Liotta: Niners scrambling for ways to get back on track

This was a tough week to be a team struggling in the NFL.

There’s no way Thanksgiving turkey tasted any good to the coaches, general managers or executives living in Cleveland, Washington, Denver or, yes, even Pittsburgh.

And while there had to be a bout or two of indigestion among the 49ers coaching staff, the bird on the Yorks’ table may have been the toughest to swallow.

That’s because they’ve been here before. They’ve heard it before. The team they own is struggling. Again.
Flashes of excellence follows longer stretches of ineptness. And the Yorks have to swallow hard — through every course of their holiday feast — and trust Mike Singletary to move this team forward where Dennis Erickson and Mike Nolan could not.

When Singletary resolutely said that these 49ers “will take that next step,” there had to be a flinch or two, because the Yorks had to be wondering: Is this the same thing this team has gone through the last six seasons?

Or is this year, and this team, and this coach different?

That’s a pretty queazy spot to find oneself in Thanksgiving weekend in the NFL. And it’s justified here, because the 49ers team that had so many people excited four weeks into the season has not beaten a team currently possessing a winning record — or won a road game — since Week 1.

“We are still hurting ourselves,” Singletary said. “We are our own worst enemy. If we could just beat the enemy within, then we’d have a chance to go out and beat the one we’re playing against.”

I see how Singletary remains confident in this group. Michael Crabtree, Vernon Davis, Frank Gore and Josh Morgan on offense. Patrick Willis and Manny Lawson on defense. There’s a bunch of young talent in his locker room.

The thing I like best about Singletary is that he doesn’t hitch himself to hindsight. He says Alex Smith learned a lot watching Shaun Hill and now, in his coach’s estimation, is starting to develop into a winning NFL quarterback.

Unfortunately, Erickson and Nolan both made similar pronouncements of optimism as the Niners tripped down the ladder of futility.

“I’m just thankful we don’t have a team where I’m coming in here, we’re 4-6, you get your tail kicked the day before, and you know when you look at that film that we can’t do any better than that. We can’t beat that team. And you look at your schedule and you say we can’t beat those teams either,” Singletary said.

“It’s coming,” Singletary said. “I just know when I’m talking to the players, when I’m listening to the players, there are a lot of good things happening. At the end of the day, I just know we’ll get there — sooner rather than later.”

And that’s something we just don’t know right now, and that had to make the owners’ bird pretty tough to swallow.

Tim Liotta is a freelance journalist and regular contributor to The Examiner. E-mail him at tliotta@sfexaminer.com.

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