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It had to come at some time... - By Bryan Hersh Nov 29 2006

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Yup, the 49ers lost, and dropped below .500 again Š but can we be honest with ourselves for a minute? How many people out there really expected this team to win 3 in a row, let alone 4? And given that the team did almost squeak out the fourth, IÕd say we fans have more to be excited about then disappointed over. Naturally though, there are learning points from this game Š particularly for Mike Nolan (who probably could have learned the lesson last week, but chose to wait until he was hit over the head with it).

What I know:
The 49ers defense has turned around in a big big way. Without Shawntae Spencer even, this team managed to put together a respectable defensive performance. Hats off to Donald Strickland for his ability to step up in the secondary. Walt Harris continues to do his part, but was on the wrong side of a few calls this past week.

One day soon Mike Nolan will discover that his team is able to pick up two inches with the game on the line. That point will probably show a shift in philosophy for the young coach. This game could have been one with a simple first down. Conversely, can we really fault Nolan for showing trust in a defense that had performed well to that point?

IÕll say it over and over again. The only way Michael Robinson will be an effective short yardage back is if the 49ers use him in the passing game too. Otherwise any defense will continue to pick up on the trend, and stack the line against him.

Frank Gore is for real (yeah I know I said that last week too). Gore is why the 49ers are able to move the ball on offense, and the team better hope that either Hicks or Robinson is able to pick up where Gore has left off if they need him Š like they did at the end of this weekÕs loss. Gore will hopefully be recovered before the teamÕs next match up against the Saints. I have a feeling he will want to show Reggie Bush a few things.

What I donÕt know:
Will Vernon Davis ever emerge as a game breaker for this team? Davis has the speed, and the blocking ability but has been a non-factor on this team. Nolan vows to use more two tight end sets to also feature Eric Johnson, but week after week, the trend continues. With all the money, and hype that came DavisÕ way after drafting him this year, the team needs to find a way to get him involved as a play maker Š not just a place holder.

When will Alex Smith take the next step? HeÕs showing he can manage a football game, but the 49ers will need more than that. They need him to show he can win a football game. Alex has learned a lot from Trent Dilfer, but is that learning capped? Do the 49ers need to find Alex a more aggressive mentor?

What we are bound to find out:
If the 49ers are truly playoff contenders, or just pretenders. The team has shown promise, and is still in the hunt for a position Š but it will have to fix its repeated errors in order to make it to the next level. Talent is emerging throughout the roster Ševen on defense, but until this team can cut down on beating itself (whether it be turnovers, coaching decisions, or inappropriate play calls) they will not be Ņfor realÓ

Will Frank Gore be able to stay healthy enough to complete an entire season? If not how can the 49ers substitute for the drop in production that will ensue?

The defensive backfield has responded to the loss of Shawntae Spencer, but will they be able to cope against a more effective quarterback, or a mobile quarterback? What happens when they face a team with a legitimate run game? This area is still of big concern on the team Š despite the massive improvements since week 1.

 
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