SAN FRANCISCO – One game out, three games left to play.
Who would have guessed? In the midst of a discouraging season that began with five consecutive losses and looked dead in October, the San Francisco 49ers are still contending in the NFC West.
Granted, it's the worst division in football. No team has a winning record, and it's likely the playoff representative will go into the postseason with nine losses. But right now, who cares?
"We just know that anything can happen," said wide receiver Josh Morgan. "You go out there and keep playing. That's all we can do. We win the rest of our games and we're in the playoffs."
It's really that simple. The 49ers routed the Seattle Seahawks 40-21 Sunday at Candlestick Park and improved their record to 5-8. They still trail the Seahawks and St. Louis Rams, both 6-7, by one game, but winning keeps their hopes alive.
They have almost no time to appreciate their circumstances, however. Thursday night, they play the San Diego Chargers on the road in what could be another must-win game.
"Today was very big for us," coach Mike Singletary said. "But at the same time, this means nothing if we don't play well next week. We have very little room for error and we have to understand that."
Even so, it's worth rewinding Sunday's victory only because there have been so few games like it. Alex Smith, who regained his starting job after losing it to backup Troy Smith because of an injury, was 17 of 27 passing for 255 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. The defense forced five turnovers, which were converted into 20 points, and the 49ers led at halftime 30-7. Brian Westbrook, the team's primary running back with Frank Gore out for the season, rushed for 23 yards but added 87 yards and one touchdown on six receptions.
If it wasn't already over by then, safety Dashon Goldson put it away on Seattle's second offensive play of the third quarter, intercepting a Matt Hasselbeck pass and running it back 39 yards for a touchdown. Hasselbeck had all five of his team's turnovers, including four interceptions and one lost fumble.
"The offense scored points, and we were able to give them good field position on certain occasions," said linebacker Travis LaBoy, who forced Hasselbeck's second-quarter fumble and recovered the ball. "But not only that, we were able to have turnovers rather than allow them to kick field goals. A game like today is what this team is capable of doing. We just have to do it week in and week out."
That's something they haven't done this season, certainly not with any sort of consistency. But they'll have to do it now if they hope to stay in the race.
"We feel like we just need to go out there and win," said Morgan, who had three catches for 82 yards. "It's do or die."