Alex Smith proves he belongs as starter

Alex Smith justified Mike Singletary’s decision to start him and made a strong case to stay in San Francisco as the 49ers trounccd the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday.

Singletary’s decision was roundly criticized by the know-nothings in the Bay Area media. One pointed to Troy Smith’s winning record as a starter, without noting that the wins came over the 3-10 Broncos, 4-9 Cardinals and 6-7 Rams. Whoop-dee-doo.

Another media critic said Singletary might have to make a change at halftime against Seattle. Not with a 30-7 lead.

Still another said Alex Smith will never win over 49ers fans. Actually, it took him about six plays on Sunday. Predictably, he was booed on the first two plays but the fans let up when they realized he was taking the Niners on a touchdown drive — and they cheered wildly for the rest of the game.

Even after the lopsided win, the media didn’t let up on Alex. Much was made of the help he got from the defense, but that’s the way it’s supposed to work. All five of the 49ers’ Super Bowl teams had superlative defenses.

Much of the passing yardage came from receivers running after the catch, but that’s the style Bill Walsh brought to the 49ers and the league. John Taylor had touchdowns of 90 and 92 yards in one game against the Rams in 1989, and the passes from Joe Montana probably didn’t go more than 10 yards in the air.

In truth, Singletary’s decision to go back to Alex was a no-brainer. Troy Smith was a one-hit wonder. His play had gone downhill since that spectacular game against the Rams because other teams had learned how to defend him.

In making the change, Singletary noted that Troy hadn’t had a chance to learn much of the playbook. TV analyst Brian Billick, who drafted Troy when Billick coached the Baltimore Ravens, noted a bigger problem: He isn’t accurate enough to be an NFL quarterback. Billick endorsed the move to Alex Smith in a weekend interview.

It certainly helped that playcaller Mike Johnson could open up the playbook on Sunday. It also helped that losing Frank Gore kept Singletary from imposing his Stone Age philosophy of simply running into the line. Johnson was able to put imagination back into the game plan, and he had a quarterback who could implement it.

It’s been assumed that the Niners would let Alex Smith go when his contract is up after this season, but that’s by no means certain.

Former Giants manager Alvin Dark once told me that when you bring in a reliever, you have to be sure he’s better than the starter you have in there.

The same philosophy applies here. Who would replace Alex Smith? Troy Smith isn’t the answer. Neither is David Carr.

Andrew Luck? Quit dreaming. If he comes out this year, he’ll go in the top three, and the Niners won’t be drafting that high. And they don’t have the front-office people who could make a trade to move up.

So, their best bet right now is Alex Smith. As he showed Sunday, given the right supporting cast and the right playcalling, he can do the job.

Glenn Dickey has been covering Bay Area sports since 1963 and also writes on www.GlennDickey.com. E-mail him at glenndickey@hotmail.com.

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