49ers stave off elimination for at least a week
When 49ers President Jed York declared his team would still make the playoffs despite an 0-5 start, plenty of people questioned his sanity. No NFL team has ever done it, though the 1992 Chargers bounced back after losing their first four games to finish 11-5 and win the division.
Suddenly, the playoffs are still a distinct possibility for San Francisco.
The 49ers (5-8) are just one game out in the awful NFC West behind co-leaders Seattle and St. Louis with only a couple of days to get ready for Thursday night's game at San Diego.
''We're one game out of first,'' linebacker Travis LaBoy said. ''All we can do is focus on the next game and try to keep knocking down the W's. Hopefully we can get some help down the road from other teams losing and rewriting that playoff picture.''
San Francisco staved off elimination with a commanding 40-21 win over the Seahawks on Sunday - and probably helped coach Mike Singletary's job status, too.
If the Niners somehow find a way to win out - including getting a road victory over the Rams on Dec. 26 - and Seattle loses one of its remaining three, the 49ers would capture their first West title since 2002 and end a seven-year playoff drought.
San Francisco isn't kidding itself, though: This is quite the task to pull off. Singletary was as subdued as ever for his regular Monday news conference, insisting it was because he doesn't have much time to prepare for the Chargers.
Singletary didn't have much time to enjoy Sunday's lopsided win.
''What we saw yesterday was just a good indication of the growing pains of this team and getting to the place where you understand that you go out, you play the game, you do what you're coached to do,'' Singletary said. ''You don't press things and let the game come to you and just be true and honest to the game and things will work out on both sides of the ball.''
On offense, the 49ers will stick with Alex Smith at quarterback. On Sunday, the 2005 No. 1 overall draft pick returned to the starting lineup after a five-game absence - part of which he spent recovering from a separated shoulder on his non-throwing left arm. He played one of his best games ever, with a career-high 130.9 quarterback rating. His previous best was 120.5 against the Raiders in October 2006.
He completed 17 of 27 passes for 255 yards and three touchdowns and didn't throw an interception for his third straight game after giving up nine picks in the first five games of the year.
Smith will become a free agent after the season and almost certainly will go elsewhere in 2011.
''I'd be lying if I said it wasn't there. No question it's in the back of my head,'' Smith said. I know that right now, at the end of the season, yes, the contract is up. But, with that said, I'm determined to stay in the moment, determined just to focus on this one game, not to take anything for granted.''
Smith hit Brian Westbrook on six passes for 87 yards and a 62-yard TD, while tight end Vernon Davis made five catches for 70 yards with a 42-yard touchdown reception. Josh Morgan added three catches for 82 yards, including a 46-yarder.
San Francisco scored a season high in points and was already ahead 30-7 at halftime.
The 49ers also forced five turnovers - all by Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, four interceptions and a fumble.
Still, everything that went right Sunday will mean little if San Francisco doesn't keep winning.
What has changed for the 49ers of late after that awful start?
''Just our chemistry, we're playing together,'' Davis said. ''We are starting to believe and we know how critical it is now when it's right there in front of us. We just have to go get it. Guys are starting to realize that, and we're putting it together.''
Davis and the 49ers were the preseason favorites to win the NFC West, but that quickly changed with the winless start. At 8-8 last season, San Francisco ended a franchise-worst stretch of six straight losing seasons.
These 49ers could wind up 7-9 and in a three-way tie and still win the division. Despite the record, that would be progress in the eyes of York and the rest of the brass.
''The vision is having a successful season, the vision is being good enough to take this team to winning the division,'' Singletary said.