Power Rankings: Preseason: 12. This week: 28.
Where they stand: The 49ers are last in the NFC West with a 2-6 record. They preached offensive continuity all offseason, only to fire coordinator Jimmy Raye after three games. Quarterback Alex Smith hasn't played to expectations and neither has his restocked line. A weak and unsettled division does give the 49ers hope, however. San Francisco still has five division games remaining. The 49ers were 5-1 in the NFC West last season and it's not as if any other team is going to run away with the division title. The 49ers have gone 2-1 since president Jed York guaranteed a division title following an 0-5 start.
Falling: Coach Mike Singletary has talked a big game without delivering. He praised Smith as a leader in naming the quarterback a team captain before the season, only to complain about leadership on offense. He thanked the Seattle Seahawks for providing a wake-up call in the opener, only to suffer four more defeats in a row. He vowed that the 49ers would shut down Drew Brees, only to watch the Saints' quarterback lead the winning drive days later. He suggested the 49ers had taken a critical next step in their development by playing New Orleans tough in Week 2, only to watch his team get blown out in Kansas City the next week. He said Raye would remain coordinator, only to fire him the next day. He told David Carr to replace Smith against Philadelphia, only to back down when players urged him to stick with Smith. See the pattern?
Rising: First-round draft choices Manny Lawson (2006) and Michael Crabtree (2009) have gained momentum in the last month. Lawson has two sacks and two forced fumbles in his past four games. He's playing for a new contract and improving his stock. Crabtree has three touchdowns in his past four games, more than he caught as a rookie in 2009. The offensive direction remains difficult to predict while the 49ers consider giving Troy Smith a more extended look at quarterback. Crabtree caught only three passes against Denver, for example, as the 49ers leaned hard on the ground game. But one of those receptions went for a critical 28-yard touchdown.
Midseason MVP: Frank Gore is on pace for 1,382 yards rushing, which would stand as the second-highest total of his career. Gore is also on pace for a career-high 76 receptions. He has stayed healthier this season and carried the offense, for better and for worse. Two lost fumbles against Philadelphia are the only blotches on his record.
Outlook: It's important for the 49ers to beat St. Louis and Tampa Bay at Candlestick Park in their next two games. That would get them to 4-6 and firmly back in the division race before playing four road games during a five-week period. Nothing about how the 49ers have played this season suggests this team has the poise, maturity, coaching or quarterback talent to match their 8-8 record from last season. The 49ers appear headed for a coaching change even if they somehow win the NFC West title in a down year for the division.