In 49ers, Redskins face troubled team

On, off field, San Francisco has had a season to forget

Pro Football

December 18, 2004|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

A 4-9 record. One win in the past five weeks. A fifth consecutive season without a playoff berth.

But at least the Washington Redskins aren't experiencing a year like their opponent today is enduring.

The San Francisco 49ers, who play host to Washington at 5 p.m. at Monster Park, are a team in turmoil, and their 2-11 record is the least of their problems.

Two of their best offensive options don't talk to each other, their coach, it's been rumored, will be fired after this season and has already been courted publicly by one university, and the owner has been the direct target of the fans' ire.

"It's miserable for everybody," said 49ers coach Dennis Erickson.

San Francisco's woes started before the current campaign even began. The team waived quarterback Jeff Garcia and traded wide receiver Terrell Owens to the Philadelphia Eagles, surrendering 66.9 percent of last year's offensive yardage and 42.2 percent of its scoring.

Their replacements - quarterback Tim Rattay and running back Kevan Barlow - have not fared well.

Rattay, who compiled a 96.6 passer rating and had seven touchdowns against two interceptions in three starts last year, has thrown just as many interceptions (10) as touchdowns this season and will miss today's game - his fifth of the year - with a foot injury.

Barlow, who compiled 1,024 rushing yards on just 201 carries last season, has recorded just 629 yards on 198 attempts this year. Erickson said Barlow, who did not play in the 49ers' 31-28 overtime victory over the Arizona Cardinals last week because of a concussion, will suit up today, but will not start.

Barlow has been a source of controversy in the locker room. He told San Francisco media on Dec. 2 that the team should draft offensive linemen with its first seven picks in April, but appeared to be joking about the matter.

Fullback Fred Beasley, who has feuded with Barlow in the past and doesn't talk to the running back, brought the quote up to the offensive linemen, who helped second-year running back Maurice Hicks rush for 139 yards against the Cardinals in his first career start.

Defensive tackle Bryant Young said the issue has been resolved. "Those things that happened earlier have been dealt with and we've moved on," he said.

Whether Erickson will move on is another matter. Team owner John York, who denied reports that he will fire Erickson or ask him to resign, has made it clear that he expects Erickson to shake up his coaching staff.

Erickson, who is 9-20 in two seasons in San Francisco, has said that he opposes such a move, which could lead the team to sever its ties with Erickson, who has three years left on a $12.5 million contract.

On Wednesday, Erickson pulled his name out of consideration for the University of Mississippi head coaching position after meeting with the school's officials, saying that he intends to stay with the 49ers. "I believe that we've got a future [together]," he said.

York hasn't escaped scrutiny, either. Fans disgusted by his inability to open the team's coffers to attract free agents vent on a Web site called dumpyork.com, which recently asked visitors to vote whether York was doing a good job with the 49ers. Of 967 votes, 89.8 percent said, "Hell no."

Still, many Redskins players said they won't overlook San Francisco. "You really can't take the outside talk to see how a team plays," said strong safety Ryan Clark. "You can't measure a team's heart, you can't measure a team's pride."

Added linebacker Lemar Marshall: "We're not worried about them and their problems. We're 4-9, so we have our own situation."

Washington coach Joe Gibbs said he expects the 49ers to avoid the distractions and play the Redskins tough.

"They're as starved for a victory as we are," he said. "You've got to figure they're going to play great. You never know the frame of mind when you play somebody like that."

THE KEYS TO VICTORY

PUSH THEM AROUND WITH PORTIS: The 49ers' 15th-ranked defense has allowed five opposing running backs to rush for more than 100 yards this season. That should play into Washington's preference to go to Clinton Portis, who is 327 yards shy of his third consecutive 1,500-yard rushing season.

JUMP ON JOHNSON: Though he has been quiet these last few weeks, San Francisco tight end Eric Johnson leads all NFC tight ends with 69 receptions and is third with 707 yards. He will likely draw the attention of Redskins rookie free safety Sean Taylor.

PUNT THE PENALTIES: The Redskins have averaged two more penalties a game in their nine losses than in their four wins. Washington has to stay under control if it hopes to have any shot at securing a fifth victory.

The pick

The 49ers pillaged the Arizona Cardinals for 31 points last week, but no one would confuse Arizona's 20th-ranked defense with the Redskins' second-rated unit. This game has all the makings of a "W" for Washington. Redskins 24, 49ers 10.

The game

Matchup: Redskins (4-9) vs. San Francisco 49ers (2-11)

Site: Monster Park, San Francisco

When: Today, 5 p.m.

TV/Radio: Chs. 45, 5/WNAV (1430 AM), WJFK (106.7 FM)

Line: Redskins by 5 1/2

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