The 49ers are on the defensive, defending themselves like mad after that loss in Seattle, after Alex Smith slammed offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye, saying plays came in too slow, after Yahoo! Sports came out with an article saying Raye is slow to recall plays in tense situations, saying Raye garbles his words at the worst possible times during games.

That is the bad place the Niners find themselves in after only one game.

On Thursday, the 49ers defended themselves. Mike Singletary said he's working on improving in-game communication between Raye and Smith — they'd better improve by Monday when they play Super Bowl champion New Orleans.

Singletary also talked about "the rat." The rat was the source for Yahoo sportswriter Jason Cole. The rat was the Niner snitch who yapped about Raye's deficiencies and the dissatisfaction some players feel about him. Singletary said he doesn't think a rat exists — I disagree — but if there is indeed a rat, or merely a big mouse, Singletary is sure the rat smell will reveal itself soon enough.

It is serious when a team has a rat infestation. An exterminator is in order. After his news conference, Singletary eyeballed me — I had been silent.

"Why are you so quiet today?" he demanded.

"I'm just thinking about you calling a guy a rat," I said.

"See there you go," he said — with a smile, I think. "I shouldn't have asked you but here we go. One thing I want to teach our guys is to be men. If there's something you have to say, go say it and say that you said it. But don't go say a bunch of stuff, &‘But don't tell him I said it.' To me that's a rat. That's a coward and a rat."

The Yahoo article alleges certain players did talk to Singletary about Raye — unratlike behavior. But it is admirable Singletary hates a rat. Singletary is the anti-rat. He is someone who tells you straight up what he thinks, and he is willing for you to tell him straight up what you think. He's even willing for me to speak back and that's why he solicited my feedback after the news conference. None of this means he is a good coach. He still must prove that. But he is a stand-up guy and that is admirable.

Despite all that, he still had to defend himself. He still had to say he will improve the disastrously slow play calling, and he still had to allow for the possibility of rodents on the premises. When you are preparing for the national stage on Monday night, you don't want to talk about little disease-carrying mammals.

When Singletary was done, Raye walked to the podium. I wish you could have seen this. Raye wore a floppy sun hat — it looked vaguely Australian. He is a dignified, articulate man, careful with his words. As he began to field questions, Singletary sat himself on the floor near the podium, sat in the sun. The coach usually leaves when the offensive coordinator answers questions. I never saw anything like this.

Singletary stretched and leaned on his elbow. He looked like a cat sunning itself, a big cat — a lion at rest. Singletary makes you think of a lion — the regal bearing, the athletic, sinewy body, the forward-leaning handsome head, the implied power.

It was unclear why the lion remained there. He listened to Raye but he didn't speak. Maybe he was there to protect his coach. Or maybe he wanted to hear Raye for himself. Or maybe he was telling Raye, "I faced them and now you must." Singletary is all about facing the adversary. I simply don't know why he did what he did, but I never will forget it.

Raye was a man on the witness stand. He had to explain failure and he was more on the defensive than Singletary had been and sometimes I could not understand him. Maybe I wouldn't speak so coherently if people I perceived as hostile were hurling questions at me.

He blamed headset malfunction for some of the problems in Seattle, an explanation Smith and Singletary already have proved invalid. Then a reporter asked about the Yahoo article that mentioned Raye had garbled his words.

"Who's Yahoo?" Raye said.

"Yahoo sports, Jason Cole," the reporter said.

"I don't know the guy," Raye said. "We lost the game in Seattle. It goes with the territory. I bear my brunt of the responsibility for what took place up there. I've done this a long time. It's my 34th year in the National Football League. I'm not flawless. I think I speak with good diction. I don't garble anything. I think I speak with good diction and I think I express myself pretty well, so whoever Yahoo is, maybe he should come call the plays."

Tough moment. Painful moment. There was Raye saying he knows how to speak and people can understand him. When was the last time you testified to your speaking ability? He turned testy and challenged Yahoo to call the plays. He was a man under duress.

On Monday he must get calls in on time and they must be the right calls. The fans are watching. Yahoo is watching. The lion is watching.

For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at cohn.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at lowell.cohn@pressdemocrat.com.