SANTA CLARA, Calif. – Despite what happened to them Thursday night, the San Francisco 49ers are still hanging precariously from the cliff known as the NFL playoffs. But you wouldn't have known it the day after, a time when players should have held up their heads, offered encouraging words to each other and said they would be glued to their TV sets Sunday afternoon.
At a time when they should stand united, the 49ers just wanted to avoid talking. The locker room was virtually empty; several players who came through declined to be interviewed. Even coach Mike Singletary had lost what was left of his enthusiasm.
Asked if he would be watching the results of the St. Louis Rams-Kansas City Chiefs and Seattle Seahawks-Atlanta Falcons games – a reasonable assumption since his team's future is tied to those contests – Singletary seemed to think the question was about his own future.
"My future depends on the St. Louis game that we have coming up," he said, referring the 49ers' game against the Rams on Dec. 26. "My future, to me, I take it one day at a time, and I don't actually worry about all the other things. But right now, my focus is on St. Louis."
In fact, Singletary's future may already be decided. Thursday's 34-7 loss to the San Diego Chargers assures them of no better than a 7-9 record and will mark the sixth time in the past seven seasons that they'll finish with nine or more losses.
In his day-after session with the media, the 49ers coach also addressed his quarterbacks, the ejection of Justin Smith, injured linebackers Patrick Willis and Takeo Spikes and the lack of production of wide receiver Michael Crabtree.
Quarterbacks: Singletary is considering making a third switch from Alex Smith to Troy Smith, perhaps because Troy Smith had his best game in his five-game tenure as starter when he beat the Rams on Nov. 14. He threw for 356 yards and one touchdown in a 23-20 overtime win.
"We're looking at the film and we'll handle it down the road," he said. Later, he added, "I just think that right now, as we look at the film and look at the things that we want to do, I think the Rams were a little bit different and we're a little bit different. There are some things that have changed and we'll deal with it accordingly."
Singletary said he wasn't necessarily displeased with Alex Smith, who was under constant pressure and was sacked six times. "Let me just say this," he said. "I thought under the situation, under the circumstances, Alex handled himself about as well as he could."
The Justin Smith incident: Singletary said he didn't see the shoving match between Smith and a Chargers player that resulted in Smith pushing umpire Garth DeFelice and getting thrown out. He also said he didn't see the replay later, although it could have been a turning point in the game.
"As a matter of fact, I just knew that the players were saying that it was something with Justin and a possibility of him being ejected," he said. "The referee came over and talked to me about it and I asked him what happened and basically that's what he said. I wasn't going to go there, so it's probably better that I didn't see the replay. My reaction probably would have been different. I've heard from several players about the replay and the call is what it is. As much as you'd like to protest it, as much as you'd like to go ballistic about it, it is what it is."
Spikes and Willis: Both players had their broken right hands heavily bandaged and finished with their usual numbers – Spikes had 12 tackles, Willis eight.
"I thought they did what they could," Singletary said. "I thought they played like I thought they would. It's a difficult thing when you're playing with one hand, so yeah, I thought they handled themselves and handled the game fairly well."
Where's Crabtree?: The 49ers wideout had three catches for 17 yards against the Chargers and now has just 10 receptions in his past five games. Last season, Crabtree had more catches (48) in fewer games (11) than he has so far this season (45 catches, 14 games).
So can Singletary pinpoint a reason why the second-year receiver has had such a tough time lately?
"No, I really can't," he said. "I just think we have to do a better job of including him."