Stay of Execution: Did Mike Singletary Save His Job With Win in London?
Make no mistake about it: If the San Francisco 49ers are yet to pull their 2010 season from the brink of catastrophe and make a run toward the playoffs, they have a very long way to go.
However, had head coach Mike Singletary not been able to rally the troops after a disappointing loss to the then-winless Carolina Panthers and find a way to beat the Denver Broncos on Halloween in London, the rest of 2010 would have been a purely academic exercise and—votes of confidence aside—the 49ers would almost certainly have entered the bye week by bidding "bye bye" to the former Hall of Fame linebacker.
Safe for Now
Given the team's resiliency in finding a way to win overseas, Coach Sing has likely saved his job for the rest of the season. The 49ers will not see action again until Week 10, and replacing one's coach at 2-7 in the wake of a Week 10 loss simply makes no sense.
If Coach Sing is replaced, one would expect his array of hand-picked assistants would follow him out the door. Why then make a change so late in the year in favor of an interim coach everyone knows is a sitting duck?
Following that logic, the 49ers will finish the 2010 campaign under Coach Sing's leadership, and the team's performance over their last eight games will determine in large part whether he remains in place when the 49ers open the following season (be that in 2011, or for the more realistic among us, some time thereafter).
Not Great, But He'll Take It . . .
Ironically, the game that seems to have saved Coach Sing's job at least for the time being was not a particularly well-coached effort.
The 49ers protected the football and limited penalties, two areas they had struggled mightily in throughout the season to date. However, execution was often lacking, particularly on critical plays; the game plan was as conservative as a Texas Sunday School class for most of the game; and lapses in communication led to the familiar sight of the 49ers having to burn timeouts early in the half.
Despite the result, the 49ers lacked much of the "finish" ability they have so desperately sought since training camp. They came alive in the middle of the fourth quarter and turned a 10-3 deficit into a 24-10 lead, but failed to hold on to that momentum—surrendering a late opportunity for Denver to tie the game.
But at 1-6, one cannot picky. A win is a win, after all.
Out With the Old, in With the New (Smith)
Furthermore, the outcome of the game was ultimately decided less on the coaching moves made during the game so much as one made earlier in the week by the embattled Coach Sing.
With starting quarterback and offensive captain Alex Smith sidelined with a non-throwing shoulder sprain, and backup David Carr coming off a dismal relief effort in the loss to Carolina, Coach Sing made headlines Monday when he named third stringer Troy Smith the starter against the Broncos.
While much of the fanbase was ecstatic, many national outlets questioned the wisdom of the ploy. As Dan Dierdorf of CBS pointed out after the game, it wound up looking like a pretty smart move (one of the few intelligent points Dierdorf has made in years).
A New Hope . . .
Despite being given next to no rope through most of three quarters, Smith did everything he could to rally the team to this much-needed win. His passes were crisp, his instincts were solid, and while the completion of the pass that set up the 49ers' first touchdown was probably more luck than skill, getting the pass away showcased Smith's key ability to extend plays—in addition to his strong arm and accuracy.
Had David Carr been given the start, the fluke completion to former 49er Brandon Lloyd which set up the Broncos' first touchdown might have yielded Denver enough cushion to win the game. However, Smith was able to rally the team to not only tie the game, but take a multiple score lead.
How Long Can It Last?
Going into the week, many were dubious about the odds of Coach Sing sticking with Smith when former starter Alex Smith returns to health, but many signs seem to indicate there could be a good chance he does.
When Coach Sing announced the decision to start Smith, he spoke ardently about the need for leadership on offense and the need for it to come from the QB position. This was more than a simple explanation of his hopes for Smith, but also a clear indictment of David Carr and Alex Smith.
If Coach Sing wanted leadership, he had to be pleased with what he saw on Sunday. Granted the effort came against a Broncos squad that surrender 59 points at home to the Raiders the week before, but Smith looked calm, composed, and in command. Neither first-half ineffectiveness nor the first Denver score nor occasionally suspect protection seemed to rattle him. He spurred the offense to a fourth-quarter comeback, and despite the apparent fear from offensive coordinator Mike Johnson that he would not be ready to handle much of the playbook, Smith proved that the more the gameplan opened up, the more effective he could be.
Sign of Things to Come?
Coach Sing's move paid big dividends and may just wind up saving his job beyond the end of the season, especially if the success realized there spurs other moves.
I recently expounded on a list a potential roster moves the 49ers might consider, and the success of Smith suggests the others might be warranted. Already it appears that David Carr's days with the team might be numbered as observant fans may have seen practice squad QB Nate Davis on the sidelines in London.
Dominique Zeigler and Kyle Williams still deserve more of a look, and despite all the hype surrounding the Ted Ginn Jr.-Troy Smith kinship, that connection never materialized, or rather was never even attempted.
Frank Gore continues to carry the ball too much, though the team did seem to make a concerted effort to get Anthony Dixon more touches late in the game. The 49ers might also consider recently-released wide receiver Randy Moss, for the right price.
ESPN reported a lengthy list of teams interested in Moss upon news of his release today, a list which did not include the 49ers. However, if Moss, his high salary, and emotional baggage clear waivers, he might be worth a look. He could then be had for less than $0.5 million, as Minnesota would be stuck paying his salary.
The receiving combination of Crabtree and Moss could become quite a sight, especially with the dynamic Troy Smith at QB.
Keep the Faith!