Hundreds of thousands of San Francisco sports fans saw two huge wishes come true this weekend.
First, the San Francisco Giants advanced to the World Series. Second, Alex Smith left the San Francisco 49ers' game against the Carolina Panthers with an injury early in the third quarter, clearing the way for much-beloved backup David Carr.
This was finally the moment 49er fans had been waiting for. After watching head coach Mike Singletary callously ignore their cries for Carr for two weeks, a devastating sack on Smith left the embattled team captain with a sprained left shoulder, leaving Coach Sing no choice but to insert Carr.
With the game tied 10-10 and an entire half to play, everyone would finally see how much Smith had held the offense back. Vindication was short at hand and new hope for playoff revival began to bubble forth.
However, offensive coordinator Mike Johnson seemed intent on sabotaging this plan, dialing up running play after running play as drives continually fizzled out. The 49ers scored a defensive touchdown to take a 20-13 lead, but Carolina equalized two drives later.
When the 49ers finally opened up the offense in the last two minutes of play, borne more out of necessity than will, the reasons for Johnson's hesitation in letting Carr throw the ball became painfully apparent. Carr promptly threw an interception, badly under-throwing an open Michael Crabtree.
The turnover setup what proved to be a game-winning field goal for Carolina, and even given one last-ditch shot at redemption, Carr came closer to throwing two more picks on the final drive than he did to moving the 49ers into range to tie the game and force overtime.
The loss does not eliminate the 49ers from the playoffs mathematically, but it may just do so logically. At 1-6 the 49ers will be 3.5 games out of first place in their division by the end of play on Sunday. Furthermore, it will take a better run than any they have seen since 2002 over the balance of the schedule simply to match their 8-8 record of last season.
Still "WANT CARR"?
Little is known about the severity of Smith's injury, but suffice it to say that should he be sidelined for any length of time, the 49er offense will find itself in even more dire straights than it did through the first seven weeks of 2010. It seems the 49er offense has two speeds; and if the Alex Smith speed did not suit you, you certainly will not like the alternative.
Smith at least proved that barring lack-luster play calling, mental mistakes, and penalties from Anthony Davis that the 49er offense could be effective. With Carr at the helm, even the potential for offensive production (much less the reality there of) seemed an utter impossibility.
Like it or not, this game proved there was method to Coach Sing's apparent madness in steadfastly sticking with Alex Smith despite overwhelming disdain from nearly everyone around him. Alex Smith may not be a good option at quarterback, but he is the best the 49ers have (or at least had).
If Smith is out for a prolonged stretch, and Carr continues to throw frozen ropes to the defense from under his "Transformers" helmet, it may not be long until we see another Smith (Troy) taking snaps for San Francisco.
The 49ers' problems run deeper than the quarterback, and deeper than the offense. Their defense proved suspect again, making a mediocre quarterback look like a Pro Bowler as Matt Moore led Carolina's comeback. The team also amassed a season-high 11 penalties, many of which were key to sustaining drives for the opposition, or squelching their own.
The house of the 49ers sits in deep disarray and the Alex Smith injury has done nothing but make matters worse, regardless of the hopes and delusions of all whom had called so fervently for his head. Picking a scapegoat can be a soothing mental exercise, but as proven on Sunday, it does not change reality.
Ironically, the 49ers' best hope on offense might be a speedy convalescence for their vaunted quarterback. Then again, maybe this could finally force the coaching staff to sustain the offensive creativity that has shown promise thus far. The only question is: who will lead the team at quarterback?
At least San Francisco has their beloved Giants. Go Rangers!
Keep the faith!