- The Washington Times - Friday, November 26, 2004

The Bay Area has a proud NFL tradition. San Francisco helped popularize the forward pass in the 1950s and was the dominant team of the 1980s. Oakland has been the sport’s winningest franchise the past four decades while producing a dozen Hall of Famers.

But the 49ers (1-9) and Raiders (3-7) are both in deep trouble this year.

San Francisco, which made the playoffs in 2002, sank to the same 4-12 record as Oakland last year as superstar receiver Terrell Owens and Pro Bowl quarterback Jeff Garcia feuded their way out the door. The crippled offense doesn’t have a wideout with more than 32 catches. The defense sorely misses injured Pro Bowl linebacker Julian Peterson and former coordinator Jim Mora, now Atlanta’s coach.

Less than two years removed from their fifth Super Bowl, the Raiders are almost as big a mess as their cross-Bay rivals. The defense, aging in 2002, is younger but allowed 30 points in five straight games for the first time. The decision to let running back Charlie Garner go resulted in the NFL’s worst ground game, which allows defenses to key on quarterback Kerry Collins and his inexperienced receivers in new coach Norv Turner’s offense. Oakland leads the league with 89 penalties and only Miami and the 49ers have more than its 23 turnovers.

“It seems like deja vu all over again — aside from the turmoil between the coach and players,” receiver Jerry Porter said, harkening back to last year’s internal ugliness under Bill Callahan.

First-year starting quarterback Tim Rattay is hardly making 49ers fans forget Garcia, let alone Joe Montana and Steve Young, the Hall of Famers who led the team from 1981 to 1998. Rattay committed five turnovers as coach Dennis Erickson’s 49ers blew a 17-3 lead and fell to previously reeling Carolina 37-27 on Nov.14 and generated just 26 yards in the first half of this past Sunday’s 35-3 rout by Tampa Bay.

“They stopped everything we did,” running back Kevan Barlow said after the 49ers’ fifth straight loss. “Are we getting accustomed to losing? Maybe we are. … There’s got to be a turning point where we’ve got to say: ‘Hey, we’re going to go out and win some games.’”

Some disgruntled 49ers fans have created a Web site dedicated to forcing out owner John York, who took command after his brother-in-law Eddie DeBartolo was imprisoned. However, York said he has no intentions of selling the 49ers and hopes to unveil plans after the season for a $450million stadium to replace 44-year-old Candlestick Park.

Raiders fans are protesting their team’s ineptitude by not coming to the stadium. Poor ticket sales have allowed only two of the five home games to be televised locally — the rematch with former coach Jon Gruden and the Buccaneers and the annual battle with archival Denver (thanks to a deadline extension).

Blue Browns — With Cleveland at 3-7, coach Butch Davis could be fired as soon as Monday if the Browns’ 1-5 tailspin continues with a loss at Cincinnati on Sunday. Coordinators Terry Robiskie and Dave Campo could step in as both are former NFL head coaches. After being benched in the Nov.14 loss to Pittsburgh, Garcia strained the rotator cuff of his throwing shoulder during Sunday’s 10-7 loss to the New York Jets, becoming the fifth offensive starter on the shelf. The Browns scored just 30 points the past three games, prompting Garcia to question the predictability of Robiskie’s scheme and why the offense “beats its head against the wall” trying to run.

Peyton’s place — Indianapolis’ Peyton Manning, who’s well ahead of Dan Marino’s record pace of 1984 with 41 touchdowns in 11 games, already has four games with five or more touchdowns.

To put that in perspective, only six previous quarterbacks ever had a season with four games with four touchdowns. Those passers were Marino (1984 and 1986), Green Bay’s Brett Favre (1996), Houston’s George Blanda (1961), Los Angeles’ Vince Ferragamo (1980), San Francisco’s Steve Young (1994) and Minnesota’s Randall Cunningham (1998). Amazingly, Marino’s 1986 Dolphins didn’t even make the playoffs, but Favre, Young and Blanda won titles.

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