49ers have a quarterback dilemma

Troy Smith (AP/Alastair Grant)

Troy Smith didn't have much time to prepare, but he managed the game well and improvised on his feet to help the 49ers beat the Denver Broncos in London. So does he keep the job or give it back to Alex Smith?

Is Troy Smith the answer?

That's a question San Francisco 49ers coach Mike Singletary will have to consider the next week or so. Someone named Smith is going to be under center when the team returns from its bye week to play the St. Louis Rams on Nov. 14, but will it be Alex or Troy?

Hmm. Good question.

"I'm going to think about taking a break and come back and go for a division game," Singletary said after Troy Smith led the 49ers to a 24-16 win over the Denver Broncos at Wembley Stadium in London for their second victory of the season. "Everything else will take care of itself."

That was a non-answer at its best. But later, he told reporters, "We're going to continue to go forward with Troy Smith right now. As far as Alex Smith is concerned, it's a week-to-week deal. I'll wait to talk to our doctors, trainers, whatever. But we'll make those decisions when we have to."

A lot will depend on the condition of Alex Smith's left shoulder, which he separated Oct. 24 at Carolina. If he's recovered, Singletary may have no option but to return his starter to the lineup in two weeks. Does he want to do that – especially after Troy Smith managed the game well and showed an ability to improvise and throw well on the run? Probably not.

Mind you, this wasn't a rout. Against a Broncos team that surrendered 59 points to the Oakland Raiders one week earlier, the 49ers had just three points through three quarters. But then they scored on three consecutive possessions for a 24-10 lead – and still had to muster a defensive stop after Denver made it an eight-point game with 2 minutes, 19 seconds left.

Troy Smith, whose job was essentially to hand off the ball to Frank Gore (29 carries, 118 yards, one touchdown), got a chance to thrown downfield after the Broncos took a 10-3 lead. And he got hot.

A Smith-to-Delanie Walker pass for 38 yards, made possible by Smith's scramble to keep the play alive, set up the first TD ("That throw separates one quarterback from another," Singletary said). Smith then took it in from the 1-yard line -- the Niners' first rushing touchdown since Week 2.

Then came the team's best offensive and defensive stretch of the season. On the next series, Smith hooked up with wide receiver Michael Crabtree down the left sideline for a 28-yard touchdown to put the 49ers in front 17-10. The Broncos took the kickoff and started their drive at their own 18, but QB Kyle Orton, scrambling to his left, had the ball stripped from behind by linebacker Manny Lawson. It was recovered by Takeo Spikes, giving the Niners possession at the 18.

It took them six plays to get in, but Gore scored from three yards to extend the lead to 24-10.

Smith was 12 of 19 passing for 196 yards and a 115.2 passer rating. More important, he threw no interceptions and the 49ers had no turnovers.

Others big players: Lawson, who had one sack to go along with his forced fumble; Justin Smith, who sacked Orton twice for 17 yards; Walker, who filled in at tight end when tight end Vernon Davis was hurt and caught five passes for 85 yards; and cornerback Shawntae Spencer, whose interception at the 49ers' 26 finished off Denver's comeback hopes.

At 2-6, the 49ers still aren't going anywhere, and any notion Singletary has about the playoffs will continue to fall on deaf ears. But they have a quarterback dilemma now – a dilemma, not a controversy – and Singletary will have to figure out which Smith gives the team the best chance to win.

Right now, it looks like Troy Smith.

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