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After five games, team is last in NFL with turnover differential of minus-10


SANTA CLARA — Five games and 15 turnovers into a quickly careening season, the 49ers haven't figured out how to prevent their endless miscues.

But they do have two players who could seemingly provide some assistance.

Backup quarterback David Carr and wide receiver Ted Ginn, a pair of former high-end first-round draft picks, have another, more obscure, claim to fame. Carr was a member of the 2008 Giants and Ginn played for the 2008 Dolphins, teams that share the NFL record for the fewest turnovers in a season.

Those two historically mistake-free teams committed 13 turnovers in 16 games.

The 0-5 Niners? They've committed 13 turnovers ... in their past 16 quarters.

San Francisco, which is last in the NFL with a minus-10 turnover differential, is on pace to commit 48 turnovers, which would double last year's total and be just seven fewer than they had in a three-year span from 2000-02.

This team, clearly, could use some counsel on "Total Ball Security," which, as it happens, is the No. 1 item on the "49ers Formula for Success" banner that hangs outside their locker room.

So Mr. Ginn, a member of an 11-5 team that had seven interceptions and six fumbles in '08, any helpful tips?

"There ain't no secret to it," Ginn said. "Just hold onto the rock."

Hmm. Not too helpful.

But what about Carr, a backup to Eli Manning on the '08 Giants, who had a 12-4 record thanks to 10 interceptions and three lost fumbles. Coach Tom Coughlin must have made holding onto the ball a real point of emphasis, huh David?

"You know, all coaches say the same things," Carr said. "The ball just bounced our way, honestly. I can remember so many times that year when the ball was on the ground and we happened to fall on it."

Sure enough, Carr's memory is accurate. The Giants had 18 fumbles in '08. And they recovered 15.

The '08 Dolphins? They also had 18 fumbles. And recovered 12.

This season, the Niners have had 12 fumbles. And they've recovered six.

Carr, in his ninth season and first in San Francisco, says he's never had coaches emphasize turnovers — avoiding them, that is — more than the Niners' staff has this season.

"It's just one of those things, man," Carr said. "Turnovers, they're such big things when it comes to winning and losing football games, but it's hard to just coach it. ... It just so happens that we've turned it over this season. I don't think it's a lack of discipline or a lack of coaches stressing it."

The correlation between turnovers and success or failure is unmistakable.

This season, teams with a positive turnover differential have a record of 36-20. Teams that have a negative turnover differential are 31-46.

Without a handful of their miscues, the 49ers could easily be 3-2. In losses to the Saints, Falcons and Eagles, they were outscored by eight points. And they committed 12 turnovers.

The miscues have led to 43 points, including an interception and a fumble return for touchdowns.

Linebacker Takeo Spikes was visibly frustrated by his team's unique knack for hurting itself after Sunday night's 27-24, five-turnover loss to Philadelphia.

"It's the turnovers, we're killing ourselves," Spikes said. "And the next question I know you're going to ask is how do we handle that. Trust me, if I knew, we wouldn't even be having this conversation right now. We really wouldn't. So, I don't know ... go take a survey or something."

The solution, not surprisingly, involves quarterback Alex Smith, who is responsible for 10, or two-thirds, of San Francisco's turnovers. On Sunday, Smith lost the ball while rolling left in the fourth quarter and his fumble was returned for a back-breaking score.

Perhaps Smith can take a page from Carr, who played turnover-free in the final two quarters of the Giants' regular-season finale in 2008, a 20-19 loss to the Vikings. Carr was playing because New York had secured a first-round playoff bye and, with a chance for his team to make history, his primary focus was on securing the ball.

"Honestly we didn't realize we were on that pace until maybe there were two games left in the season, when Coughlin was like, &‘You know wha? We have a chance to do something,'" Carr said. "Then it was like we just starting freaking out about it. ... I was kind of scrambling around towards the end of the last game and all I was thinking about was just tucking the ball. There's no way I was going to fumble that football."

For more on the 49ers, go to Instant 49ers at blog.pressdemocrat.com/49ers. You can reach Staff Writer Eric Branch at eric.branch@pressdemocrat.com and follow him at twitter.com/Eric_Branch.