Alex Smith Breaks 49ers Fans' Hearts Again by Extending Playoff Hopes

Patrick Goulding IIAnalyst IDecember 12, 2010

Alex Smith defied the hopes and expectations of 49er fans everywhere on Sunday, carrying his team to victory.
Alex Smith defied the hopes and expectations of 49er fans everywhere on Sunday, carrying his team to victory.Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

As Chris Berman is fond of saying, "That's why they play the game."

After watching the San Francisco 49ers waltz past the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday by a final score 40-21, in a game in which they faced elimination from postseason contention, however, one might be more prone to say, "Sometimes, you just have to laugh."

Head coach Mike Singletary tried to do his part to end the insanity of the 49ers' NFC West title dreams in Week 14, reverting from the savior figure of Troy Smith at quarterback back to the much-maligned offensive captain Alex Smith.

The move was met with heavy skepticism and some rightful frustration, but at least—many fans surmised—it would mark the end of any thin shreds of postseason hope in 2010, leaving the team to again lick its wounds over a long offseason and hopefully make the changes needed to finally revive the fledgling franchise.

Instead, the move back-fired—in a big way.

While he was far from sharp in his first action since a late-October shoulder separation, Alex Smith had one of his best statistical performances, going 17-of-27 for 255 yards and three touchdowns. He also rushed for 12 yards.

Despite a mediocre rushing game which generated just 95 yards, and perhaps in spite of a hostile home crowd that was ready to boo the embattled captain off the field before the game even began, Alex Smith utilized his purportedly superior knowledge of the offensive playbook to engineer consistent drives and stake the 49ers to more points by halftime than most people likely expected them to score in the entire game.

Were it not for a few missed opportunities for the 49ers, and a third-quarter special teams touchdown and a late offensive touchdown against a vanilla defense for the Seahawks, the game could have been even more one-sided. Smith's performance was not polished, it was not pretty and it was far from convincing, but it got the job done—with more authority than anyone could have expected.

The win draws the 49ers back to within one game of the Seahawks and St. Louis Rams in a division where once again no team holds a record of .500 or better. Much to the chagrin of many fans with visions of Andrew Luck, Jake Locker or Ryan Mallett in the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft, this win gave the 49ers plenty of reason to keep playing for this season.

The Seahawks must return home to face the Atlanta Falcons next week—owners of the best record in the NFC. Meanwhile, the 49ers still have a head-to-head date with the Rams, who also have the Kansas City Chiefs left on their schedule.

If the 49ers can ride their momentum into a Thursday night tilt with the San Diego Chargers, they could find themselves in position to control their own destiny by Week 16.

The Chargers looked like a fierce opponent Sunday, beating the Chiefs 31-0—the same Chiefs that demolished the 49ers earlier this year. But in this league where parity reigns supreme, the only game that means anything is the next one on the schedule.

The 49ers have had their recent share of surprising lopsided wins late in disappointing seasons: beating the Cardinals handily last year, and the Chicago Bears the year before. Those unexpected victories meant little in the long run, which will likely tempt many to believe this win was another case of too little, too late.

Many may, in fact, hope that to be true, as anything else would just prolong the tenure of a washed-up QB and coach.

However, the 49ers are still very much alive.

Coach Sing and Smith inarguably were key factors in digging the 49ers' current hole. Now, right or wrong, it appears these same two will be tasked with trying to hoist the 49ers back out.

Even if they can succeed, it may not warrant either man keeping his job beyond 2010, and the process certainly stands to limit the 49ers' chances of landing Luck, Locker or Mallett in the draft.

Still, if nothing else, it makes for some interesting late-season theater, the likes of which San Francisco football fans have not seen in some time.

Coach Sing and Smith share the responsibility for the disappointing 2010 season to date, but they also seem to share a strong desire to rectify the situation they have created. The more experts say they ought to be fired, the more fans boo them as they take the field, the deeper this resolve seems to grow.

So keep booing Coach Sing and Alex Smith, San Francisco. Keep dreading every mounting win and the added distance it puts between the real team and the expert consensus of what is best for the team in years to come.

If we can root against them hard enough, maybe we can boo Sing, Smith and the hapless 49ers all the way to the Super Bowl.

Keep the Faith!