Mike Singletary is in a reclamation project. He's attempting to reclaim the glory that once belonged to the San Francisco 49ers and he's also trying to reclaim the talent that made quarterback Alex Smith the first pick of the 2005 draft.
Singletary was so forceful, successful and popular as the 49ers' interim coach last season that he was quickly confirmed as head coach. Now, 10 games into this season, which began with a 3-1 rush but has faded in the face of five losses in the last six games, Singletary's team and its quarterback are at a crossroads.
At 4-6, any chance the 49ers have of being a playoff contender in December rests with a win over the visiting Jaguars on Sunday at Candlestick Park. It'll be the first time the Jaguars have ever played a regular-season game in San Francisco.
"Sometimes you hit that bump and you have to fight your way out of it. We got ourselves in it and we just have to work our way out of it. For me, it's just a matter of continuing to work and not look for excuses and work your way out of it," Singletary said this week as he helped reporters preview this Sunday's clash.
The AFC South has clearly been the bump in the 49ers' road. They suffered three consecutive losses to the Texans, Colts and Titans, and that three-game stretch threatens to ruin the 49ers' season. Making those three losses most difficult to accept is that they were all of a late-game nature. The Jaguars are probably hoping the 49ers won't take out their frustration on this Sunday's visitors from America's other coast.
Smith has reclaimed his starting job after being judged to have been a bust. Singletary said he'll use what's left of this season to decide whether or not Smith is the team's quarterback of the future.
"We're going to find out, this week and next week and the week after that, and we'll have a better answer for you after the season," Singletary said.
Smith has completed 61.3 percent of his passes for nine touchdowns, seven interceptions and an 81.5 passer rating. His stats are comparable to Jaguars quarterback David Garrard's.
One first-round pick's career that would seem to have been reclaimed is that of Vernon Davis, who has shot to the top of the league's tight ends with 51 receptions for 601 yards and eight touchdowns. This year's first-round pick, wide receiver Michael Crabtree, has settled into the starting lineup after a long and confrontational holdout. Crabtree has 22 catches for 292 yards and one touchdown.
Running back Frank Gore remains the 49ers' most consistent performer. Gore is averaging 5.4 yards per carry and has scored six touchdowns.
Singletary is a fiery, no-nonsense coach who quickly lit a fire under the 49ers last season. This season it's become apparent the 49ers need more than fire to reclaim the franchise's past glory. Popular opinion, however, is that the 49ers may be close.
Patrick Willis is one of the best linebackers in the game and the 49ers are sixth in the league at stopping the run. The 49ers' 3-4 defense is expected to pose a stern challenge to the Jaguars.
"This is a good football team defensively. They get after you, their front seven is really good, the secondary plays really good team football. We have our hands full," Jaguars wide receiver Torry Holt said of the 49ers.