Alex Smith, a popular target of 49ers critics because of his uneven play since being selected with the first overall pick of the 2005 draft, is suddenly looking like Alexander the Great.
Back in the driver’s seat under center following a five-game hiatus, Smith was in total command in the Niners’ 40-21 home rout of the division-rival Seahawks that kept the team’s playoff hopes very much alive. Delivering a steady diet of safe short- and medium-range passes — and letting the team’s primary playmakers do the rest with substantial gains after their receptions — Smith tossed three TD passes in a solid 255-yard performance (130.9 passer rating).
With a 5-8 record, and sitting one game behind the Rams and Seahawks in the NFC West, the Niners suddenly have snuck back into contention for the division title in a big way. They now face a short turnaround with a tough Thursday-night matchup against the Chargers, and while an upset victory in San Diego would no doubt greatly bolster their postseason hopes, they still could have a fighting chance to win the division even if they lose on Thursday, provided they win their last two games against the Rams and Cardinals within the division.
The PFW Spin
There was nothing fancy about the Niners’ shellacking of the Seahawks. Put simply, they administered a very straightforward, old-fashioned whipping, devoid of the often-intense, overly dramatic histrionics that have made their season so hard to stomach for many observers. The team’s effort in Week 14 is what was widely expected in its Week One season opener in Seattle instead of the 31-6 stink bomb that set the stage for a terrible start to the season that just kept going steadily downhill.
The passing game in the Niners' rematch against the Seahawks was deadly efficient, with three different receivers — TE Vernon Davis, WR Josh Morgan and RB Brian Westbrook —managing at least 70 yards receiving and a TD catch. In addition, the defense was typically solid against the run, registering a season-high five takeaways. That included a 39-yard interception return for a TD by FS Dashon Goldson, who has fallen short of the major playmaking expectations numerous onlookers predicted entering the season.
Presiding over the impressive effort on both sides of the ball, head coach Mike Singletary continued to display an unusually calm demeanor. With his job on the line, daily team observers believe he is making a conscious effort to rein in his emotions and provide steadier, less volatile leadership down the home stretch.
“I think more than anything else, it’s just probably a progression,” Singletary said in his Monday press conference when asked about his changed demeanor as of late. “I mean, you get to a point where you realize that the referees are going to call what they are going to call, and there’s only so much of that you can control.
“My big thing is body language of the players, making sure that the coaches are on time in getting things in, making sure the quarterback has time to get the call and really deal with the offense. So it’s just really kind of honing in on those things.”
Getting a terrific effort out of Westbrook — who has looked like the same star player he was with the Eagles in two of the Niners’ last three games in place of the injured Frank Gore — certainly hasn’t hurt.