When it was over—after Jay Cutler had put the bow on a game he'd been wrapping for the Niners all night, after two losing teams had collaborated on a game as hideous as any in memory—Mike Singletary did the strangest thing.
He raised his arms in triumph.
Instead of exploiting the countless opportunities that Cutler had given him to make this a rout, he'd decided to just keep giving them back. Instead of burying the Bears in their own incompetence, he'd decided to give Cutler—like Favre and Manning—a golden chance to steal the win. By his own hand, Cutler—easily the league's most overrated quarterback—had failed. And Singletary thus had broken a four-game losing streak to arrive at four-and-five.
And for this, he celebrated like he'd just won the Super Bowl. He acted as if he'd really achieved something.
I love the Niners. And trust me, I'm glad they won. But right then, at that moment, I didn't feel like celebrating.
All I wanted was Singletary fired.
Understand the context. Against a good offense, the Bears' defense melts like butter. In the previous three weeks, it had faced the Bengals and the Cards. (No need to speak of the Browns.) They'd combined to put up almost 90 points and 900 yards. Now, off a short week and a long flight, that D was ours for the crushing. Sure, our new spread-offense had hit some bumps against the Titans, but if it was gonna improve "going forward"—as Singletary of course had sworn—this was certainly as good a week as any. Vernon Davis went so far as to promise "destruction," and despite the typical overreaction to such bulletin-board puffery, no one dared to think he was wrong.
Thing is, Singletary's not the "destroying" type.
In the aftermath of that Titans game, and particularly Alex Smith's not-quite-ready-for-prime-time play, Singletary would do one of two things. Either he'd stay the course, realizing this spread offense is high-risk but still our best, or he'd say I told you so and retreat into his run-first shell. Needless to say, the first reaction was the better one, and at the outset of the Bears game it looked like Singletary agreed. Smith threw four passes in our first six plays, and we put together a decent drive that probably would've gone for a touchdown were it not for an ill-timed Crabtree drop. Disappointingly, Joe Nedney missed a short field-goal attempt after 50 straight makes. Clearly, though, we were on our way.
But a weird thing happened when that kick sailed wide. Usually, no matter how impotent our offense is, Singletary stands there brainlessly clapping. Now, though, he reacted to a pretty successful drive by glaring with those eyes of his. Niner fans everywhere felt an ominous rumble.
The change was immediate. On our next drive, for the zillionth time, we ran on first, ran on second, threw on third, and punted on fourth. And on our third drive, though we went back to the spread and picked up three first-downs, Smith threw his sixth pick in four games, when Crabtree had the inside track but Smith threw it short to the outside. And when we turned Cutler's second pick into our first score (courtesy almost entirely of Tarell Brown's return), and when it was clear that Cutler would throw in any of various random directions, you could just tell.
So much for playing to win. It's time again to play not to lose, and hope for the best.
Save for one field-goal, we spent the rest of the night catching picks and kicking punts. After throwing five passes on that opening drive, Smith threw five in the entire fourth quarter, the longest of which went for all of five yards. It was the same philosophy that failed in Minnesota, the same philosophy that failed in Indy, and it was all set up to fail again. And if Cutler weren't
the league's most overrated quarterback, it certainly would've. As it was, he took the Bears all the way to the Niners' 12 before bailing us out with a last stupid throw.
We almost let him off the hook. He'd thrown five picks, but we'd turned them into only 216 yards (a pathetic 106 in the air) and 10 points against that awful defense we'd vowed to destroy. What any self-respecting offense would've turned into a blowout, Singletary chose to take down to the wire. As it always has since the dawn of time, playing not to lose set us up to do exactly that, and we were saved by only our own dumb luck.
After he struck his triumphant pose, Singletary did what he seems to do best: talk. "I thought our defense would do a good job with their offense—that's the reason I chose to run the ball and not take risks." In other words, I don't trust Smith to throw to red shirts, so I'll just wait for Cutler to do it, all the way to the very end.
I just don't get this guy. Okay, fine, he didn't wanna "take risks." He wanted to be safe. But wouldn't it have been safe
to take those picks and put 30 points on the board? Wouldn't it have been safe
to end this game in the third quarter? I'd say so. But in Singletary's world, what's safe is to sit on a four-point lead and give your opponent chance after chance to take it away. Yup, no risk there. Tell me, Coach. If you didn't "take risks," why did you tell us that what the win made you feel most was "relief"?
Oh, you took risks all right. Just imagine if you'd lost. Just imagine if your stodgy strategy had failed again, if your losing streak now stood at five, if your playoff dreams, instead of merely fading, were gone.
Just imagine the sound of the screams for your head.
You said you were feeling "relief," huh? I no longer believe you on most things, Coach. But on this
one, trust me. I believe you.
You got lucky, Coach. Pure and simple. So please, put your arms down. Along with your offense, you just look ridiculous.
Date: November 21, 2009 at 11:30 AM
Comment: Jeff, I'm on the same page as you! Singletary is playing not to lose and that kind of coaching will never win the Super Bowl! I would much prefer to have Shanahan or Holmgren as the coach.
Date: November 20, 2009 at 7:28 PM
Comment: How do we get better? how can anyone say sing/raye don't have a huge hand in this. I don't read this and say they are 100% to blame but come on. these are facts. read the play by play. run run pass. run run pass. that's not opinion, that's what happened. I think we need to really just go full blown open this offense this week. can't use the time excuse, we have XTRA days to get ready to air it out. it's bcome obvious we need to pass to set up the run and we have weapons. Crabs Morgan Davis Hill Gore. i know we can move the ball. it's more disappointing than ever b4 cuz now we do have pieces to do it. i still believe that the O-line and return game are really holding us back but we can't fix that this year. so let's work with what we have. Hill has been a spark, i was only calling for that for 2 years. maybe we'll mix in some jones from time to time and stretch the field. it cldnt hurt. 10 points on 5 picks... can it get any worse?
Date: November 20, 2009 at 7:22 PM
Comment: Jeff, i think the only thing you don't understand is fans' reactions. Hey man Fan is short for Fanatic. God forbid you "trash the team" but let's talk reality here, i think it's the TRUEST fans that can speak objectively about their team, bcuz they want the team to get better! let's be completely honest here. i missed the game (and a small heart attack!), i was at a metallica show otherwise i never miss a snap. my friend sent me a text saying cutler throws 5 picks, 9ers win. i was thrilled. i walked down to the nearest bar to watch sportscenter, saw the 9ers won 10-6 and wlda bet every dollar in my pocket it was a mistake. i wanted to throw up. anyone who was happy with that game i wld say isn't a true 9er fan. i was sick. 10 points on 5 TOs? how bad do you have to be?? Sing said this week "The biggest thing I stress is continuing to get better. There are some teams now that are winning, but it doesn't mean they're getting better. I'm focused on, Are we getting better?" ok well the answer is NO. that was pathetic! at the end of the day it goes as a W just like Minn goes as an L but i feel like i follow Sing's words more than he does cuz that sucked! we won't win again like that and that's true.
By: ART OF WAR
Date: November 20, 2009 at 3:22 PM
Comment: I don't blame Sing, but i do agree he'd be a great D coordinator, very passionate and great motivator. As far as coach savvy i'd bring shanahan, marty, cohwer, or holmgren, someone with experience winning and running the show. We won't go anywhere until #11 is no longer part of the equation. We need playmakers. 2 first round picks, i say don't draft a qb but try to get either of the top safeties and draft Oline like crazy! Go back to Shaun Hill and focus on smashmouth until we get a qb hopefully from FA. Need DE and LB. Manny Lawson is a joke too, this season people are talking him up again and it makes me sick, he's another underachiever. And if any of you out there love Alex then i'd slap you for being an idiot.
By: ART OF WAR
Date: November 20, 2009 at 3:17 PM
Comment: Great post! All true. You know what makes me want to puke is some of these people's feedback. How can you disagree with his point? It just shows you don't know shit about football. You can be a niner fan but you're an idiot if you were glad after that win. It was pathetic just like the team is. I swore 2 seasons ago that I just wanted to see improvement and heart, albeit we have that from 2 years ago, believe it or not. But now that we have that, I find myself wanting more, i want wins! It's almost more frustrating to have the talent to compete and underachieve. I think this post is 100% accurate and i'm glad i'm not alone out there. My fam are 36-year season ticket holders so i've been going to games since a kid. I gave up my season tickets 2 years ago after 2 years because i would not support or contribute to #11 or anything to do with that fag. People are til this day still making excuses for a #1 overall draft pick QB. He's not a rookie anymore, he's had multiple OC's, he is "smart," he is talented and has upside, pffffffft, shut up already, i didn't like him after his 2nd season when i'd see him smile when throwing a pick. It has nothing to do with smarts, see Gore, it's all about passion!
Date: November 20, 2009 at 12:54 AM
Comment: Great post, pretty much nailed it to a T as far as how i felt after the game. I felt better after losses to Houston and Indy. And for those of you saying a win is a win i agree but when you're on a four game losing streak and barely win a game we really should have lost like others we have lost in similar fashion? We were bailed out plain and simple. The D pretty much scored 7 pts, i really wish brown had run it back because it would have been that much more glaring that our offense put up a whoppin 3 pts. You eternal optimists piss me off, we cannot even see what we have in Alex Smith because he's on a leash; whoever is in there needs to be allowed to run the offense and overcome his own mistakes, if he can't then we move onto nate. Hill is a good backup and nothing more. We're not going to be winning the super bowl anytime soon until we develop in key areas and this conservative bull crap is only holding us back. If we play not to lose this sunday i hope we get crushed, maybe this will stir the pot enough to force some changes.
Date: November 19, 2009 at 7:41 AM
Comment: You obviously are not a true Niners fan. If you were you'd recognize the many reasons why this is a victory to be celebrated. 1. broke a 4 game losing streak 2. kept us in the playoff hunt (in division and wildcard) 3. in a nationally televised game, we won 4. Most importantly to our team and the direction we are headed...we found a way to win. What we lacked against Minnesota in trying to close them out with under 2 minutes, what we lacked against the Texans after scoring 21 to their 3 in the second half, that pick Alex threw to end the game, not being able to beat the Colts after holding Peyton to no throwing TDs, not being able to hold the Titans after being up 17-10 in the second half... We are going through the growing pains any team needs to go through on the way to being a winning team. That is why the victory was so big. We are learning how to win those games. I agree the bears game was ugly, but we won. And if we squeeze into the playoffs nobody will remember this game. Just our record 9-7...not 8-8.
Date: November 19, 2009 at 7:35 AM
Comment: Wow... You don't think he's learning on the run? I mean... he wanted a run first offense, and is now throwing it around knowing that it gives them a better chance to win. So that tells me he learns and he isn't as stubborn as we think. He's a first time Head Coach with a new O-Coordinator and new system. Give the man a break. This "article" was ridiculous.
Date: November 19, 2009 at 7:13 AM
Comment: Cmon Jeff, I usually agree with you, especially after reading your article on Nate Davis. It seems the season is unfolding just like you predicted. I just don't get your bashing of Sing/Raye. The offense is predictable and boring due to the QB we have starting (see Scot McCloughan). You need to point the blame where it belongs, on the GM, for not having a solid Oline, and this ridiculous experiment with Alex Smith. This is not Sing's QB! This is the one he inherited. We would have to be able to run the ball. What are we going to do, let Alex win the game for us?? STOP BASHING SINGLETARY AND RAYE, IT IS NOT THEIR FAULT FOR THE S#@&&Y OLINE AND QB PLAY!!!! THAT MY FRIEND FALLS ON THE GM!!!
Date: November 18, 2009 at 11:38 AM
Comment: Jeff, sorry to be so hard on you. I absolutely love the Niners, and I hate losing more than anyone. I said from the beginning (even after the team started 3-1) that we would NOT make the playoffs. This year, I expected to see progress, not postseason. I'm seeing progress. I'm not sold on Alex, but he's certainly better than he's been before. We have a future superstar at WR, a star RB, a probowl caliber TE, and a defense that (for the most part) is really good, and only getting better. If we can get a new OL in the offseason, we can make that playoff run next year. That's what I'm optimistic about.
Date: November 18, 2009 at 6:37 AM
Comment: Jeff, please let me know if ever you decide to write something positive about the Niners. Why all the negativity? Did you not get hugged enough as a kid?
Date: November 18, 2009 at 6:34 AM
Comment: I disagree with this article big time because any victory in the NFL is worth celebrating. The real problem that you guys have a problem accepting is that Alex Smith just doesn't cut it as a quarterback. The offense can't open up too much because for every good play Smith makes he makes an equally bad one. Smith has thrown 6 td's and 6 int's and that type of play is why Singletary wants to run the ball, because he doesn't have the player at the quarterback position to throw it 50 times and win a game. I do believe the 49ers should have blown the Bears out but I don't blame Singletary for that I blame the players because the defense would make a pick then run it into the Bears territory and passes were called but the plays weren't executed so like any good coach he started doing what works, i.e. running the ball. On Smith's deep pass the receiver had a step but Smith underthrew the pass thus an interception and there were other things on pass plays I noticed about Smith such as late delivery, inaccurate throws and he didn't run the quarterback sneak with any fire, intensity. Blame the players on offense. The Patriots could have given us the ball on the 28-yard line and still won.
Date: November 17, 2009 at 10:02 PM
Comment: Jeff, you are 1000% right on all points! Check out my podcast show with very related insights on your article. Am with you all the way. www.tvepn.com
Date: November 17, 2009 at 6:24 PM
Comment: Coach Singletary beat his old team and it meant a great deal to him. Let the man have his moment of celebration. There will be plenty of time to be a negative Nancy later! And by the way, a win really is a win in the NFL. I'll take it over a loss anytime.
Date: November 17, 2009 at 6:16 PM
Comment: Hey Jeff are you Lowell Cohn? just saying... not quite prepared for the "emperor's new clothes" assessment. If it rolls that way then wow, hats off to you and your visceral disrobing of the problem. To me the naming of Morgan and Crabtree is further indication of good Singletary direction. Yeah this should have been sorted out in training camp, but it wasn't. Watch the growing pains as the team finds itself. Give them this window of the season to show their stuff, and the coaches theirs. The season is still an opportunity.
By: Nick S.
Date: November 17, 2009 at 3:18 PM
Comment: Yo Jeff. I don't agree with you 100%, but I will say this. Did this game not remind you of Niners @ Rams in 2007? When Nolan was all pumped because the 49ers won off a missed Jeff Wilkins FG at the buzzer? The saying that week after the game was "The 49ers did not win the game, the Rams just lost it." Very similar situation with the Bears last week.
By: Tony Mobley
Date: November 17, 2009 at 3:10 PM
Comment: Hey Jeff, I'm with you. Last Thursday wasn't a win, it was a failure to lose. One response noted the constant substitution of personnel. What team doesn't deal with that problem? Another note mentioned that "a win is a win." Yeah, but it was plain that it was a game the 49ers shouldn't have won. Several responses attacked you personally. At that point, consider your argument won. I am so frustrated with this damn team. From Opening Day (and before), Smith zealots claimed that if only Smith were given another shot, we'd be winners. Three and a half games into his 2nd bout as starter, and we're 1-2 (I'll not count the Houston game. Who could reasonably expect him, or any quarterback, to come back from that deficit?), and Smith has thrown 3x the interceptions of Hill, and only one more touchdown (including Houston's garbage time defense, which accounts for three). We won that game by accident, and for Singletary to act like we just won a playoff-clincher makes me want to puke. Martz and Singletary were good for each other. I like Raye's coherent responses to the press, but that's about it. Is Singletary restricting Raye's playcalling, or are they both to blame?
Date: November 17, 2009 at 1:03 PM
Comment: i totally agree with u kaplan. that was a pathetic game. a terrible output by an offense given 5 ints. even the freaking detroit lions offense looks a HELL of a lot better compared to ours. singletary has done good things, but he is not the answer. he needs to go. shanahan is out there.
Date: November 17, 2009 at 11:55 AM
Comment: Stop writing, you are embarrassing yourself!
Date: November 17, 2009 at 11:41 AM
Comment: Wow...this is not an article written by someone who loves the 9ers as Kaplan stated in the article...this is disdain and going overboard bashing Coach Sing and the 9ers for a much needed victory...and from my understanding...luck is just as much part of football as anything else...and plenty of teams win the way we just did...bottom line is...you play to win...however it gets done...and nobody ever played uglier football than the Ravens and Dilfer's SB team...so stop hatin for no reason dude...win or lose the 9ers seem 2 have fake bandwagon fans who bash them even in a win...no matter how they get it...some fan right.
Date: November 17, 2009 at 10:47 AM
Comment: I strongly disagree. Singletary is a fine coach. In his very first year as head coach he's already started a decent turnaround. I don't always agree with the play calling but I understand it. The coach wants his team to step up in certain situations and use force to beat the opponent in some short situations. That's not too much to ask. It sucks that the plays get so predictable. I think what's hurting us more are the injuries. Notice the two areas the 49ers are struggling the most are also where we are experiencing the most injuries. However, one of those areas, the defensive backfield, managed to win the game for us this week. Maybe that's the victory that coach was celebrating.
Date: November 17, 2009 at 10:38 AM
Comment: Pretty embarrassing attempt at good writing here.
By: DU Nation 916
Date: November 17, 2009 at 10:35 AM
Comment: Ur an idiot and STOP hating on coach singletary, hez doin a great job!!!
Date: November 17, 2009 at 9:21 AM
Comment: It's called emotion, put your keyboard away, you're embarrassing yourself.
By: Dan Forsythe
Date: November 17, 2009 at 8:26 AM
Comment: The win on Thursday was ugly! But a win is a win! This team is still learning how to win. They will be better this week for this win. I do commend Sing for trying to run time off the clock in the 4th. However, you do that when you are up by at least 14 pts. Up by 4 no way! You try and put more points on the board. This team is no different than any other team in the league right now, other than the elite teams. The play calling is more about trickery and not about lining up and beating your opponent down! Not enough aggressiveness! The only team running a wildcat should be Miami! For the 49ers...line up in a spread and launch it. Back defenses off and then they are up by 17 pts and Gore can have room to gain the garbage yards and kill the clock. Then everybody is HAPPY! The offense is mutating and it has to in order to take advantage of the "spread offense" talents that it has. Sing is hanging on and buying time until the offense is ready for a grand unveiling! He will take the leg irons and handcuffs off Alex Smith eventually. I keep watching hoping for the breakout. Hopefully it is sooner than later? Alex has the talent. Put him in the right situation!
By: The Dude in Brooklyn
Date: November 17, 2009 at 7:56 AM
Comment: Four things: 1. Singletary is right to prefer the relief of an ugly win like Thursday's to the disappointment of a pretty loss like the Minnesota or Indy game. 2. Alex Smith played okay. He rarely made a bad pass, the pick was the "right" kind if you're going to throw one, and he was the victim of drops more than anything. If Crabtree catches that ball at the 3 yard line on the opening drive, the 49ers probably end up with 17 and the game doesn't look as bad. 3. Raye has good excuses for his struggles. I actually sympathize with Raye for dealing with constantly changing personnel. The results aren't good but having instability at every position except perhaps the three least important (FB, C, and LG) doesn't help an OC. He's flipped the scheme from power running to Pittsburgh's tight/shotgun offense in just a few weeks. Circumstances not coaching have dictated that this offense will be bad in 2009. 4. The offense's struggles are personnel-based. The guards are terrible, three tackles are injured, the WR's mediocre, the QB's have flipped and the RB's have been banged up. What do you expect? Is there a team with worse offensive injuries?
Date: November 17, 2009 at 7:55 AM
Comment: relax bro, he'll get better and so will the team.
Date: November 17, 2009 at 7:53 AM
Comment: Amen, I think you spoke for a lot of fans here. That was the worst game I have watched all year. (that includes high school football)
Date: November 17, 2009 at 7:47 AM
Comment: Are you serious? You are entitled to your opinion, but c'mon man! Fire Singletary...for arms in the air? Out of the five TOs, four of them were opportunities. Two we capitalized on for 10 points. What the heck is wrong with you guys who only want to focus on the fact that we didn't do anything with five TOs. The facts are: The last interception closed out the game. No opportunities, end of game. We scored 10 points off of TOs. One of the TOs resulted in us driving and Alex throwing the interception and the other resulted in us failing on a 4th down sneak. WE WON THE GAME WITH AN INTERCEPTION!!!! WTH is wrong with that? C'mon man! Keep doin' what you are doin' Coach!!! "Wave your hands in the air like you just don't care..."