Alex Smith triumphant in return; Niners rout Hawks
Josh Morgan compares San Francisco's remaining season to March Madness basketball.
''You lose, you go home,'' the receiver quipped after his 49ers staved off elimination for at least another week. ''We know we've still got a chance to go to the playoffs.''
That's in large part thanks to Alex Smith's triumphant return as starting quarterback. Coach Mike Singletary's switch to Alex Smith from Troy Smith did wonders to keep San Francisco's hopes alive.
Back behind center for the first time in six games, Alex Smith threw for 255 yards and three touchdowns to lead the 49ers past the NFC West rival Seattle Seahawks 49-21 on Sunday.
The Niners scored a season high in points and muddled up the ugly West race even more with a surprisingly lopsided win.
San Francisco (5-8) moved within a game of division leaders Seattle (6-7) and St. Louis (6-7), which lost 31-13 at New Orleans.
''It's playoff mode right now,'' Smith said. ''That's the thing a lot of us try to focus on and tell each other.''
The 49ers looked much more like the team that was predicted to win the division after an unbeaten preseason - not the bunch that began 0-5 with an embarrassing 31-6 loss at Seattle in Week 1. Singletary thanked Seattle coach Pete Carroll afterward for the whipping.
This time, Matt Hasselbeck went 27 for 42 for 285 yards and two TDs, but threw four interceptions and lost a fumble as Seattle had turnovers in five of six possessions during one stretch.
''They didn't have to do anything special today because we gave them so many good shots and good opportunities,'' Carroll said.
Vernon Davis caught five passes for 70 yards and a 42-yard catch-and-run TD, Morgan made a 15-yard touchdown reception and Brian Westbrook hauled in a 62-yard touchdown pass for his longest career TD catch and longest play from scrimmage since 2006. Westbrook wound up with six catches for 87 yards.
Smith, the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2005 who becomes a free agent after the season, matched a career high by throwing for three touchdowns for the fifth time.
Singletary will stick with Smith, who hadn't played since separating his non-throwing left shoulder Oct. 24 at Carolina even after becoming healthy again. He has experience running this offense and allows the 49ers to utilize their entire playbook.
San Francisco is trying to avoid missing the playoffs for the eighth straight season, but realizes it still has an uphill climb to get there.
The 49ers have a quick turnaround to play at San Diego on Thursday night.
''We're a young team and today was big for us,'' Singletary said. ''But at the same time, today means nothing if we don't play well next week. We have very little room for error, and we have to understand that.''
Dashon Goldson made a 39-yard interception return for a touchdown on the third play of the second half for the 49ers.
Jeff Reed kicked four field goals Sunday for the 49ers, who had already reached their season high in points by halftime with a 30-7 lead. It was the Niners' biggest first half since scoring 35 in a 35-16 home win over the Rams on Nov. 16, 2008.
Leon Washington returned a kickoff 92 yards for a touchdown late in the third quarter - the highlight of the day for the Seahawks, who lost for the fifth time in seven games after a 4-2 start.
''This one's pretty bad,'' Hasselbeck said. ''It was not a good day for us. It was not a good day for me. It seems like everything was going wrong.''
Deon Butler caught a late 2-yard touchdown but broke his right leg on the play after being hit by two defenders. This is another tough blow for the Seahawks, who already were playing without top receivers Mike Williams and Ben Obomanu.
Medical personnel placed a vacuum splint on Butler's lower leg before taking him for an X-ray. He was quickly transported to Stanford Hospital, where he could spend several days.
Smith was booed after San Francisco's first play from scrimmage, an incomplete pass intended for Delanie Walker - then again moments later after another incompletion. Smith heard it all, then hit Davis on a 22-yard gain and then the touchdown three plays later for a 7-0 lead.
''I looked at Alex and I just started smiling,'' Davis said. ''He's one of those guys that it doesn't really matter what people do. He's going to come out and do his best every time.''
Hasselbeck, who completed seven of his initial eight throws, is still one victory from tying Dave Krieg as Seattle's winningest quarterback. Krieg won 70 games from 1981-90.
San Francisco's defense hasn't allowed a 100-yard rusher in 19 straight games, the second longest active streak behind the Jets' 20.