It has been eight years since the Bay Area has seen one of its NFL teams put together a winning season, a drought that appears likely to continue in 2010.
For the San Francisco 49ers, one victory would be a start.
The winless 49ers hope to put their worst start in 31 years behind them as the Oakland Raiders cross the Bay Bridge for a rare northern California showdown Sunday.
San Francisco’s 8-8 finish last season was the best either team has managed since 2002, when both clubs made the playoffs and the Raiders reached the Super Bowl.
But the 49ers (0-5) have encountered the bigger problems this season despite entering as a potential favorite in the NFC West. Their first four weeks included two blowout losses and two last-second defeats, and they were unable to overcome five turnovers in a 27-24 home loss to Philadelphia last Sunday night.
It’s already the longest San Francisco has gone without a win since 1979, when it started 0-7 and finished 2-14. No 0-5 team has ever rebounded to make the playoffs, but the 49ers are holding out hope in the wide-open NFC West.
“It’s felt like a whole season already, considering that we haven’t won a game,” linebacker Patrick Willis(notes) said. “It makes the days feel long, it makes the weeks feel long. In reality, we’re 0-5, that’s what it is. Reality, too, is that we have a chance to get this right.”
Coach Mike Singletary is hoping a confrontation with quarterback Alex Smith will help. Smith’s fumble led to an Eagles touchdown early in the fourth quarter, and Singletary considered replacing him with backup David Carr(notes).
But Smith spoke up for himself in a heated exchange with his coach, then led two late touchdown drives as the 49ers’ comeback attempt fell just short. Although the former No. 1 overall draft pick has thrown an NFL-high nine interceptions - a huge reason San Francisco is last in the NFL with a minus-10 turnover differential - Smith will remain the starter at least one more week.
“When I look at Alex, I’m convinced that there’s something there that I feel that he can be a good quarterback,” Singletary said. “But it’s up to him. You’re always a work in progress, but at some point in time you have to grab hold of it and really come to that point to where you know, and everybody else around you, that this guy has arrived.”
The Raiders (2-3) also have some questions at quarterback, especially after Bruce Gradkowski(notes) injured his throwing shoulder during a 35-27 win over San Diego last Sunday. Jason Campbell(notes) is expected to start in his place against San Francisco.
Campbell began the season as the starter after being acquired from Washington, but Gradkowski replaced him at halftime in Week 2 and led Oakland to a 16-14 win over St. Louis.
Campbell then replaced the injured Gradkowski last weekend and went 13 of 18 for 159 yards and a touchdown, although coach Tom Cable said Gradkowski will remain the starter when healthy.
“I just think it’s a good problem to have two quality players,” Cable said.
Oakland has also shown it has two quality running backs, with Darren McFadden(notes) averaging 4.6 yards per carry and 98.0 rushing yards in the first four weeks. With McFadden out with a hamstring injury - he’s questionable this week - Michael Bush(notes) had 26 carries for 104 yards and a touchdown against San Diego.
The Raiders’ defense and special teams also contributed to the victory, blocking two punts and sealing the game on Tyvon Branch’s(notes) 64-yard fumble return in the final minute. Oakland, which has lost at least 11 games in seven consecutive seasons, would have a winning record if not for a missed 32-yard field goal by Sebastian Janikowski(notes) on the final play in a Week 3 loss at Arizona.
“As I said to them, ‘Let’s not make this a 24-hour feel-good party, let’s make this who we are becoming,’” Cable said. “That’s where we need to go.”
Getting back to .500 would be especially meaningful against their local rivals in a matchup that has only occurred six times while the Raiders have been based in Oakland. Each team has won three, with the 49ers taking the last two - most recently 34-20 on Oct. 8, 2006.
“I’m a big fan of Alex Smith,” said Davis, who leads the 49ers with 313 receiving yards. “He’s talented. He makes mistakes. His thing is he definitely has to learn from them. We don’t have time to play around and just make careless mistakes. We’ve got to go.”