It actually was early when the crowd started grumbling.

Oh, not THAT early. Not when Ted Ginn took the opening kickoff back to midfield and Mike Johnson, riding yet another strong start by Alex Smith, delivered his second opening touchdown in a row. That was just fine.

It wasn't even when Kevin Kolb, the backup QB on a team that seemed to have backups throughout, answered by marching straight down the field, a reminder of just how beautiful the West Coast Offense is.

And it wasn't even when Frank Gore lost his first fumble, starting the avalanche of self-inflicted wounds that's come to define this sloppy bunch of masochists.

It actually was during our first drive of the second quarter. We were down just 10-7, and what got the crowd going was simply this: on first down, Gore up the gut. It got a bit louder on second down, which was--get this--Gore up the gut.

Across the airwaves, you could almost make out words: "Jimmy Raye was FIRED, right?" (As if the culprit was really Raye.)

As if in answer, Smith goes deep, but into coverage, adding to his mountain of picks. (More boos.) Later, Gore on second-and-10 and third-and-14. (MORE boos.) LeSean McCoy, and his broken rib, slice straight through the heart of our wildly overrated D. (Still MORE boos.) And when Joe Nedney misses an easy field goal at the end of the half, the Niners, though down only seven, are booed off the field.

So much for the notion of "wine-and-cheese" fans. Considering the expectations, this four-game start was the franchise's worst--ever. And after seven years of losing, this crowd was just a ticking bomb.

And in the second half, it would explode.

Gore's second fumble was just the appetizer. Early in the fourth, Smith was flushed to his left, and instead of just heaving the ball out of bounds, he turned to try to throw downfield. He was hit; he lost the ball; and the Eagles ran it all the way in.

Smith later said he was "just trying to do too much." Which is exactly what he'd said the week before. But the crowd knew better. Of all of Smith's countless, relentless mistakes--in a saga the Niners just will not let end--they'd just seen the one that was likely the worst.

The boos were deafening. And this team, which can't go a week without SOME kind of drama, showed the nation its worst dysfunction. Mike Singletary got into Smith's face on the sideline. In his next series, Smith went three-incompletions-and-out, the boos growing louder and louder with each. "We want Carr" went the chant--not that anyone seriously thought that Carr would do better--and Carr indeed was warming up. Singletary and Smith went at it some more--and more heatedly--with other players getting involved. Carr even made it out onto the field, before Smith convinced Singletary to let him stay in. So Smith stayed in and did what he does best: lead the thrilling comeback that comes up just short, with the offensive line forcing his fate-sealing pick, his league-leading ninth.

And Smith, THAT close to the ending at last, survived to see another week. When, you'd assume, he'll do it all again.

Now then. Let's say you're Jed York. Your team was the near-unanimous pick for the division title, which you were planning to parlay into financing for your new stadium. But you're oh-and-five, and a national audience just saw you self-destruct in front of thousands of fans who were screaming for blood.

You've gotta do something. But what?

The clearest choice, naturally, is to fire the coach. Obviously, no team with this much talent makes this many mistakes--throws away game after game after game--unless its coach is exceedingly bad. And though there's no clear interim coach on the staff, the season's almost certainly lost, and you'll make a point to those booing fans: you'll tell 'em, I hear you.

Sure, that's maybe what YOU'D do. But you're NOT Jed, of course. And Jed came up with a DIFFERENT choice.

In true York fashion, he chose to make a fool of himself.

When you're a public figure trying to garner the confidence of the community--such as when you're asking the community for the better part of a billion dollars--the first thing you DON'T do is make promises you can't keep. Jed's been down this road before, of course. He promised a playoff berth last year, and he didn't deliver, thanks largely to Singletary, who got off scot-free. You'd think this experience, combined with oh-and-five, might teach the guy a little restraint. But no. Facing a simple yes-or-no question--whether he'd fire Singletary--Jed answered with a promise that was even MORE reckless: start oh-and-five and win a division, we'll be the first team ever to do it.

I'm all for demanding results, as long as the demand comes with "or else." And I'm all for projecting confidence--even at the risk of filling your opponents' bulletin boards--as long as you're able to back it up. But Jed, in fact, did neither.

As he said before Philly, Singletary's job "is not on the line"; and as he said after, his faith in the guy is as strong as it's been. There's no reason to think that Singletary's failure to deliver on THIS promise will mean anything more than his failure the LAST time. Win, Mike, but if you don't, well, it certainly won't be YOUR fault.

But worse by a mile is the proof that Singletary and Jed share the same delusions. It's not that this promise is literally unattainable; after all, it IS a weak division. It's that Jed truly believes that all it'll take for this team to win it--to win at least 8 of its next 11--is to buy into Singletary's vacuous cheerleading. To Jed, as to Singletary, "we just need to relax, take it one practice at a time, one play at a time, one game at a time." To Jed, as to Singletary, "we [just] need to keep playing well and not shoot ourselves in the foot."

Singletary's greatest weakness is that he thinks it's all so simple. Why do guys like Andy Reid make it look so complicated, with all their charts and plans and tactics? Singletary knows better. To win, all you've gotta do is impose your will. Want it more. Oh, we're making mistakes? Just stop making 'em. There. Problem solved.

An insightful owner, who knows his stuff, would never accept this. He'd never see this as a plan for success, and he'd never be dumb enough to guarantee it, when all it's done so far is fail. No. An insightful owner would see through this crap, and save us. But Jed isn't, and so, even at oh-and-five, he doesn't.

And the worst part of all, I'm starting to doubt that he ever will.