49ers' Playoff Hopes Implode in Jones Dome

All of the switching back and forth between San Francisco 49ers quarterbacks Troy Smith and Alex Smith doesn't really matter when you miss fourth quarter chip shot field goals, give up crazy-long fourth quarter kickoff returns, and engage in heated verbal arguments with your starting quarterback.

The 49ers' playoff hopes are officially dead in the water after a 25-17 loss to the St. Louis Rams in the Edward Jones Dome. Coach Singletary made yet another switch at quarterback, going back to Alex Smith in the fourth quarter. Alex managed a late field goal drive, but the above-mentioned special teams clustermucks doomed the 49ers to a hopeless 5-10 record, and mathematically eliminated them from the playoff race.

Things actually looked good early on when the 49ers' safety Reggie "Another Smith?" Smith intercepted Sam Bradford on the very first drive. Two seconds later, things looked bad when Nate Clements was flagged for pass interference on that play, and the Rams were awarded continued possession plus first and goal at the 49ers' one-yard line.

Stephen Jackson got that one yard and a touchdown on the very next play, giving the Rams an early 7-0 lead.

Continued unpleasantness for the 49ers Faithful later in the first quarter, on a third-and-eight from the Niners' own five-yard line. Troy Smith fumbled the snap, then just had to fall on it in the end zone and take a safety. It was thus 9-0 Rams.

But Ted Ginn, Jr. turned the damn thing around five minutes into the second quarter. Ginn, who was Troy Smith's teammate at Ohio State, ran a punt back 78 yards for a touchdown and pulled the 49ers to within 9-7.

You figured Teddy Ginnn would serve a purpose at some point in the season!

Then shortly before the two-minute warning, Michael Crabtree -- who has been useful all season -- took a short pass and rumbled 60 yards past James Laurinaitis (also Troy Smith's Ohio State teammate!) for a 60-yard touchdown catch-and-run that put the Niners up 14-12 at the half.

But Troy Smith's magic and miracles expired in the second half. Troy could not manage another score, and then engaged in a furious shouting match with Coach Singletary on the sidelines with the playoffs on the line after tossing a critical second half interception.  Troy doesn't settle down until Teddy Ginn literally shoves a towel into his face.

The 49ers were actually still winning at that point. Not for long.

The Rams' Sam Bradford, who threw for 292 yards and set an NFL record for completions by a rookie, took advantage of the off-kilter Niners. They scored a field goal on that very interception drive to take a 15-14 lead.

Then the Rams got their insurance touchdown early in the fourth, on a three-yard Sam Bradford touchdown pass.

And so the San Francisco 49ers are officially, mathematically eliminated from their quixotic playoff run -- no arguing about it.

Joe Kukura is a freelance writer who wonders if the Singletray-Troy Smith fight didn't happen because Coach picked the wrong time to crack a joke about Ohio State players illegally selling their gear.

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