If Mike Nolan's coaching career were captured in a line chart, that line would have hit rock bottom right around Nov. 14. That was the Wednesday after the 49ers' awful national television loss to Seattle when Alex Smith admitted that he and his coach weren't exactly on the same page. The line stayed level the following week after a loss to St. Louis but this week it is on the rise again. Does one dramatic win in Arizona erase 10 absolutely horrid weeks of oatmeal-bland offense? No. Does one win ensure that Nolan is still calling the shots in 2008? No. But it does take some of the pressure off both Nolan and the Yorks.
I believe the Yorks want to bring Nolan back for next year and are looking for reasons to do just that. Sunday's win makes their decision a little easier and one or two more wins to close out the season will make it a lot easier. So where will Nolan find those one or two more wins that will put him in the clear? The schedule looks a lot tougher than it did when it was released in April. To wit:
* Dec. 2 in Carolina. This looks like the best bet for a win. The Panthers have dropped their last five games and probable starting quarterback Vinnie Testaverde is 1-4 since being signed in mid October. Testaverde is so old - How old is he? - he's so old that he remembers the Alamo.
* Dec. 9 vs. Minnesota. The 49ers are pretty good against the run, but the Vikings have Adrian Peterson, whom SF Chronicle columnist Ray Ratto refers to as "Purple Jesus." Minnesota not only has the best rushing offense, it has the best rushing defense.
* Dec. 15 vs. Cincinnati. If the 49ers can score 37 against the Cardinals, they should go nuts against the Bengals, who have one of the worst defenses in the league. And it might take 30-plus points to keep pace with Cincinnati's offense.
* Dec. 23 vs. Tampa Bay. Jeff Garcia and the Buccaneers are quietly putting together a solid season. The big question might be Garcia's back, which he injured in Sunday's win against Washington. Garcia is from Gilroy, played his college ball at SJ State and had his glory years in San Francisco until he was unceremoniously dumped early in '04. You think he'll be up for this game?
* Dec. 30 at Cleveland. The hard-luck Browns finally are good again and likely will be playing for a playoff spot in the final week of the season. That seems like a tough task for the 49ers, but they were in very similar scenario last year in Denver. Browns offense: awesome. Browns defense: stinks.
By the way, that Dec. 23 game is scheduled to be aired on Sunday night on NBC. If the league decides to put a more compelling game in its place, it must do so by Dec. 11.
Patrick Willis needs a good nickname. P Willy sounds like it belongs to a 70's era porn star. Somebody on 49ersWebzone started calling Willis "Waterboy." That's pretty damn good, but if anyone can come up with a better nickname, I'll send them a Bee t-shirt for Xmas.
Also, Willis got plenty of kudos for running down Sean Morey on Sunday. But if Willis hadn't dragged Morey down, Michael Lewis would have. Not bad for a safety who arrived here this spring with a reputation for not having a lot of speed. Lewis has been a very nice fit in the 49ers' defense.
With CB Marcus Hudson out with a knee sprain and Shawntae Spencer's quad ailing, the team made a practice-squad move today by cutting TE Zac Alcorn and signing CB Markus Curry, who spent the offseason with the 49ers. Spencer could miss this week's game against Carolina, which would give rookie Tarell Brown more playing time.
-- Matt Barrows