Mike Singletary was decisive in tapping Troy Smith to play Monday against the Cardinals. But he hinted this week that the game would be a make-or-break opportunity for the former Heisman Trophy winner.
"Last week Troy was coming off two wins and you want to ride that," Singletary said on Wednesday. "This is the game where we have to take a step back and look at how he responds during this game and how he does. We'll see how it goes."
He also said he would not hesitate to go back to Alex Smith, who is fully recovered from his shoulder injury, if Troy Smith falters. "If Troy is the guy that is helping us win, then he's going to play," Singletary said. "If he is not, then somebody else is going to play."
The common theme between the 3-7 49ers and the 3-7 Cardinals is their lack of clarity at quarterback moving forward. In fact, three of the teams in the NFC West have no definition at the position and likely will make that a personnel priority in the offseason.
When Kurt Warner retired following the 2009 season, the Cardinals turned to former first-round draft pick Matt Leinart. But Leinart's term didn't even last through the exhibition season. He was released on Sept. 4, and Arizona has relied on former Browns quarterback Derek Anderson and undrafted rookie Max Hall this season. The Cardinals have another rookie at the position, John Skelton, on the roster
Considering the state of the two franchises this season, it's only fitting that both the Cardinals and 49ers pursued free-agent David Carr in the offseason to fill the role of veteran back-up for Leinart and Alex Smith respectively. The 49ers 'won' that contest, and the Cardinals settled for Anderson. Anderson guided the Cardinals to two early-season wins - over St. Louis in Oakland - but he and the Cardinals are currently in the midst of a five-game losing streak.
The 49ers have a similarly woeful quarterback story. Like the Cardinals with Leinart, the 49ers calculated that former first-rounder Smith finally would live up to his draft status and lead the team to the playoffs. Smith, however, got off to a sputtering and mistake-filled start and was injured in Week 7. He now finds himself behind Troy Smith on the depth chart.
But for how long? Singletary has not been shy about changing quarterbacks (or at least initiating a QB change) in two seasons.
* Oct. 27, 2008: Singletary replaces turnover-prone J.T. O'Sullivan with Shaun Hill.
* Dec. 21, 2008: Singletary nearly yanks struggling Hill from a game in St. Louis and sends in O'Sullivan. Hill talks him out of it and then goes on to lead a comeback win.
* Oct. 25, 2009: Down 21-0 at halftime to the Texans, Singletary pulls Hill and sends in Alex Smith.
* Oct. 10, 2010: After a rocky beginning against Philadelphia, Singletary has a sideline argument with Smith and David Carr starts warming up. Carr runs onto the field for the next offensive possession but come off when Smith rejoins the huddle.
* Oct. 25, 2010: Singletary informs Carr, filling in for injured Alex Smith, that he has been bumped for Troy Smith.
-- Matt Barrows