Not just another game for Singletary & 49ers

Mike Singletary will try to make everybody believe Thursday is just another game for his team – just another opportunity for the 49ers to take a step closer to their goal of reaching the NFC playoffs for the first time since the 2002 season. But this is not just any other game. Singletary, one of the most beloved figures in Chicago Bears history, will be going up against his former team.

And the 49ers, who have now fallen two games out of first place in the NFC West after Sunday's 34-27 upset loss to the Tennessee Titans, will be attempting to snap a four-game losing streak.

That might make Singletary's first meeting as a head coach against his former team even more crucial to Singletary and the team he is coaching now.

"Desperation is a word I won't use," Singletary said. "Preparation is the word I want to use. We just have to prepare better."

Singletary will be preparing to face an organization that he knows all about.

His name was synonymous with the stout Bears defense of the 1980s. He was the middle linebacker on some of the most dominant teams of the decade, including the unit that put it all together for the franchise's lone Super Bowl title after the 1985 season, a year Chicago produced one of the greatest seasons in NFL history.

Singletary was twice named NFL defensive player of the year during his 12-year career with the Bears. He started a defensive team record 172 games with the Bears, and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

He took a decade off from the sport to help his wife, Kim, raise their seven children. When he decided to enter the coaching ranks, Singletary first took a job on Brian Billick's staff with the Baltimore Ravens before moving on to San Francisco as assistant head coach under Mike Nolan.

That was after Singletary first inquired about an opportunity with the Bears upon deciding to turn his life pursuit toward coaching.

Dick Jauron was coaching the Bears at the time, and he was one of the first persons Singletary called.

Singletary, recalling the incident on Monday, told Jauron, "I'm not asking you for a job, but I'm telling you that this year, in the very near future, I will be coaching. I don't know where and I don't know when."

Jauron told Singletary that he would get back to him after Jauron evaluated what was going on with the Bears and their coaching staff.

"He got back to me and said, ‘Mike, you know the way things are here, it looks like it's going to be a tough situation to work out.' I said, ‘Fantastic. I thank you, it just lets me know that I'm not going to be there.'"

And now here Singletary is, facing his former team with his current team unconditionally needing a victory to keep its season goals from sliding away.

This is a pivotal matchup for the 49ers, who remain in a battle against the Arizona Cardinals for the top spot in the NFC West. At 5-3, the Cards hold a two-game lead over 3-5 San Francisco, but the 49ers still have an opportunity to make ground on the divisional leaders because they beat the Cards in Arizona to begin the season and play them at home in a Monday night game Dec. 14.

"We still have a lot of football left," 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis said. "It's not over until we play our last game. We are still playing to go to the playoffs. We just have to turn it around before it is too late, instead of putting it in other people's hands."

And Singletary? Well, he still believes there is time for the 49ers to turn it around despite his team's precarious standing at the midpoint of the season.

"Absolutely," Singletary said, his voice rising. "Absolutely. You know, it's definitely frustrating to be at this point, but we do have eight games left. In my mind, as long as we continue to fight, as long as we continue to play the way we played (Sunday), we've got a chance, if we take away the stupid stuff where we're killing ourselves. And that's really the bottom line."

LINEUP WATCH: Backup left tackle Barry Sims is expected to be in the starting lineup for another five games after starter Joe Staley, arguably the 49ers' best offensive lineman, was sidelined with tears to the MCL and PCL ligaments in his right knee. Staley sustained the injury on the first offensive snap of the 49ers' game Nov. 1 against the Indianapolis Colts. Sims entered that game and fared well against Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney, then played another strong game Sunday against the Titans. Sims is no stranger to starting. He has started 128 games in his 11-year NFL career.

TRENDING: Are the 49ers a run team or a passing team? When the season opened, the 49ers fancied themselves as the kind of team that could get tough yards on the ground. But the 49ers' run game has been inconsistent, and the passing game has come on with the promotion of quarterback Alex Smith, the signing of rookie receiver Michael Crabtree and the emergence of tight end Vernon Davis. In Sunday's loss to Tennessee, the 49ers had 51 called pass plays and just 18 runs.


--- QB Alex Smith had three interceptions and a lost fumble to go along with two touchdown passes in Sunday's loss. Smith's 286 passing yards were the third-most of his career. His 29 completions were a career-high. Smith has 5,369 career passing yards to move past Steve Spurrier and into seventh on the 49ers' all-time list. Smith is completing 64 percent of his throws and has a passer rating of 83.3

--- WR Isaac Bruce was nudged out of the starting lineup in favor of second-year pro Josh Morgan. Then, he lost his No. 3 job to Jason Hill. In the past six games, Bruce has averaged a little more than two receptions for 24 yards per game. Singletary said on Monday that Bruce's role with the team will continue to be evaluated.

--- WR Jason Hill, who had been inactive for five of the 49ers' first seven games, replaced Bruce in the second quarter. Hill ended up catching four passes for 50 yards and two touchdowns – his first receptions of the season.

--- TE Vernon Davis had career highs with 10 receptions for 102 yards. He became the first 49ers tight end with 100 yards since Eric Johnson had 162 receiving yards against Arizona in October 2004.

--- DL Ricky Jean-Francois, a seventh-round pick, made his NFL debut against the Titans. Jean-Francois got playing time because veteran Demetric Evans is out three weeks with a shoulder injury.

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