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October 23, 2007
Great Expectations; Paradise Lost

After six games, the 49ers have exactly the same record they had at this point last season. So why are the Faithful abandoning ship - and pointing fingers at the officers - as if it just slammed into an iceberg? Because of great expectations that, in hindsight, probably shouldn't have been so sky high.

Yes, the season-ending win in Denver was cause for celebration, a truly signature victory for Mike Nolan's regime. And that fourth-quarter rally in Seattle showed great toughness and resolve. Conveniently forgotten, however, were lackluster losses to Arizona (at home) and Green Bay (at home) that, had they been wins, likely would have put the 49ers in the playoffs. Even harder to forget - yet pushed aside nonetheless - were horrific losses to Kansas City, San Diego and Chicago in which it was difficult to imagine the 49ers ever winning a game again.

They did. After falling to 2-5, the 49ers pulled together and won three straight, a string of victories that put them back in playoff contention. Nolan no doubt will touch upon that turnaround this week. The 49ers next four games are against New Orleans, Atlanta, Seattle and St. Louis. If they win three out of four, they'll be back at .500 with six games to go. In the ho-hum NFC West, that means they'll have a realistic shot at the playoffs.

But it will be more difficult this year than last. The one thing you could say about Nolan's teams, even amid the abysmal performances and laughably lopsided outcomes, was that they stuck together. There was a sense, to a player, that despite bumps in the road things were moving in the right direction. They believed Nolan's message.

That will be a tougher sell this season. The 49ers should have made progress since that Denver game. Instead, as their record shows, they're stuck in the same spot they were in last year and have actually regressed in key areas. As Frank Gore revealed Sunday afternoon in New Jersey, doubt has slithered into the 49ers' locker room. How Nolan handles that doubt will determine whether this season of great expectations can be salvaged. Is it paradise lost? Not yet, but time is running out to save it.

-- Matt Barrows


Matt was born in Blacksburg, Va., and attended the University of Virginia. He graduated in 1995, went to Northwestern for a journalism degree a year later, and got his first job at a South Carolina daily in 1997. He joined The Bee as a Metro reporter in 1999 and started covering the 49ers in 2003. His favorite player of all time is Darrell Green.


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