We'd survived. After all we'd been through, we'd somehow survived.

You name it, we'd endured it. A nightmarish last-second loss. A quarterback controversy. A month-long losing streak. An offensive identity-crisis. Any bump to be hit on the way to contention, it seemed we'd gone out of our way just to hit.

And yet, somehow, we'd survived.

We'd settled on an effective (if not yet spectacular) offensive scheme. We'd coupled that with a defense that suddenly looked reborn. And now, if we could just beat Seattle, who'd been chasing us all year, amazingly we'd still have a chance. We'd be six-and-six, still to play the division leader and two of the league's most awful. Okay, maybe the playoffs were a long shot. But a meaningful December? A non-losing season? These at least were within our grasp, and damned if we didn't deserve 'em.

This is a big game, Coach Singletary. Be ready.

Opening kickoff. All right, let's go. Timeout, 49ers.

Wait, what?!

That doesn't strike me as readiness. In fact it strikes me as probably an unprecedented showing of quite the reverse. My God, Coach. What is your purpose?!

But you know what, we'd survived that too. We'd survived that timeout, as well as two more in the next 10 minutes. (Mike Nolan was fired, right?) We'd survived throwing and failing on third and fourth at the Seahawks' one, proving at once the death of our running game and the utter incompetence of NFL refs. We'd even survived the touchdown we'd generously given Seattle, by way of our spiffy punt-return reverse, which under the circumstances was so ludicrously risky that every man who called it and ran it should be put on the nearest train. (And until the train comes back with Allen Rossum, I think we should stop fielding punts altogether.)

Somehow, we'd survived all that. Thankfully, we'd stayed with the spread, throwing on virtually every down. Alex Smith had looked sharp; he'd go on to put up a second straight rating above 95 and to break 300 yards for the first time ever. (Unbelievably, the first time ever.) The offensive line had done well; Smith would drop back 45 times and be sacked only once. We hadn't sustained many drives, thanks in large part to the starts at the 8, the 5, the 6, and the 13. We'd dropped some passes, and our third-down percentage was awful as ever (we'd finish 1 for 13). And the worst news was, we'd scored only twice. But going into the fourth quarter, the score was tied, and everyone watching knew what should happen.

We were better. And we should win.

Incredibly, though, those early gaffes were just the warm-up, setting the stage for the hellish main-event. It was the fourth quarter. The season was on the line. And we simply, totally imploded.

FIRST DRIVE. Starting at the two, the worst spot yet. But now we started rolling, thanks of course to Smith and his trusty receivers. Smith to Vernon Davis for 7 and 17. Smith to Michael Crabtree for another 17. And Josh Morgan around left end for 20. After a pass to Frank Gore picked up 11, we were set up nicely at the Seahawks' 26.

For the next play, though, we came out in a tight formation with Smith under center and Gore in the back. We knew what was coming; Gore was going up the middle. Those long early-season runs now barely a memory, this was just a wasted play, balance just for the sake of it. Fine. Let Gore get his two yards, and then we'll get back to trying to score.

The good news, of course, was that Gore gained four. But then of course he fumbled, the return went 43 yards, and Seattle went ahead by three.

I'll give you a topic. Our running game versus our punt-return game. And no, death isn't an option. Discuss.

SECOND DRIVE. Starting at our 36, seven plays. All passes, all out of the gun. But the only one that matters is the sixth, on second and four at the Seattle 16. Smith throws into the end zone to Davis. The ball goes right through his hands and hits him in the facemask. After pressure causes an incompletion on third down, we're forced to settle for a tying field-goal.

Davis's explanation: "I didn't know where he was throwing it." But what's the big mystery, Vern? You were in the end zone. You were open. He was throwing it to you, and specifically at your hands. Where the hell else would he throw it?!

Davis has made some huge catches this year, but none of those was any more important than that drop.

THIRD DRIVE. Starting at the 11, only 51 seconds left. Okay. In this spot, there's one goal that simply must be achieved. Scoring would be great, and if we were at the 40 we would surely need to try. But down here, that's not the goal. The goal is, we cannot give Seattle yet another chance to score.

After all this passing, now's the time to run. You run on first down, and make Seattle call its second timeout. You run on second down, and make Seattle call its third timeout. You run on third down, and then, if you even need to call another play, you punt as time expires, and you take your chance in overtime.

First down, not only a pass, but Gore neglects to stay in bounds. Second and three, not only a pass, but an incomplete pass. Third and three, not only a pass, but a deep pass, and an incomplete pass that probably should've been picked. After the punt, Seattle gets the ball at midfield with 21 seconds and two timeouts. One 32-yard strike against our seventh DB, some guy named Keith Smith, and that was that.

You can only shake your head. We'd lost game after game by running when we should've passed. It only makes sense that it all would end by passing when we should've run.

In a collapse like this, no one escapes the blame. But when I look at these players, I see plenty of hope. Smith might never live up to the #1 pick, but still he's proven a lot of us wrong. Crabtree, Morgan, and Davis could be an elite receiving group for the better part of the next decade. On D, Patrick Willis is the best there is, so constantly great that it's not even news. There are pieces here, working to reach their collective potential.

Of course, they'll reach that potential only if they're properly coached, and here again I wonder what it is we've got in Singletary.

He jumped out of the frying pan of his offensive stupor, only to land in the fire of everything else. Fittingly, in this last meaningful game, we saw it all: the lack of preparation, the wasting of timeouts, the ridiculous playcalling, the awful clock-management. The simple inability to just control the game. Motivator or no, this was amateur hour for a coach who's simply got no excuse for that.

We all want continuity. We all want an end to the shuffling of regimes. But now. Now that the promises of playoffs are empty. Now that the slogans and billboards are hollow. Now that we're finished, with a capital F, we've gotta ask the question.

If the best reason to keep your coach is simply that he's already here...

...is there really a reason to keep him at all?