Ratto: Troy Smith Still Getting Ninerspeak Treatment

November 15, 2010, 4:25 am
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Nov. 14, 2010
The question kept being hurled at every 49er who made himself available for it: Is Troy Smith your quarterback?And they all agreed. With their eyes, with their posture, with theexpressions in their voice. Just not with actual words, because headcoach Mike Singletary doesnt go there until he wants to go there.So lets just say it, first in Ninerspeak, then in English: AlexSmiths shoulder still is progressing but its not quite there yet.Troy (Smith) will be our quarterback for Sunday (against Tampa Bay)."And: Of course he is. Were you not paying attention, you bucket-headed nitwit?The numbers Smith produced in the 49ers 23-20 overtime win over St.Louis spoke to his ability to play with damp dynamite: 17 of 28 for 356(the most since Tim Rattay hit for 417 in an overtime win overArizona), one score, no picks and a bunch of long yardage saves.The endorsements, couched as they were, were just as strident, and could be encapsulated thus:This is just like playing football in the park, Michael Crabtree said. Just having fun, making plays.Its just like when you were a little kid, Frank Gore added. You make plays. Thats all you gotta do. He makes plays.And Smith made bucketfuls, although in the weirdest ways. He convertedno third downs but a huge fourth-and-18 on the final drive ofregulation. He was occasionally flustered in the pocket and hurriedintermediate throws but hit 10 passes of more than 10 yards and had threescores negated by penalties.He was, in short, better than you could have hoped for a semi-newquarterback, but not quite as coldly efficient as the best of them. Or,for that matter, St. Louis Sam Bradford.But when youre 2-6 (in case you ever are, that is), you dont havetime to work out the kinks, or pass up something big for something withstyle points. You need to electrify, and Smith was the third rail on ateam that was spitting out AAA battery-type efforts.Hes a playmaker, tight end Vernon Davis said, and hes not afraidto let the ball go. Hell do whatever he has to to make it happen.There are too many tremendous athletes here to not share the ball,Smith said, for everybody to not have a chance and an opportunity tomake a play. Its on me to do that.And when asked if Singletary gave him an endorsement, he smiled andsaid, I dont know if you would call it praise. It was his scowl that,I know youve probably seen it, that he told me, Good job, and wedefinitely have to go back to the drawing board, watch the film, breakit down. Theres going to be some thing that definitely you wished youhad done better.'"The Singletary Way: Not too low, and definitely not too high.There are, of course, some painful truths that hide behind thisperformance, all of which fall under the general heading of NecessaryBuzzkill, To Be Filed Away For Later.One, the Rams arent very good defensively, certainly nowhere near as good as Tampa Bay, this coming weeks opponent.Two, Seattle beat Arizona to keep the 49ers two games out of first place in the NFC Cess (as in pool).Three, if the 49ers dont make the playoffs, the new head coacheveryone presumes would be in place would almost surely want to bringin his own quarterback.And four, this game was the season. Now Sundays game is the season.And the more games you play that mean the season, ultimately one ofthem will destroy your season. Its the law of big numbers, and youcant argue with math. If you think you can, Paraag Marathe is holdingon Line Two to have a chat with you.But in desperate times, people live in the moment, and Troy Smith playsin the moment more than any 49er quarterback since . . . hell, maybesince Muddy Waters in the Shotgun Sixties. Every quarterback since thenwas a system quarterback with playmaking skills. Smith showed Sundaythat he looks like a playmaking quarterback who may have system skills.He is, basically, the kind of quarterback for this moment, on thisteam. What comes later is, well, later. But for right now, there is noreal alternative. There is, in fact, no alternative, everyone knows it,and nobody has to say Troy Smith is the starter any more than anyonehas to say Eating glass is bad for your soft palate.It is the most rhetorical of questions, no matter how many waysSingletary tries to find not to say it. It doesnt matter that there isno printed imprimatur. The 49ers are cornered, pure and simple, andthis is the only way out they can conceive.Right now, Im just going to . . . Singletary said, his voicedropping off into you-dont-get-what-youre-after-today mode. weregoing to enjoy this win, and before I get into whos the startingquarterback and all that other stuff, well sit down as a staff andtalk about what we need to talk about, discuss what we need to discuss.And when Smith was asked if he thought he would, or should be thestarter, he said, Youre trying to put words in my mouth, brother.And he wasnt smiling. He knew the answer, too. He wasnt going to sellout Alex Smith, which is what declaring the job his own required, andhe couldnt declare himself anything for fear that even Sundaysperformance wouldnt be enough to keep him out of the Singletarianpooch hut. After all, the job really isnt his, anyway. ItsSingletarys.In more ways than he wants to consider right now.And thats the other thing to remember. This is still a temp job,because the 49ers remain a team looking up at too many teams. Even withSundays win, they are tied for 11th in a six-team race, and with allthe euphoria that Smiths real 60-minute debut created, they managedonly 23 points because they made more than enough mistakes to destroymost teams. The 14 penalties for 105 yards alone would undo most teams,and the 12 for 135 the Rams committed certainly undid them.But like we said, pretty is someone elses problem. Seat of the pantsis good enough for this team, at least until further notice. Werejust playing football, trying to make plays, Crabtree said.And dont ask if Troy Smith is the starting quarterback. He is. Today.But Id check back next Monday. Seat of the pants is a hard way to live.Ray Ratto is a columnist for Comcast SportsNet Bay Area

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