SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) _ Julian Peterson has been one of the San Francisco 49ers' most ebullient players since his arrival five years ago.
The smile is still there these days, but a bit of Peterson's optimism is gone.
His season-ending Achilles' tendon injury is partly responsible, but the 49ers' horrific season has the power to drain even the most optimistic of players. A day after watching San Francisco's 41-7 loss to Buffalo in its home finale, even the star linebacker couldn't find a sunny side to this dark season.
We were a team that took a lot of hits and a lot of bruises,'' Peterson said.Those things kind of add up after a while.''
The 49ers (2-13) must beat the defending champion New England Patriots on Sunday to avoid tying the worst record in franchise history. In other words, this team is all but certain to match the 2-14 records of 1978 and 1979.
San Francisco is all but certain to get the No. 1 pick in the upcoming draft, and that's where the reclamation project will start for next season _ along with a possible coaching change, as Dennis Erickson knows.
The 49ers' brass already has begun to evaluate what spare parts can be saved from the wreckage of the franchise's worst campaign in a quarter-century. With all the injuries and fatigue resulting from all the losses, even that task will be difficult.
We are wearing down a little bit, and we are playing with guys that weren't here in the beginning of the season at a lot of positions,'' Erickson said.There are a lot of guys on the sidelines that aren't playing. Did you see those white sweats (worn by injured players) down there? There were a lot of them.''
The 49ers were held to fewer than 200 yards of total offense for the fifth time this season in the loss to Buffalo. It was their biggest defeat ever at Candlestick Park, and a fitting finale for a season that has been a travelogue of one historic low after another.
The 49ers have plenty of spare parts that could be thrown away, but general manager Terry Donahue's biggest job will be in deciding what to keep. Owner John York will determine how much can be spent.
That's something that we will talk about in the next couple weeks,'' Erickson said.Again, it's how much money we have under the cap and how much we have to spend. I know that John is committed to make this football team better, without any question. He's not any happier than any of us with what has transpired, and I really believe he'll make that commitment.''
The offense needs a bit of everything, perhaps including a new quarterback with that top pick. The 49ers desperately need more physical offensive linemen, and a handful of new receivers would aid a dismal passing game.
The defense needs help on the line and in the secondary. Safeties Tony Parrish and Ronnie Heard will be scrutinized, as will defensive ends John Engelberger and Andre Carter.
Donahue also must decide what to do with Peterson, the former All-Pro who sat out training camp in a futile attempt to become the NFL's highest-paid linebacker, then was hurt just five games into the season.
The 49ers can hit Peterson with the franchise tag again next season, which would give him a lucrative one-year contract. They also could take another shot at signing him to a long-term deal, though his agents, Carl and Kevin Poston, weren't impressed by San Francisco's last try.
Or the 49ers could try to trade Peterson, who's probably still their most respected player despite his injury. For his part, Peterson wouldn't mind returning.
It's a win-win for me regardless,'' he said.I would love a long-term contract, but I came from nothing, and I've been blessed with a lot of material to help my family. ... I wouldn't mind coming back, turning around this whole season and winning another Super Bowl for this organization. That's what I'd love to do.''