An NFL team wins football games for one single reason: to set themselves up for a Super Bowl trophy.
A win can help a team get a winning record, but a winning record does not provide a Super Bowl trophy. A winning record can sometimes provide a trip to the playoffs, but again, a trip to the playoffs does not provide a Super Bowl trophy, either.
So if a winning record does not provide a Super Bowl trophy, and neither does a trip to the playoffs, what DOES provide a Super Bowl trophy?
There are two paths to Super Bowl trophy: one is led by a quarterback, the other by a historic defense.
The game against the Atlanta Falcons provided a “learning experience.” Yeah, I know, you're just as sick of that phrase as I am, but this was a far more important and in-depth learning experience. A learning experience that can provide the foundation for a championship team.
Why was this game such a great learning experience?
Because everything Mike Singletary could have hoped for from the actions he took last week occurred. In other words, Mike Johnson called an excellent game.
The 49ers' offense stretched the field with both the run and the pass. It was not easy to tell what they were going to do based upon how they lined up. The running and passing plays included well-timed play actions and screens.
Mike Johnson called as good a game as could have been called, while staying within the bondages, whoops, I mean boundaries of Mike Singletary's vision.
But despite such a well-called game, the 49ers were only able to manage a single offensive touchdown.
But the O-line! It must have been the O-LINE's fault!
Nope, we're done with that one too. The line played a good game. Not flawless, like against New Orleans, but still good.
But what about Gore, I bet he must have fumbled the ball away, or Crabtree, YES, Crabtree! Oh darn him to heck, what a bust. Or DAVIS! Yes! Davis must have dropped a ton of passes, I am sure of it.
Sorry, but this fanbase has been reaching and searching and clawing for every last possible excuse it can find. The low point total had nothing to do with any of those players. This game made it crystal clear again, and for the 99th time that Alex Smith is not a championship-caliber quarterback under this system.
He is not “the one,” never has been, and never will be. He is good enough to show you a little something here and there, just to keep you guessing, hoping, and waiting for more. Waiting for something special to happen, but it never does—or perhaps I should say, never will again.
Alex Smith, never will “again” lead this team to the playoffs, because he does not fit within Mike Singletary's vision.
For Singletary's vision to succeed, everything must be flawless: the offensive line, the running back, the wide receivers, the offensive play-calling, the defense, the special teams, and yes, the quarterback.
Sometimes, the 49ers have two or three different aspects of the team playing flawlessly at a given time. But almost never, does Alex Smith play flawlessly within the vision. The only flawless games Alex Smith has had have come through the shotgun-spread offense.
But Singletary's vision is set in stone, and the hallucination is real.
The 49ers will never be a championship team under Mike Singletary's hallucination, or Alex Smith's bumbling within it.
Singletary's hallucination keeps fans guessing. The 49ers can compete with any team in the league, and bring a game down to the wire, or they can implode against any team in the league and lose by 30+ points.
It all depends upon how close to perfection the 49ers get. The closer they get to perfection, the closer the game will be. But no matter how close to perfection the 49ers get, the hallucination will never allow the 49ers to win big, or win it all.
The reality is that, when you look at all the Super Bowl winning teams, roughly 60 percent of them have won the game with a Hall-of-Fame quarterback. If not a Hall-of-Fame quarterback, then a Pro Bowl quarterback, a top 10 all-time defense, or a Hall-of-Fame head coach.
This reality is lost on Mike Singletary, who very recently said something like “All players on the team are equally important.”
In other words, Singletary believes that the right guard is just as important as the one behind the center; he believes the free safety has just as much impact on a game as the quarterback.
This warped hallucination has built the team fans see today. A below-average quarterback trying to lead a defense-oriented football team without a top 10 all-time defense.
The reality is that Alex Smith has enough time in the pocket, and when he doesn't have time he has the option to make time by stepping up in the pocket.
The best quarterbacks in the league make time in the pocket by moving forward, getting rid of the ball at the last possible second, and never giving up on a play. The worst quarterbacks lose time in the pocket by moving backward, getting rid of the ball too early, and giving up on the play too quickly.
The reality is that Alex Smith cannot operate within Mike Singletary's vision. One, or both, has to go before championship football can ever come back to San Francisco. Nate Clement's fumble opens the door for one of these things occurring sooner.
A new talent, steps up to the Mike
The 49ers used to be brilliant. They used to demonstrate a dynamic harmony between their play-calling and play makers.
The 49ers play-calling used to be so brilliant and so full of understanding and imagination that more than a couple former 49er play-callers have moved on to lead other franchises to success as head coaches. The best one of these former play-callers was named Mike.
Mike Holmgren's reputation can only be equaled by Mike Shanahan, whose talents Mike McCarthy is looking ready to match.
But there is another Mike who is looking to make his presence felt within the 49ers' offense. His full name is Mike Johnson.
Mike Johnson made Jimmy Raye a forgotten memory in a single week by calling an excellent game.
The 49ers' offense was about as spread out as can be while operating within Singletary's limited concept.
The 49ers also showed far more ability and timing with their play-action, which gave Alex Smith lots of time in the pocket. The rushing attack had big gains to the outside as well as up the middle.
The running back screens were called at the perfect time during the game and they were not over used; wide receiver screens were mixed in with them in a clever manner.
The 49ers ran a lot of time off the clock on long drives. Undoubtedly, another thing that should have pleased Mike Singletary.
It would have been nice to hit on a couple of longer passes, but by this time in the season, it's becoming increasingly obvious that Alex Smith lacks the confidence and ability to perform consistently in anything but the spread. The big-play opportunities were there, but the ball was far off the mark.
It is obvious that Mike Johnson has a clue when it comes to offense. Hopefully, his power with the team will only increase week-after-week, because his importance to the team is not limited to only play-calling. Hopefully, Mike Johnson will eventually have some sway when it comes to personnel decisions.
Johnson is a known proponent of Nate Davis. And where Singletary only has eyes for work ethic, Johnson has eyes for raw talent. Singletary loves Alex Smith because he works hard, and apparently, Nate Davis does not share that same trait.
Johnson has an opportunity to do one of two things.
First, he can insist on running a shotgun spread offense with current quarterback Alex Smith, allowing Smith to play in the only system in which he is consistently effective.
Second, he can try and bend “iron” Mike into believing in the importance of the development of Nate Davis. He can convince him that extra effort and resources are necessary for the young kid to develop. He can do his best to explain to a frowning, skeptical Singletary that every stone must be overturned, every special effort must be committed, to build up Nate Davis and give him an opportunity during a regular season game.
Davis has 10 times the physical talent and football instincts of any other “hardworking” quarterback on the 49ers' “hardworking” roster.
The “hardworking” Mike Singletary does not have a great track record with spotting natural talent, so hopefully, Mike Johnson can pick up that slack for the team.
Whether it comes in the form of a gun-slinging Alex Smith, or a playbook knowing Nate Davis, the 49ers' future at quarterback must change if they want to have any hopes for turning into a championship team.
Mike Johnson provides this team with a voice for the offense. A voice which the 49ers have lacked since Mike McCarthy, or arguably, Norv Turner, left town.
Greg Manusky is a great defensive mind, Singletary has great strength of mind, and finally, the 49ers might have just found someone to speak as the new offensive mind.
They might have found someone who can step up and carry the legacy by carrying the Mike.
Please Mike, speak loud, sing to Sing. Either convince Singletary to give Alex Smith his offense back, or convince him that the “work ethic challenged” Nate Davis is the only quarterback on the practice field who fits well within his self-reverent run-and-gun delusion of grandeur.
Nate Clement's fumble will hopefully provide the opportunity for a new voice to emerge.