49ers Year-by-Year: 2004

If you're here to read about 2004, I assume that you're mostly here for the lulz. Usually I try to maintain a more professional voice in my preambles, but it's hard to remember the quagmire that was the 49ers' 2004 season in any way that inspires anything in between tearful laughter or venomous hatred. Nothing in between those two really seems to apply. And since I can't condone venomous hatred, I think I'll advertise the lulz.

Date:

Opponent:

Score:

Record:

Opponent's Record:

Sept. 12

Atlanta Falcons

L: 21-19

0-1

1-0

Sept. 19

@ New Orleans Saints

L: 27-30

0-2

1-1

Sept. 26

@ Seattle Seahawks

L: 0-34

0-3

3-0

Oct. 3

St. Louis Rams

L: 24-14

0-4

2-2

Oct. 10

Arizona Cardinals

W: 28-31

1-4

1-4

Oct. 17

@ New York Jets

L: 14-22

1-5

5-0

Oct. 31

@ Chicago Bears

L: 13-23

1-6

2-5

Nov. 7

Seattle Seahawks

L: 42-27

1-7

5-3

Nov. 14

Carolina Panthers

L: 37-27

1-8

2-7

Nov. 21

@ Tampa Buccaneers

L: 3-35

1-9

4-6

Nov. 28

Miami Dolphins

L: 24-17

1-10

2-9

Dec. 5

@ St. Louis Rams

L: 6-16

1-11

6-6

Dec. 12

@ Arizona Cardinals

W: 31-28

2-11

4-9

Dec. 18

Washington Redskins

L: 26-16

2-12

5-9

Dec. 26

Buffalo Bills

L: 41-7

2-13

9-6

Jan. 2

@ New England Patriots

L: 7-21

2-14

14-2

Head Coach: Dennis Erickson

Key Losses: QB Jeff Garcia, WR Terrell Owens, RB Garrison Hearst, WR Tai Streets, T Derrick Deese, FS Zack Bronson, DC Jim Mora Jr.

Key Additions: P Andy Lee, G Justin Smiley, CB Shawntae Spencer, KR/RB Maurice Hicks, DT/DE Isaac Sopoaga

2004 was a tumultuous time for the 49ers. After successful campaigns in 2001 and 2002 that both ended in playoff appearances, hopes had been high for the 2003 season. Unfortunately, with a new head coach bringing in a new system and deep conflicts and controversies throughout the roster acting as distractions, the year had ended virtually as disaster - and the front office felt that a major shakeup was necessary. It was already widely understood that Terrell Owens wouldn't be retained for 2004, but it turned out that he would be joined by other stars from the offense, notably Jeff Garcia and Garrison Hearst.

And with question marks all over the defense (thanks in part to a new defensive coordinator), losing the team's three most productive offensive players didn't bode well for the upcoming season. New starting quarterback Tim Rattay and an unproven group of players led by Kevan Barlow, Arnaz Battle, Brandon Lloyd, Cedrick Wilson, and Eric Johnson would have to play over their collective heads to match the team's offensive production from even one year before.

The first game of the season was a reunion for new Falcons head coach Jim Mora, Jr., with the team he had left during the offseason. Though the final score of 19-21 didn't reflect it, the game was won handily by the Falcons. Their domination was only marred by a last-ditch effort by the 49ers that ended in a failed two-point conversion. After the loss, many players from the 49ers defense flocked around their old coach to congratulate him. Though the celebration drew criticism, the players insisted they were simply paying their respects to a friend.

Against the Saints a week later, the 49ers played a tighter game. With rookie Ken Dorsey starting for Tim Rattay, out with a separated shoulder, San Francisco matched the New Orleans virtually blow for blow, and found themselves in a position to win right at the end. With the game on the line, Dorsey called a critical play himself - a screen pass to Terry Jackson that went 37 yards to the one yard line, only one yard from victory.

But Brandon Lloyd was called for a questionable offensive pass interference penalty, and the play came back. Dorsey threw an interception on the next play and the game was over. At 0-2, the worst fears of 49ers fans were already starting to come true.

Then it got really bad, as San Francisco dropped the next two games by a combined score of 58-14. The 34-0 shutout to the Seahawks was the first shutout for the 49ers in nearly 30 years. After four games, the 49ers had four losses.

And then the Cardinals paid the 49ers a visit. For much of the game, it seemed like the worst case scenario season was going to continue. Managing nothing but field goals in the first half and even losing Julian Peterson to a torn Achilles tendon, the 49ers still managed to mount a comeback in the third quarter, pulling to within two points. Then, just as fast, they were down by 16 and the fourth quarter was ticking away.

It took career defining efforts from Tim Rattay and Brandon Lloyd to close the gap again, and the two connected for both the touchdown and two point conversion that sent the game to overtime. A 32-yard Todd Peterson field goal in sudden death ensured that the 49ers would not go winless in 2004.

But that wouldn't stop them from losing. A lot.

In previous years, even when the 49ers had been struggling, they seemed to be able to step up and beat the league's bottom feeders. But over the next seven games, they would lose to the 1-5 Chicago Bears (led by rookie quarterback Craig Krenzel), the 1-7 Carolina Panthers, the 3-6 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the 1-9 Miami Dolphins, and the 5-6 St. Louis Rams.

To put that in context, the one-win 49ers came up against one-win teams three times during that stretch, and lost each time. In an amazing stretch of futility, the 49ers actually controlled their own destiny on the way to the league's single worst record.

During the stretch, the bruised and battered 49ers, who had suffered such division within their own ranks in recent years, started to fall apart again. This time, though, the frustrations weren't disrupting a winning effort - they were born of losing. After a loss to Seattle, Fred Beasley spoke out critically against the team's receivers. After the same game, Kevan Barlow took public shots at Brandon Lloyd. In the blowout loss to Tampa Bay, Buccaneers fans could actually be seen laughing in the stands as the 49ers fell farther and farther behind. After the loss to the Rams that set the 49ers back to 1-11, former 49er Steve Young, broadcasting for ESPN, speculated that Erickson would be fired after the season despite reports that the coach was in the good graces of owner John York.

But like Mariucci before him, Erickson had officially fallen out of favor of GM Terry Donahue, and again mirroring the years leading to Mariucci's dismissal, the two even sparred publicly.

But for at least one week, the team would be able to put all of that behind them. Traveling to Arizona to face the only team they had defeated that year, the 49ers were aiming for a season sweep and at least one positive from the miserable year. This time it was San Francisco who - behind the uncommon poise of Ken Dorsey, again starting for an again injured Tim Rattay - got ahead early, at one point leading the Cardinals by 25. Maurice Hicks' career day, coming in the stead of a dinged up and in-the-doghouse Kevan Barlow, helped to pave the way to the large first-half lead.

But the tables from the two teams' first meeting had turned all too completely, and the Cardinals stormed back in the fourth quarter to force overtime. After giving up 18 unanswered points, it was a meager 31 yard field goal in sudden death that finally gave the 49ers their second win of the season.

And it would also be the last. Nothing went right over the final three weeks of the season, and the 49ers secured the first pick in the upcoming draft even before the kickoff of their final game. The run was notable only for the debut of rookie quarterback Cody Pickett.

After finally finishing their worst season in 25 years, there was little doubt what was coming next. The 49ers couldn't justify keeping Dennis Erickson, and GM Terry Donahue had worn out his own welcome with his poor drafting, questionable roster decisions, and abrasive and public disputes with his own coaches.

2005 would be a brand new show in San Francisco. But would it be one that 49ers fans would be happy to watch?

Primary References:

http://www.pro-football-reference.com/teams/sfo/2004.htm
http://articles.sfgate.com/2004-09-13/sports/17445029_1_mora-s-family-falcons-quarterback-michael-vick-offensive-coordinator-greg-knapp
http://articles.sfgate.com/2004-09-20/sports/17445552_1_49ers-ken-dorsey-saints
http://articles.sfgate.com/2004-09-27/sports/17445285_1_49ers-defensive-ends-free-fall
http://articles.sfgate.com/2004-10-11/sports/17446622_1_49ers-quarterback-tim-rattay-2-point-conversion
http://articles.sfgate.com/2004-11-01/sports/17452136_1_49ers-offense-bears-49ers-history
http://articles.sfgate.com/2004-11-08/sports/17451106_1_49ers-bryant-young-fullback-fred-beasley
http://articles.sfgate.com/2004-11-22/sports/17453826_1_tim-rattay-49ers-bad-habits
http://articles.sfgate.com/2004-12-06/sports/17457806_1_tim-rattay-49ers-erickson-wide-receiver-brandon-lloyd
http://articles.sfgate.com/2004-12-13/sports/17458187_1_fiesta-bowl-miramonte-high-maurice-hicks
http://articles.sfgate.com/2004-12-27/sports/17458368_1_49ers-fourth-quarter-drive-defense
http://articles.sfgate.com/2005-01-03/sports/17357558_1_assistant-coaches-line-coach-gregg-smith-donahue

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