SAN FANCISCO – This is going to be one of the worst-kept secrets in football.
San Francisco 49ers coach Mike Singletary said he doesn't want to discuss starting quarterbacks. Not now, at least. He wants to leave that decision for another day.
But you know what's going to happen. Troy Smith, who is 2-0 as a starter, has the job. And although no one wanted to come right out and say it Sunday afternoon, it's going to be his for the foreseeable future.
Smith threw for 356 yards and one touchdown in the 49ers' 23-20 overtime victory over the St. Louis Rams. He was decisive, creative and in control for most of the day, bringing the 49ers from behind in the fourth quarter and then helping to push them into field goal range in overtime.
"He's a playmaker," tight end Vernon Davis said. "He's not afraid to make plays. He'll do whatever he needs to do to make it happen."
Smith admitted he could have been better, and the performance by the 49ers was hardly a work of art – they were 0 for 11 on third downs and had 14 penalties for 105 yards – but it was good enough to keep alive their flagging division hopes.
For the record, the Niners are 3-6 and trail the Seattle Seahawks (5-4) by two games in the NFC West. There's little room for error.
"We knew coming in that this was a pivotal game for us," linebacker Patrick Willis said. "I don't know who was at the top of the division, but I knew we were at the bottom. And I knew we had to win if we wanted to get to the top."
That's a long way off, and it's probably an impossible dream. But Troy Smith gave them a sense that he's in charge and that he has the ability to make something good happen every time he touches the ball.
But does he consider himself the starter? He's not ready to discuss that topic.
"I'm not worrying about that," Smith said. "I'm just enjoying this win. I don't know about you, but I just spend the last four, five hours in cleats. I'm ready to rest my feet and just chill."
And Singletary said this: "Before I get into who's the starting quarterback and all that other stuff, we'll sit down as a staff and talk about what we need to talk about, discuss what we need to discuss, and go from there."
On three occasions the 49ers had touchdowns taken away by penalties, but they drove to a game-tying field goal as the clock expired and, after stopping St. Louis on three downs in its first overtime possession, got the ball at their own 34-yard line.
Frank Gore got the ball three times, running for 13, 5 and 3 yards. An incompletion by Smith on third down seemingly put an end to the drive, but Rams safety O.J. Atogwe was flagged for pass interference, giving the 49ers a first down at the St. Louis 23.
Gore ran two more times for 12 yards, setting up Joe Nedney for a 29-yard field goal.
"I could've been better," said Smith, who was 17 of 28 passing. "Definitely, as a quarterback, there were some throws I wish I could have back. But it was our day today."
And his day, too.