Now 49ers could use some help

They're not dead yet, but the 49ers now need some help if they're going to win the NFC West. A 34-7 loss Thursday night to the Chargers leaves them with barely a heartbeat.

A little help please?

That's surely what the San Francisco 49ers will be asking this weekend. Without some assistance from the Kansas City Chiefs and the Atlanta Falcons, their fading playoff hopes will disappear into the mist.

With Thursday night's crushing 34-7 loss to the San Diego Chargers, the 49ers will be eliminated from the NFC West if the St. Louis Rams and Seattle Seahawks both win their games Sunday.

But if the Rams lose to the Chiefs and the Seahawks lose to the Falcons, all is not lost. In fact, if the 49ers finish with the same 7-9 record as the Rams and Seahawks, they'll still win the West based on the best division record.

Unbelievable but true. Teams would prefer not to rely on others for help, but these are desperate times for the Niners, who will now go eight consecutive seasons without a winning record.

They hardly resembled a winning team – or a playoff team – in falling to the Chargers, whose defense shut down the 49ers offense and sacked quarterback Alex Smith six times. But you can't hang this defeat on Smith – at least not Alex.

Despite the score, one critical sequence of events early in the second quarter took the 49ers out of the game, and they never got back in.

Let's recite the details as quickly as possible.

Down 7-0, the 49ers got a 38-yard field goal from Jeff Reed but took the points off the board when Chargers lineman Antonio Garay was penalized for using a Niners player's body for leverage to try and block the kick.

It looked like a good decision when Alex Smith scrambled left on third down and dove into the end zone for what appeared to be a game-tying touchdown. But the call was challenged by Chargers coach Norv Turner, and it was upheld when referee Clete Blakeman ruled that Smith's knee touched the ground before he hit the pylon.

Just inches from the goal line on fourth down, coach Mike Singletary opted to go for it. But Anthony Dixon was thrown for a two-yard loss by linebacker Brandon Siler, who was unblocked at the line and had a clear shot at Dixon.

"It was almost less than one year," Singletary said. "I felt our offensive line can get that. Obviously, we didn't."

The 49ers had the Chargers at the San Diego 3-yard line, but on a first down play from the 8, defensive tackle Justin Smith engaged in a momentary shoving match with tight end Kris Wilson. Umpire Garth DeFelice rushed in to break up the players, but Smith shoved DeFelice away and was automatically ejected from the game.

"A rule's a rule," said Smith, who acknowledged he was unaware that it was a game official he had pushed. "Aware of it or unaware of it, it is what it is."

The Chargers' drive ended with a field goal, making it 10-0. What could have been a 7-7 game and should have been at least a 7-3 game ended up becoming a 10-point deficit.

There were other significant points. Tight end Delanie Walker dropped a pass on what could have been a big gain, Ahmad Brooks dropped an interception, an 85-yard touchdown return by Ted Ginn Jr. was called back because of a facemask penalty on Moran Norris. The only highlight: Brian Westbrook's three-yard TD run late in the game to avoid a shutout.

Linebackers Patrick Willis and Takeo Spikes both played with club-like bandages on their right hands and held their own, but the Niners had nothing to offset San Diego's offense: QB Philip Rivers threw for 273 yards and wideout Vincent Jackson had five catches for 112 yards and three touchdowns. The Chargers had 374 total yards.

The Chargers (8-6) are still in the playoff hunt in the NFC West, and so, for that matter are the 49ers. But for how long? We'll know more on Sunday.


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