff berth and finishing the season with a winning record for the first time in eight years. San Francisco is 0-5 for just the fifth time in the franchise's 65-year history. Only one other 49ers team started 0-6.

How Singletary responds to his latest challenge probably will determine if he keeps his job with the team beyond this season.

It's the same situation for several 49ers, particularly embattled quarterback Alex Smith, as San Francisco fights to remain alive in the weak NFC West.

No NFL team has ever started a season 0-5 and reached the playoffs. But the pressure is on the 49ers to become the first after team president Jed York earlier this week sent a text message to an ESPN reporter stating that San Francisco still would win the division.

"I don't know if he's trying to send a message or what, but I kind of took it as some swagger," Smith said. "This team is the most talented and most mature that I've been on, and it's unfortunate that we're in this situation. But we've made this bed and we've got to get ourselves out of it."

Smith must first get out of a personal rut. The sixth-year veteran has committed five turnovers the past two weeks in narrow losses to Atlanta and Philadelphia and has thrown two interceptions in four of San Francisco's five games. He leads the NFL with nine picks, and his 71.6 passer rating ranks 27th in the league.

Smith's lost fumble early in the fourth quarter was the pivotal play in last week's 27-24 loss to the Eagles. With the 49ers driving near midfield, Smith lost the ball without even being hit, and safety Quintin Mikell returned it 52 yards for a touchdown that gave Philadelphia a commanding 24-10 lead.

That led to an embarrassing moment for the 49ers later on the sideline, when Singletary was captured on national television chewing out his struggling quarterback.

There have been several other incidents already this season when it has appeared Singletary has lost his control of himself and control of the team.

"I don't really get caught up in my image," Singletary said. "Depending on who you're talking to, my image is going to change every day. The most important thing for me is, as I see issues arise, that it's important that I deal with them and not be concerned with what other people think about that."

Among the several issues Singletary is dealing with this week is turnovers. The 49ers had five against Philadelphia, and San Francisco's turnover differential of minus-10 ranks last in the league. No other team is worse than minus-6.

While the offense began to hit its stride last week in its second game under new coordinator Mike Johnson, San Francisco's defense was gouged repeatedly by Philadelphia in key sequences. The 49ers have yet to play a consistent game on both sides of the football.

Newcomer Ted Ginn, who provided a spark in the return game and passing game last week, is one 49ers player who has been through all this before. Ginn was a rookie with Miami in 2007, when the Dolphins lost their first 13 games on the way to a 1-15 season.

Ginn knew that team was finished at 0-5. He says it could be different for the 49ers.

"It's hard, but we don't look like an 0-5 team," Ginn said. "The goal is to change it around and make something different, go out and continue to get better, work hard, keep your team up, stay a family and push forward. That's all you can do, because we still gotta finish out the season."

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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