Singletary's choice: Smith or Smith?

Niners coach Mike Singletary was undecided about a starting quarterback last week, but now it's time to choose between Alex Smith and Troy Smith. The one he picks could be the player who leads the team to the NFC West title.

Last Friday morning, after the San Francisco 49ers had seen their slim playoff hopes essentially vanish in San Diego, coach Mike Singletary sounded vague when he was asked who his starting quarterback would be this week.

It's been a cat-and-mouse game with Singletary, who has lately called his decision on his two quarterbacks, Alex Smith and Troy Smith, a "week-to-week thing." And this was no different.

"We're looking at film," he said, "and we'll handle it down the road."

Well, now the 49ers are down the road. Their season, which looked over after last Thursday night's crushing 34-7 defeat to the Chargers, has flickering new life. If the 49ers (5-9) win their last two games and the Seattle Seahawks lose at least one of their final two, they'll be NFC West champs.

So who will start at quarterback when the Niners play the St. Louis Cardinals (6-8) on Sunday in what is their biggest game in years?

It's possible Singletary is still mulling it over. It's also possible he wants to keep the Rams guessing in order to affect their game planning.

Alex Smith has started the past two games and is 1-1. Troy Smith started the previous five games and was 3-2. Singletary returned Alex Smith to the starting role eight days ago against Seattle in an effort to expand the playbook.

Here's a comparison of the two players' most recent stints:

Alex Smith: 2 games, 36-56 passing, 420 yards, 3 TDs, 1 INT.

Troy Smith: 5 games, 66-124 passing, 1,023 yards, 4 TDs, 3 INTs.

Troy Smith had a career day in the 49ers' 23-20 overtime victory over St. Louis on Nov. 14, going 17 of 28 for 356 yards and one touchdown. It was the most yards by a 49ers QB in six years. Five receivers had 60 or more yards, marking the first time in franchise history that had happened.

So which quarterback does Singletary choose? The critical factor might be the absence of running back Frank Gore, who is out for the season because of a fractured right hip. Gore totaled 154 yards in the first game against the Rams (87 rushing, 67 receiving), but his absence means the 49ers will have to rely on their other playmakers to move the ball. That means employing more of the playbook.

It also means that Alex Smith will probably remain at quarterback on Sunday, although with Singletary, you never know for sure.

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