49ers QB Smith forges ahead, prepares for Bears
SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Alex Smith briefly watched film of Sunday's game before moving on to the next task: the Chicago Bears on Thursday night at Candlestick Park.
The quick turnaround meant San Francisco's quarterback had little time to nitpick his turnover-plagued performance in last weekend's loss to the Tennessee Titans — and he figures that's a good thing.
The 49ers (3-5), mired in a four-game losing streak and two games out of first place in the NFC West after leading the division last month, are desperate to save their season starting now.
Coach Mike Singletary still believes he has a playoff team, and he's counting on Smith to take charge of the offense in primetime Thursday and get things back on track. Aside from four turnovers, including three interceptions by Smith, Singletary saw a lot of positives from the offense against Tennessee.
While Smith would like to have a few plays back, as is typically the case with any quarterback each week, he was his same laid-back self Tuesday. Smith did acknowledge the urgency to win Thursday.
"When I rehashed the game in my mind, it looked very similar to what I looked at when I turned on the tape, which is a good thing," Smith said. "I felt like I saw everything well. A couple of balls were thrown tight — there was one on the boundary the safety was coming trying to make a play on it, it gets tipped in-bounds. Those are kind of the job hazards that come with the territory. That is going to happen."
Smith fumbled twice, losing one of those. His first interception, a pass along the sideline intended for rookie top draft pick Michael Crabtree in the first quarter, was tipped and collected by Rod Hood. Smith was picked off twice more, both in the final 6:24 of the game, and also got sacked four times in the 34-27 defeat.
Nobody around 49ers headquarters is pointing fingers at Smith, who made his first home start in more than two years. San Francisco's No. 1 overall draft pick in 2005 out of Utah, Smith was promoted back into the starting role at halftime of the 49ers' loss at Houston on Oct. 25 when Singletary benched Shaun Hill.
"That throw Alex made, it wasn't on Alex and it wasn't really on the receiver," tight end Vernon Davis said. "Obviously, receivers have got to catch the ball but that's just something that happens sometimes."
Offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye said Tuesday there's not a lot that can be coached in practice when it comes to tipped balls. Often, getting possession on such plays is a matter of luck. Lately, it's the defense that's been able to capitalize.
Smith has been waiting for this chance, and he will do all in his power to keep the starting job. Singletary said when he made the change that he wouldn't go back and forth with Smith and Hill.
Smith missed all of the 2008 season after re-injuring his surgically repaired throwing shoulder two days before the season opener and patiently worked while waiting for his shot.
"I think that as a quarterback the important things are if you're making good decisions, are you throwing the ball where you want to throw it, are you getting the ball out on time?" Smith said. "Those are the types of decisions that you're looking at. That's how you prevent turnovers from the quarterback's perspective, by making sound decisions and throwing the ball accurately on time."
In the 21/2; games that he's been back behind center, Smith is 63 of 99 for 690 yards and with six touchdown passes and five interceptions. Singletary knows Smith won't get completely in sync with his receivers until he's played a little more — and the coach is willing to be patient with the process.
"Alex Smith has done some good things, another athlete at the position," Bears coach Lovie Smith said Tuesday. "He had a few interceptions last week but a couple of them were off deflections. His mobility causes you problems."
Raye is eager for his players to get back on the field and improve things. He knows his offensive unit can be much better than it's shown in recent weeks.
"We're 3-5. I would say we're not near where we need to be," he said. "If it was better, I think we would have won more games or helped our cause in terms of winning more games. I think we made improvement, but there were areas of the game Sunday that were outstanding. The play was exceptional, was outstanding, but it's very difficult to overcome four turnovers."
Smith has plenty of people who believe he can be a steady NFL quarterback.
"I like Alex Smith. I liked him coming out of college," said former 49ers coach and now NFL Network analyst Steve Mariucci, fired after the 2002 season three years before Smith was drafted. "It was unfortunate he got injured and he's had so many coordinators. What Alex Smith needs in his life, and I'm not Dr. Phil, is continuity. ... I think he's back at it. I think it's promising."