49ers Year-by-Year: 2007

It's no doubt that you're already familiar with the 49ers' 2007 season. From Alex Smith's injury to Trent Dilfer's injury to Shaun Hill's injury to everyone else's injuries - and more! - 2007 kind of sucked. But we wouldn't be where we are without it. At least, when you're done reading this, you can reflect on the positives: We did get Patrick Willis and Shaun Hill that year.

Date:

Opponent:

Score:

Record:

Opponent's Record:

Sept. 10

Arizona Cardinals

W: 17-20

1-0

0-1

Sept. 16

@ St. Louis Rams

W: 17-16

2-0

0-2

Sept. 23

@ Pittsburgh Steelers

L: 16-37

2-1

3-0

Sept. 30

Seattle Seahawks

L: 23-3

2-2

3-1

Oct. 7

Baltimore Ravens

L: 9-7

2-3

3-2

Oct. 21

@ New York Giants

L: 15-33

2-4

5-2

Oct. 28

New Orleans Saints

L: 31-10

2-5

3-4

Nov. 4

@ Atlanta Falcons

L: 16-20

2-6

2-6

Nov. 12

@ Seattle Seahawks

L: 0-24

2-7

5-4

Nov. 18

St. Louis Rams

L: 13-9

2-8

2-8

Nov. 25

@ Arizona Cardinals

W: 37-31

3-8

5-6

Dec. 2

@ Carolina Panthers

L: 14-31

3-9

5-7

Dec. 8

Minnesota Vikings

L: 27-7

3-10

7-6

Dec. 15

Cincinnati Bengals

W: 13-20

4-10

5-9

Dec. 23

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

W: 19-21

5-10

9-6

Dec. 30

@ Cleveland Browns

L: 7-20

5-11

10-6

Head Coach: Mike Nolan

Key Losses: C Jeremy Newberry, TE Eric Johnson, DT Anthony Adams, S Tony Parrish,

Key Additions: QB Trent Dilfer, T Joe Staley, DT Aubrayo Franklin, LB Patrick Willis, CB Nate Clements, S Michael Lewis, DB Dashon Goldson, QB Shaun Hill

For the 49ers, 2006 had ended on several notes of optimism. The team had capped off a significant improvement over 2005, jumping from four wins to seven. Alex Smith, under the tutelage of offensive coordinator Norv Turner, had developed far beyond his abysmal rookie campaign, and had even capped a number of wins with game-changing individual performances. A young and inconsistent defense began to gel as a unit in the second half of the year. Perhaps more heartening than anything else was Frank Gore, who set multiple franchise records while rushing for more than 1,600 yards.

Even more significant for the team was the fact that Mike Nolan's roster was stable. In two years, he had evaluated the team, completed a massive, calculated purge, and had begun to restock the depleted roster on his way to what looked to be a promising future. Facing only minor roster losses, Nolan and the 49ers addressed team depth in free agency, focusing on the weak secondary with signings like cornerback Nate Clements and safety Michael Lewis.

They continued a strong offseason by signing veteran Trent Dilfer as a mentor for Alex Smith and making a draft splash by selecting highly regarded linebacking prospect Patrick Willis. In light of so many positive steps, many prognosticators were even predicting that San Francisco would host one of the year's biggest surprise teams.

Then, late in the offseason the San Diego Chargers signed offensive coordinator Norv Turner away from the 49ers to replace Marty Schottenheimer as their head coach. At that point in the offseason, most of the attractive coaching candidates were already signed. For lack of options, the 49ers decided to promote from within. They claimed that the promotion of quarterbacks coach Jim Hostler to offensive coordinator would help Alex Smith by keeping first within the same offensive system but also with a familiar coach.

The truth is that they simply didn't have much of a choice.

When the season began, the difference was clear. In two early season victories, the offense was already a shadow of what it had been less than a year before. In both games, Alex Smith failed to throw for either a touchdown or 150 yards. In both games, Frank Gore failed to eclipse 100 yards on the ground. In both games, weak opponents and strong defense won the day. Though on top of the West, the 49ers were winning ugly. And in the words of Gore himself, they were going to have to "start winning pretty."

Unfortunately, it was going to be a while. Over the next eight games, the 49ers would face a stretch in which nearly everything went wrong. A stretch during which winning ugly would be an improvement.

First, they faced a difficult task in Pittsburgh, and actually came out with a continued sense of optimism. Despite the final score of 16-37, the offense put up what was quite possibly the most complete game of the season. From there, though, things got bad.

Facing the Seahawks in San Francisco, the 49ers took a beating. And that beating started with a hit on Alex Smith on the third play of the game that knocked the young quarterback out of the game with a separated shoulder. Trent Dilfer fared poorly in relief, throwing two interceptions and regularly putting the defense at a disadvantage. Just as the final score in Pittsburgh did not indicate how well the 49ers played, the 23-3 final score in this game failed to honestly demonstrate how poorly they played.

And then facing the Ravens in San Francisco - and with Alex Smith still sidelined - the 49ers could not have been more pitiful. For the fourth time in five games, the offense failed to accumulate 200 total yards, and this was by far the worst effort. Worst of all: Frank Gore had not run for more than 100 yards a single time in the short season. Despite almost monumental defensive efforts, the 49ers offense continued to hemorrhage losses. Going into the bye week, questions even began to arise about the future of offensive coordinator Jim Hostler. With an offense that appeared by all accounts to be historically bad, it would make sense that Hostler would end up as the scapegoat. Even so, Nolan refused to commit to the idea that his playcaller's job was in jeopardy.

Following the bye, Nolan created a stir with a different personnel shakeup. At the end of the third quarter of a loss to the Giants, Nolan replaced Jonas Jennings and Justin Smiley on the offensive line with developing lineman Adam Snyder and David Baas. Though Nolan claimed the move had been predetermined before the game, Jennings - at least - seemed to have been unaware of the plan from the start. His statements after the game marked one of the first times that a player had spoken out about the coaching under Mike Nolan, and proved to be a crucial point of miscommunication in the coach's still young tenure with the team. Nolan indicated that the offensive line changes would continue into the next week.

Meanwhile, mired in a miserable losing season, everyone was just waiting for any positive word on Alex Smith's shoulder. Mike Nolan was openly critical of his quarterback's commitment in light of what he perceived to be a long recovery from what should have been a mild injury.

Smith would return the next week to face New Orleans, but his presence would do little to change the team's fortunes. Despite Smith playing relatively well, the 49ers' offense continued to flounder. Even worse, Frank Gore had to leave the game with an ankle sprain and would be inactive the next week.

But with Gore out and Smith's shoulder continuing to nag at him, things continued to slide downhill. Smith's poor play in the next two losses began to inspire questions about his future. Could he conceivably be the quarterback of the future when his development only seemed to be moving backward? Would he retain the confidence of the coaching staff if he continued to perform at this level? Unfortunately, his injury would not allow him to answer these questions. Trent Dilfer would start the next game - yet another loss.

And with that loss, the 49ers' record stood at 2-8. They would officially not have their first winning season since Steve Mariucci was the head coach.

And then the 49ers put a different team on the airplane to Arizona. Or at least, they played like it. For the first time all season, the offense actually appeared to be NFL caliber. Trent Dilfer threw for more than 250 yards. Frank Gore ran for over 100 for the first time all season. The 49ers put up more than 30 points of total offense - and managed to escape with an improbable overtime victory over their division rivals. One difference: Ted Tollner sat next to Jim Hostler throughout the game, assisting with the playcalling duties.

However, over the next two weeks, the 49ers would make it look like a fluke. Traveling to Carolina to face a Vinny Testaverde led Panthers team that had not won a home game all season, San Francisco reverted to its futile ways. Despite another typically competent performance from the defense - and rookie linebacker Patrick Willis - the offense again gave away a victory through poor, uninspired play.

Even with the loss, the 49ers were ready to stick with Trent Dilfer for the foreseeable future. But when Dilfer suffered a concussion the next week, their hands were forced. And with Alex Smith still sidelined, the 49ers went to third stringer Shaun Hill for a change of pace. It didn't work. At least, not right away. After an initial loss to the Vikings (his former team), Hill orchestrated two thrilling victories in a row. In the first, he led the offense on its most efficient, if not most spectacular campaign of the season. In the second, he would struggled against Tampa's third string defense - but still manage to do enough to secure the victory. He also suffered a rib injury that would keep him out of the final game of the year.

With three injured quarterbacks, the 49ers signed Chris Weinke to start the final game of the season. The results were predictably poor.

With key coaching changes and injuries shaking the team from top to bottom, 2007 proved to be a disastrous year for the 49ers. It was unclear what exactly to blame. Was this a bad team? Was this an unlucky team? Would things improve or had 2006 been a mirage? The only sure thing was that the 49ers and their fans would have to wait for 2008 to answer these questions.

Primary Resources:

http://www.pro-football-reference.com/teams/sfo/2007.htm
http://articles.sfgate.com/2007-09-11/sports/17259829_1_tight-49ers-first-touchdown-anquan-boldin
http://articles.sfgate.com/2007-09-17/sports/17263295_1_frank-gore-49ers-tight
http://articles.sfgate.com/2007-09-24/sports/17260190_1_49ers-elite-steelers-play
http://articles.sfgate.com/2007-10-01/sports/17264782_1_separation-quarterback-alex-smith-long-ball
http://articles.sfgate.com/2007-10-08/sports/17263908_1_49ers-frank-gore-ed-reed
http://articles.sfgate.com/2007-10-22/sports/17266501_1_bryant-young-49ers-mike-nolan
http://articles.sfgate.com/2007-10-29/sports/17264979_1_frank-gore-49ers-reggie-bush
http://articles.sfgate.com/2007-11-05/sports/17269565_1_maurice-hicks-michael-robinson-sore-shoulder
http://articles.sfgate.com/2007-11-13/sports/17270874_1_49ers-mike-nolan-alex-smith
http://articles.sfgate.com/2007-11-19/sports/17271151_1_bryant-young-frank-gore-marc-bulger
http://articles.sfgate.com/2007-11-26/sports/17269449_1_game-49ers-end-zone-overtime
http://articles.sfgate.com/2007-12-03/sports/17274825_1_49ers-elite-eight-mike-nolan
http://articles.sfgate.com/2007-12-09/sports/17273331_1_49ers-nate-clements-yards-against-san-diego
http://articles.sfgate.com/2007-12-16/sports/17272827_1_coach-mike-nolan-49ers-four-of-seven-drives
http://articles.sfgate.com/2007-12-24/sports/17272227_1_end-zone-third-quarter-play
http://articles.sfgate.com/2007-12-31/sports/17274967_1_mike-nolan-49ers-alex-smith

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