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With win at St. Louis, 49ers can record first non-losing record since 2002


ST. LOUIS ? The 49ers have not finished a season at .500 or better since owner John York determined it was best to part ways with then-coach Steve Mariucci after a playoff appearance following the 2002 season.

The team will not reach the playoffs this season for the seventh consecutive season. But it can reach ?average? with a victory today against the St. Louis Rams.

And while many of the players who have become tired of losing seasons see that as a positive step, 49ers coach Mike Singletary views it as a season of unfulfilled promises.

?Disappointing,? Singletary said. ?That?s the best way I can put it. Disappointing for me, our team, our fans. Disappointing. But it is what it is.?

The 49ers last made the playoffs following the 2002 regular season. But since Mariucci was fired for ?philosophical differences,? the 49ers have stumbled. Coaches Dennis Erickson and Mike Nolan were unable to coax the 49ers into the playoffs.

And Singletary is 0-for-1 after his first full season at the helm.

But at least Singletary appears to have one thing working to his advantage. He plans to bring back all of the central figures on his coaching staff and roster to create some continuity to make another run at it in 2010.

Offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye, whose unit enters the final Sunday of the regular season ranked 29th in total yards, said the 49ers? offense is on the right track ? and forget what the stat sheet says.

?I think there?s a lot more to the 29th number that?s written on the page,? Raye said. ?What is it? Thirty-two teams? It puts you down there in the bottom third. I think there?s a lot of growth that has taken place. There are a lot of players that now understand they can play this game at a high level.?

Quarterback Alex Smith is among them.

He starts his 10th game of the season, and is looking to even his record to 5-5 as a starter after shoulder injuries limited him to just three healthy games in 2007 and ?08.

Smith is posting career-best numbers across the board, and he said he has never been more confident in his ability to succeed in the NFL. In all likelihood, Smith will enter 2010 as the team?s starting quarterback.

?I think it (self-confidence) is as high as it?s ever been, absolutely,? Smith said. ?When you get away from the game a little bit, you forget what it?s like out there. It?s difficult to maintain some of that until you get back out on the field.

?Over the course of the last nine weeks, it?s been great to get back out there and be able to do that again, being a starter week in and week out and what that feeling is like, and competing each week in preparing for a game. It?s the best that I?ve felt ever in my career.?

In addition to Smith, the 49ers received another strong season from running back Frank Gore, who remains among the top players at his position in the NFL. Gore was named as a first alternate for the NFC Pro Bowl team.

As the 49ers? best offensive player for the longest time, Gore yearns to see the 49ers achieve an 8-8 record today with a victory over the lowly Rams (1-14) at the Edward Jones Dome.

?That would be great,? Gore said. ?Since I?ve been here, the best record I had was 7-9. Even though I feel we had a great chance to get to the playoffs, it didn?t happen. We?re taking a step forward if we get the win (this) week.?

Tight end Vernon Davis established himself as one of the top all-around tight ends in the league. Davis needs one touchdown to match the NFL single-season record of 13 touchdown receptions for a tight end. San Diego?s Antonio Gates established the standard in 2004.

Moreover, young wide receivers Michael Crabtree and Josh Morgan began to form a reliable one-two punch in the passing game.

The most glaring areas in need of markedly better play were along the offensive line, where the 49ers played most of the season with unsettled tackle positions.

Veteran Tony Pashos moved into the starting lineup at right tackle in the sixth game of the season, only to sustain a season-ending broken shoulder blade. And starting left tackle Joe Staley missed half the season with knee injuries.

?I?ll bear the burden of that number (offensive ranking) and listen to that all offseason and understand what that is,? Raye said. ?But the bottom line is to get this quarterback and this team winning.?

For more on the 49ers, go to Instant 49ers at blog.pressdemocrat.com/49ers. You can reach Staff Writer Matt Maiocco at matt.maiocco@pressdemocrat.com