It took them six weeks and enough melodrama to fill a daytime soap-opera script, but the San Francisco 49ers finally did enough things right – and avoided their usual array of mistakes – to win a game Sunday.
A win is a win, and although the Niners' 17-9 victory didn't come against one of the league's elite teams – or even a team that could be considered a playoff contender – it still tasted good.
The Oakland Raiders didn't have their No. 1 quarterback or their best running back in the lineup. After driving to field goals on their first two possessions, they totaled just 61 net yards the rest of the game. QB Jason Campbell was 8 of 21 passing (passer rating: 10.7) and had two intercepted – including one by linebacker Takeo Spikes that sealed the game in the fourth quarter.
More important, however, was what the 49ers did – and didn't do. They did not turn the ball over once (after turning it over 15 times in their first five games), and they rebounded from a poor opening half to score two second-half touchdowns on passes from Alex Smith to Michael Crabtree (32 yards) and Vernon Davis (17 yards). Frank Gore pounded out 149 yards on 25 carries, including a 64-yarder that set up Davis' TD.
No one would be foolish enough to say all is well, although the Niners have the winless Carolina Panthers and the 2-4 Denver Broncos next up on their schedule. Their problems aren't going away soon, and they'll have to improve by leaps and bounds to make good on team president Jed York's vow that they'll win the division.
But it was a start.
"Any time you get a win it's exciting for our guys," coach Mike Singletary said. "It gives them energy and motivation. We've practiced pretty hard, and you go out there and make sure that you're ready for the next week, you have to have something. So this was very nice to get a win."
Smith, who had to talk Singletary out of removing him from the previous week's game against the Philadelphia Eagles, had a strong day after a slow start. He completed 16 of 33 passes for 196 yards, although he was called twice for intentional grounding.
The second penalty was disputed by the Niners because Smith threw the ball over the head of wide receiver Josh Morgan. But Morgan broke inside on the pattern and Smith threw the ball outside and over his head.
It could have been a pivotal point in the game, but on the next play, Smith hit Crabtree on a deep pass up the middle for a touchdown and a 10-6 lead.
"The phantom intentional ground," Smith said. "That was a first for me. I've never seen that called like that. You know, I know when you're getting tackled in the pocket, you're in danger. But to be going through your progression, then to throw a ball over the guy's head, I've never seen it get called. It's a wet day, we've got brand new balls out there, the pink breast cancer balls, and for them to call that, I thought was pretty ridiculous to be honest with you."
As it turned out, it didn't matter. And while Smith heard boos during an unproductive first half, he worked through them.
"I was ready for it all week," he said. "Raiders, home game … I knew if we didn't come out hot, if I didn't come out hot, I knew that was going to happen, without a doubt.
"I was ready for it. It wasn't going to bother me. It wasn't going to affect me. I was determined."