It had to end this way, for everyone's sake.
The fans, who have been tortured enough this season and don't need any false hope.
The owners, who don't need a playoff appearance to cloud their judgment on what must be done.
The organization, who can now draft in the top 10 every round like their record deserves, instead of falling all the way to the 21st slot with a fraudulent division title that would've shackled them like a lead anchor.
Alex Smith, who can leave with his head held high, knowing the loss that knocked them out wasn't on him and that he was the team's best quarterback, for what that's worth.
And most of all, for Mike Singletary, who has played the fool long enough and was mercifully relieved of his duties by team president Jed York a few hours after the 49ers' 25-17 loss at St. Louis dropped them to 5-10 and eliminated them—finally—from playoff contention.
Singletary, who all season long juggled his quarterbacks the way you or I would juggle live grenades, was spared the indignity of telling a room full of media that he was just kidding last Friday when he said he was benching Smith because he "knew all the information he needed to know" about him.
When he finally put Alex Smith into the game, with 9:36 left and the 49ers trailing 22-14 after St. Louis' Sam Bradford threw a three-yard scoring pass to Laurent Robinson, it was too late to make a difference.
Alex Smith completed three more passes (10) in four fewer attempts (15) than Troy Smith did, but all he could produce in his two drives of consequence was one field goal, which was immediately negated when the Rams got one of their own after Danny Amendola's 84-yard kickoff return set them up.
Maybe if Alex Smith had a whole half to attempt a comeback, or at least a full quarter, things would've been different, but Singletary's probably better off that things worked out the way they did.
He would've looked quite silly going back to Smith to start against the Arizona Cardinals for the final regular season game, in effect benching the previous week's starter a fourth time and admitting to the free world he has not a clue about the quarterback position.
Singletary has made hundreds of mistakes—big and small—during his two years on the job, but there's no sense rehashing them all now and dancing on his grave.
The biggest mistake of all was made by York in giving Singletary the job unconditionally in the first place, without interviewing other candidates or really taking a step back to consider the ramifications.
All along, Singletary was a benefactor of circumstance.
He was the right guy at the right time; an interim coach who was everything—honest, principled, respected and most of all charismatic—that predecessor Mike Nolan was not.
Singletary was hired to finish out the string during the final nine games of the 2008 season, with zero expectations of him whatsoever. How could there be any expectations, considering the man had no head-coaching experience at any level?
What no one expected, especially after the debacle of his coaching debut, is a blowout loss at home to the lowly Seahawks that everyone remembers for Singletary sending Vernon Davis to the showers and his "can't win with 'em, can't coach with 'em" speech afterward; it was for Singletary to finish the year with a winning record.
No one, or at least not Jed York, stopped to think that the 5-4 record Singletary compiled came thanks to two wins against the St. Louis Rams, a perennially terrible Buffalo team, the New York Jets where Brett Favre was playing with a torn bicep and the dysfunctional Washington Redskins.
York was so seduced by Singletary's bombastic voice and his sound-bite-laden speeches that he never bothered to credit the two men who were really responsible for those five wins: offensive coordinator Mike Martz and quarterback Shaun Hill.
It was an open secret that Martz had no allies in the front office because of his brash, matter-of-fact personality. Martz clashed with the personnel department because he had the audacity to tell former general manager Scot McCloughan and his right-hand man Trent Baalke that most of the players they'd acquired weren't very good.
Martz certainly didn't like Hill very much, but made do with him and had the offense humming by the end of the season.
Still, Singletary didn't want to keep him around. He wanted an offense that would be run-first and ball-control and that's not Martz.
When Singletary let Martz go, no one in the front office protested, even though it turned out he didn't have a better solution in mind.
Really, that firing epitomized Singletary's coaching in a nutshell: He never thought two steps ahead; he never considered long-term consequences.
Singletary knew the things about his team that he didn't like but had no idea how to fix them.
It was like having a young, impetuous George Steinbrenner at head coach.
After many offensive coordinator candidates turned Singletary down after hearing the parameters they'd have to work with, Singletary settled on the ancient Jimmy Raye, who wasn't clever enough to scheme around Hill's limitations and couldn't figure out a way to make Smith and Frank Gore effective at the same time.
Singletary hitched his coaching reputation on Smith in the offseason and expected him to overcome all the team's weaknesses—from its leaky secondary to their green offensive line, the mercurial wide receiver and of course, the overmatched coaching staff.
He didn't realize that Smith's margin of error was so small to begin with that he pretty much needed a perfect team around him to look good. Or maybe Singletary did and just overrated every other aspect of the team besides the quarterback.
In the end, it really doesn't matter.
York hired a coach who was in over his head and gave him too much responsibility. He let egos and personal feelings get in the way when he had a perfectly good offensive coordinator in house. He let his own ego get in the way when he went without a general manager this season.
While Singletary will have to learn from his mistakes—if he's capable of doing so—elsewhere; York's not going anywhere. He's already announced he'll be looking to hire a general manager and that's a good start.
Once he hires one, he should let that guy hire the next coach and do what his uncle, "Eddie D" did: Sign the checks and stay out of the way.
Having your favorite team eliminated from contention is never fun, but for 49ers fans, today was a good day.
There's light at the end of the tunnel, even if things look their darkest right now.