Funny thing, desperation.

A man of principles. A man of convictions. He'll stick to his guns, as long as he's not facing serious heat. But he's human, after all. And when he's up against it? When he knows it's all just slipping away? He changes.

His principles? His convictions?

He'll trade 'em all, to save his skin.

Oh, sure, Mike Singletary held out longer than most. I mean, how many times? In these wasted years, how many times did it seem at last he was ready to cave? How many times was it simply clear, at last he'd switch to a pass-first O?

It seemed pretty clear after Houston, when Alex Smith ran the spread to perfection. It seemed pretty clear after Jacksonville, when Singletary commended his players for begging for "more spread." Remember this year's training camp, when Alex swore we'd "evolved," we'd "play three wides, get guys in space, [and] throw it all over the field"? How 'bout after Kansas City, when Singletary fired the prehistoric Jimmy Raye--possibly even voluntarily--and replaced him with spread-enthusiast Mike Johnson? Or how 'bout after St. Louis, when Troy Smith, subbing for an injured Alex, racked up nearly 400 yards and Johnson vowed to "encourage his daring"?

At each point, it was simply clear: at last we'd scrap our running O--our embarrassing "keep it close" mentality--and run a modern, passing one. Yet at each point, Singletary wouldn't yield.

It was noble, in a way. STUPID, but noble.

So why would the loss of Frank Gore make a difference? Singletary nipped THAT thought in the bud, swearing we wouldn't be "any more creative." But after our running game stunk in Green Bay, Singletary was out of time. Next up was Seattle, and its #30 passing D. If we lost, we'd be done, and so would Singletary.

So, at last: bye-bye, principles. So long, convictions. Shockingly (at least to me), desperate measure #1: we'd pass.

Desperate measure #2, of course, was bringing Alex back.

Singletary's explanation, as usual, was exasperating. "At this time of the year with the games that we have left it's a matter of being able to use the entire playbook," he said. "I think right now we need everything that we can possibly have." I see. When you're, say, oh-and-five, there's no need for creative game-planning or play-calling. But when you're four-and-eight and facing elimination, NOW you need "the entire playbook."

Ah, Singletary. I just can't wait to be rid of you.

Look, I'm all for using the entire playbook. But just for the record I'll say it again: I'd have stuck with Troy. He might not know the entire playbook--though after three months I'm not sure why he wouldn't--but when Singletary lets him play, he knows enough to win. I'll admit it, though: in part, my support for Troy was borne of my fatigue with Alex. Six years now, of ups and downs. Of hopes raised and quickly dashed. Honestly, I'm just exhausted, and I simply didn't wanna go back.

But Singletary played a hunch, and, surprise (at least to me): it worked.

Oh, at first, it didn't look good. First down, incompletion. (Boo.) Second down, incompletion. (Boo!) Third down, and not a stretch to say the biggest down of Smith's career; go three-and-out, and the crowd might well have dragged him into the parking lot. But Smith hit Vernon Davis for 22 and, later, for 42 and the score.

True, our second drive was our umpteenth run, run, pass, punt--hey, we were desperate, not crazy--and Seattle answered by slicing through our D with ease. But then our field-goal try was blocked and went through anyway, and then Seattle simply imploded. A pick set us up in their end, and we added three; a fumble set us up in the RED ZONE, and Smith connected with Josh Morgan for the score; Seattle missed on fourth down, and Smith hit Brian Westbrook on a 62-yard catch-and-run (leaving Singletary mind-blowingly "thankful that we didn't use Brian very much early on"); a pick set us up in the red zone AGAIN, and we added another three; and Dashon Goldson's pick-six let us cruise to the end. With those huge assists from Seattle, we scored 30 for the first time all year, and 40 for the first time in SEVEN years.

Naturally, the raves rolled in for Smith, whose rating was a career-high 130. And, indeed, he made sound decisions and avoided his trademark "bonehead play." But...with Smith, it seems, there's always a "but." Smith threw not a single pass deep; of his 255 yards, 208 were after the catch. Plus, we didn't sustain offense as much as cash in on Seattle's gifts; as Smith put it, "we really let the game come to us," which was pretty easy when the 'Hawks were so willing to give it away.

Still, there was Davis, swearing that Smith--stop me if you've heard this one--was reborn. "It was like a totally different person out there," he said. Right. Totally different, just like always, until he shows he's still the same.

So here we go, yet again. No one does the meaningless late-season surge quite like Smith and the Niners. Oh, sure, there's "meaning" here, in the sense we could win this awful division. But it's just another illusion, like five-and-four and eight-and-eight, to make you think there's something there. To trick you into believing.

Enough. Please, God, enough already.

Congratulations, Coach; I'm glad your desperation knocked you out of your stupor. And nice game, Alex; to your credit, you made the 'Hawks look every bit as bad as they are.

But by now we know better.

This time, your illusions won't save you.