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49ers Year-by-Year: 2005

And we're back with the Year-by-Year for the 49ers' 2005 season. Current fans of the team are likely familiar with the events of 2005: the signing of Mike Nolan, the drafting of Alex Smith and Frank Gore, the many, may losses. It was arguably 2005 that marked the beginning of a new era of 49ers football and, though not necessarily a good one, it would be an era that continues today. Mike Nolan's hiring would eventually lead to Scot McCloughan's hiring and Mike Singletary's hiring, the drafting of Patrick Willis and Vernon Davis. And 2005 was where it all began. Read on to learn more.





Opponent's Record:

Sept. 11

St. Louis Rams

W: 25-28



Sept. 18

@ Philadelphia Eagles

L: 3-42



Sept. 25

Dallas Cowboys

L: 34-31



Oct. 2

@ Arizona Cardinals

L 14-31



Oct. 9

Indianapolis Colts

L: 28-3



Oct. 23

@ Washington Redskins

L: 17-52



Oct. 30

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

W: 10-15



Nov. 6

New York Giants

L: 24-6



Nov. 13

@ Chicago Bears

L: 9-17



Nov. 20

Seattle Seahawks

L: 27-25



Nov. 27

@ Tennessee Titans

L: 22-33



Dec. 4

Arizona Cardinals

L: 17-10



Dec. 11

@ Seattle Seahawks

L: 3-41



Dec. 18

@ Jacksonville Jaguars

L: 9-10



Dec. 24

@ St. Louis Rams

W: 24-20



Jan. 1

Houston Texans

W: 17-20



Head Coach: Mike Nolan

Key Losses: HC Dennis Erickson, G Kyle Kosier, T Scott Gragg, DE John Englelberger

Key Additions: QB Alex Smith, RB Frank Gore, K Joe Nedney, T/G Adam Snyder, DE Marques Douglas, T Jonas Jennings

For the 49ers, 2004 was a worst case scenario - a perfect storm of infighting, diminishing talent, and lethargy. As Dennis Erickson feuded openly with Terry Donahue, Terry Donahue clashed with ownership, and the players became more vocal in their discontent with every mounting loss, the energy of the season could not have been worse.

It was no surprise that the Yorks made the move to clean house shortly after season's end.

But with no head coach, no general manager, and not a lot of talent to speak of, it was going to be a long offseason. However, John and Denise York moved quickly to resolve the head coaching situation. After researching the career paths of some of the top head coaches in the league, they narrowed their list of candidates down to Nolan, Romeo Crennel, Jim Schwartz, Mike Heimerdinger, and Tim Lewis. Ultimately, Nolan's resume as the defensive coordinator for a dominating Ravens defense, as well as his clear vision for a complete team rebuild were enough to convince the ownership.

For the 49ers, the signing held the added significance of the fact that Mike Nolan was the son of former head coach Dick Nolan. The elder Nolan had seen the 49ers to multiple postseason appearances before ultimately being run out of town by angry fans. No longer an object of ire, Dick Nolan is widely and fondly remembered as a successful coach for the team.

In lieu of hiring a true general manager, the 49ers gave Nolan near complete control over front office and personnel decisions, even completely stepping away from those processes themselves for one of the first times in their ownership. Nolan went right to work though he didn't move swiftly to gut the team, instead preferring to spend the 2005 season evaluating many of the players who had been the most outspoken in previous seasons - players like Fred Beasley and Kevan Barlow. His most significant acquisitions came in the draft, where he landed young, intelligent quarterback Alex Smith with the first pick - and high expectations. The rest of the draft was highlighted by the selection of offensive lineman Adam Snyder and running back Frank Gore.

Then, on August 20, tragedy struck the team. Young offensive lineman Thomas Herrion died shortly after an exhibition game. It was discovered that the young man suffered from a dangerous heart condition. The loss put a painful damper on an offseason that had been spent restoring hope and momentum to the organization.

Roughly a week later, Hurricane Katrina battered the Gulf Coast and particularly New Orleans, destroying and taking thousands of lives - a massive tragedy that would send irreparable ripples through the very fabric of American life for years to come. In what was suddenly the very small context of the NFL, the hurricane meant that the New Orleans Saints would be displaced for the season. In a much larger context, millions of American lives would never be the same.

It was under this backdrop that the 2005 NFL season began in the second week of September.

And it was under this backdrop that the 49ers gave their hometown fans something to cheer about for the first time in well over a year. Lauded as overmatched, the 49ers entered the game against the Rams as underdogs. But after a whirlwind game that included an onside kick, two plays in which Arnaz Battle lined up at quarterback, and still another where the receiver threw the ball downfield, the 49ers opened the season with an energy that the Rams simply couldn't match - and escaped with a win.

Unfortunately for the 49ers, it wouldn't be a simple task to repeat the feat. After getting blown out by the Eagles, the 49ers lost to the Cowboys in the final two minutes. The loss, capped by on-field miscommunications, prompted Nolan to speak out against players on the team who refused to buy into his system. Though he would not name names, the message was clear: nobody's job was safe.

The wakeup call made little difference a week later as the team traveled to Mexico to play the Cardinals in a historic move by the league to promote the sport internationally. Simply put, the Cardinals thrashed the 49ers. A week later, despite playing the Colts surprisingly close for most of the game, the final results were much the same.

Notably, though, the loss to the Colts was also the first true sight of Alex Smith that most 49ers fans got. Despite making some crisp throws, he didn't make a good impression - throwing four interceptions and fumbling another ball in the loss.

It couldn't be a better time for the bye week. The 49ers needed to regroup. Mike Nolan needed to evaluate his roster.

During the bye, Nolan sent former starting quarterback Tim Rattay to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for a sixth round draft pick - further enforcing the message that not only starting jobs were at stake this season, but so were roster spots.

And then it got really bad. After a 52-17 drumming at the hands of the Redskins, even the up-to-then always-upbeat Mike Nolan struggled to find any positives. Perhaps the best sign of the game was that Alex Smith only threw one interception on the day. Unfortunately, a knee injury would keep him out the following week, and Ken Dorsey would get the start against the Buccaneers.

Behind Dorsey and, more importantly, a staunch bend-but-don't-break defense, the 49ers remained close even late in the game. Then, in the fourth quarter, Dorsey severely sprained his ankle. Cody Pickett, who had just made a tackle on special teams, was told to change his helmet and get ready to play quarterback.

He led an 11 play drive to win the game and ensure that the 49ers would not suffer the first one loss season in franchise history. Pickett got the start again a week later, thanks mostly to Smith and Dorsey continuing to nurse their own injuries. Despite sloppy play and another ugly loss, the 49ers had no choice but to start Pickett for a second straight game a week later. Though the score remained close that day in Chicago, the performance was ugly. Picket was 1 of 13 for 28 yards on the day. He wouldn't get another start.

With Dorsey returning, the 49ers struggled to recapture any rhythm or momentum. Playing the Seahawks at home, though, the 49ers came away positives for the first time in weeks. Notably, at halftime, Steve Young accepted his Hall of Fame ring in front of the San Francisco fans. Surrounding that event, Ken Dorsey threw for nearly 250 yards, Brandon Lloyd showed why so many expected him to be a breakout star one day for the team, and the defense played tight. It was a complete effort. Unfortunately, the Seahawks were just a better team.

Dorsey had earned himself another start, but the honeymoon wouldn't last long. Despite playing adequately in a loss to the Titans, Alex Smith's return from a knee injury sealed his fate. In a lost season, at least the 49ers could salvage the continued development of their biggest investment.

And Smith looked for all the world like he needed as much development as possible. Arguably, it was Smith's three interceptions that lost a 10-17 game against the Cardinals. Then, whereas the team had been competitive against the Seahawks in their matchup only three weeks prior with Dorsey as the quarterback, they lost an ugly game in Seattle behind Smith's 77 total passing yards.

Though the team was on its way to another number-one draft pick, the atmosphere was visibly different than it had been in recent years. Perhaps most notably: As Alex Smith endured his growing pains, Frank Gore emerged as an exciting piece of the team's future - a future that had not existed a year ago. Gone was the lack of energy. Gone was the infighting. Gone were the excuses and the sense of impending doom. Beginning to replace these shadows of the Erickson regime were the tenets that Mike Nolan had sold the Yorks on: a team-first approach and a never-say-die attitude.

At the end of the season, this new atmosphere finally began to pay its dividends. Alex Smith threw his first career touchdown in a victory over the Rams in week 16. And finally, in week 17, the 49ers battled bitterly with the Houston Texans to take home a win in the final week of the season.

The team was riddled with question marks. Could Alex Smith take the next step after a historically bad year? How far would Mike Nolan's efforts to overturn the roster go? Was Frank Gore a legitimate starter, or would he disappoint in the same ways that Barlow had? What direction was the team really headed?

But at least, once more, there was hope.

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