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49ers frustrated after loss to Patriots

Associated Press

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) ” Patrick Willis was too frustrated to speak after the San Francisco 49ers’ loss to New England. Frank Gore halfheartedly answered a few questions before bolting from the locker room.

The 49ers’ top young talents were both in better moods Monday, but their disappointment over a 30-21 loss to the Patriots is likely to linger for more than a day.

With a chance to gauge their improvements in a high-profile meeting with an elite NFL club, the 49ers (2-3) failed in almost every measure during their second straight loss.

Coach Mike Nolan plans no major changes to the schemes that haven’t worked well over the last two weeks, but the 49ers believe they’ll start winning again when they stop making so many boneheaded mistakes.

“We’re a victim of ourselves,” said Willis, who made 18 tackles. “I felt all week it was going to be a chance to get a big win for our team. … It should hurt after every loss. This game just happened to hurt worse.”

Perhaps that’s because the 49ers were beaten in so many fundamental aspects of football: running the ball, stopping the run, time of possession and turnovers.

Although Gore caught a 16-yard touchdown pass while lined up as a receiver for the game’s opening score, he rushed for a season-low 54 yards. After a strong first quarter, the 49ers’ offense sputtered for most of the few times it got on the field, failing to get a first down in the middle two quarters and holding on to the ball for only 20:08.

Not even Gore’s steady, versatile play could help J.T. O’Sullivan, who threw three interceptions. None of the Niners’ receivers had more than Gore’s four receptions, though Isaac Bruce caught two TD passes.

“We’ve just got to play as one,” Gore said Monday. “We’ve got a lot of great talent in here, but we’ve just got to get over the hump.”

Tight end Vernon Davis again wasn’t among the 49ers’ offensive contributors, outside of his blocking. The former No. 6 overall draft pick has a paltry five receptions in five games this season, with offensive coordinator Mike Martz still unable to find a way to use his talents consistently.

Nolan again defended the club’s use of Davis as a tremendously expensive blocker, saying he excels at protecting the quarterback and blocking for Gore ” even if he’s no real threat in the passing game.

“He has a responsibility to himself to run the correct routes,” Nolan said. “You get the ball that way better, but by no stretch would I say he’s a bust. Like I said, he is good at two out of the three (aspects of his job). He will continue to get better at the third part, but that’s a matter of working at it.”

The 49ers’ biggest defensive flaw in recent weeks has been its inability to stop its opponents’ running game. San Francisco is yielding more than 128 yards rushing per game, but the yards are even more painful when they stretch out drives and patiently wear down a defense, as the Patriots’ scheme did.

Nolan insists there’s no reason to change his defensive philosophy, which appears to emphasize discouraging lengthy pass plays while doing less to confront a steady rushing attack. New England ran the ball 43 times Sunday, generating just 3.3 yards per carry but grinding down the front of the 49ers’ defense.

“They haven’t had any necessarily big runs, but they’ve been able to sustain and move the ball on us,” Nolan said. “New England’s running attack is the same running plays as they used against us as they used against 32 other opponents. We need to do a better job of stopping them. Obviously instead of them getting sometimes 5 and 6 (yards), stopping them at the 2- and 3-yard range is what you strive for, which is what we did earlier in the year.”

Nolan was surprised to see New England’s lack of innovation for the game after coach Bill Belichick’s staff had a bye week to prepare. Nolan said the Patriots did nothing the 49ers hadn’t already seen on film ” which suggests New England’s opinion of the 49ers is every bit as low as San Francisco’s defensive abilities.

Willis believes the 49ers have just as much talent as their recent opponents. They simply haven’t harnessed it. But with games coming up against Philadelphia and the New York Giants, they’re running out of time to do it before their season is wrecked.

“As far as a team just lining up and whooping our tails, that’s yet to be done,” Willis said. “You have no choice but to hold your head up high, and try to be the defense we know we can be.”