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This was it. A must-win. Win now, or it's all over.
The odds were against us. Our opponent seemed relentless, unwilling to yield until our hopes were destroyed. We'd been beaten, bloodied, and driven into despair. Then, somehow, when all seemed lost, we rose up, fought back, and got the win that barely kept our fading hopes alive.
Somehow, we did it.
Somehow, we defeated our coach.
You didn't think I was talking about the Jaguars, did you? Heavens, no. Sure, to avoid (at least temporarily) another long and meaningless winter, we had to beat the Jags. But if we couldn't beat our coach, if we couldn't relieve ourselves of either him or his run-first philosophy, it really didn't matter what we did against the Jags.
No. To have even a flicker of life "going forward," this was the opponent we needed to beat.
Mike Singletary. Our own worst enemy.
Like I said, it didn't look good. Last week, after Singletary's run-first scheme had scuttled yet another game, Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree had finally had enough. For God's sake, they said in essence. Enough of this, dammit. But Singletary was defiant. No matter how great we'd been in the shotgun spread, no matter how it exploited our offensive weapons, no thanks. Making it our primary offense, Singletary said, would be "one of the worst things that we could do."
But then, during the next week, Singletary came to a stunning realization. He'd been so confident, so certain, and yeah, so stubborn, you'd never thought he'd ever admit he'd also been so wrong. Still, the point was unmistakable. He'd called it one of the worst things we could do, and then he turned around and did it anyway.
Quite literally, our coach admitted that he didn't know what was good for us. More importantly, he admitted defeat, and he finally allowed us to win.
Working almost exclusively out of the gun, Alex Smith played his first entire game of sound decisions and accurate throws. You know the numbers. He passed on our first three plays and on five of our first six. In the first half, he threw an unheard-of 29 times, completing 18 for 169 yards and two scores. For the game, he was 27 of 41 (including several drops) for 232, with no picks, no sacks, and a rating of 96.8. Although the running game was still disturbingly dismal (ex-"bell cow" Frank Gore averaged only 2.1), our pass-first scheme allowed us to control the ball by repeatedly setting up manageable third-downs; for the game, we were an astonishing 8 for 16, not including a gorgeous 30-yard pass on fourth and one.
And I'm not even gonna mention how much that second touchdown resembled a certain play from our glorious past. Let's not go there yet, okay?
Notice, of course, that the 232 passing yards weren't much, nor of course were the 20 points. Indeed, without an inspired defensive performance (six sacks, two turnovers, and an amazing sequence of stops on second and one, third and one, and fourth and two), who knows if our offensive output would've held. But we weren't clamoring for the spread because we thought we'd instantly turn into the Saints. All we wanted was to use our talent in the scheme that best suits it. To give ourselves the best chance to win.
Which, of course, is the job of the coach. The job that our coach, all of a sudden, seems comfortably willing to do.
Singletary explained. "The absolute best thing that happened this week was I saw leadership on the offensive side of the ball in terms of, 'Coach, this is what I think would work. This is what I think we need. ... Can we do more spread?' To me, that's leadership. That conversation could go to the parking lot. ... But it came to us. It came to me."
And then, in as close as you'll get to an outright admission of guilt: "Being stubborn can be a good thing, but I think most of the time it's a foolish thing."
Hear hear, Coach. Hear hear.
I've given Singletary a ton of flak in recent weeks, but I've gotta say, I respect him a lot for this. Don't get me wrong; in terms of this offense, he's made one mistake after another. With his lack of an offensive background, he never should've meddled in the offense at all. He never should've imposed his conservative philosophy, and he never should've stuck with it so long, especially when it was clear that it didn't fit the skills of his players or even the modern game in general. And the fact that he needed his players—including a rookie—to tell him what was so screamingly obvious is more than a bit disconcerting. I still maintain, if we don't make the playoffs, Singletary will have been the biggest culprit.
But Singletary's proven he's learning, growing into the coach he's gonna be. Some coaches are de facto coordinators, moving the Xs and Os. Some instead are motivators, producers of unity, focus, desire. No one's ever doubted Singletary's abilities as a motivator. What he had to learn, and what he seems to be learning, is that that's all he is.
That's no insult, of course. It's no shame to admit that you can't do it all. There's nothing wrong with hiring good people and then getting out of their way. Some might argue that that's in fact what a good leader does.
And now that Singletary's admitted defeat, maybe he's ready to lead us to victory.