Around the NFC West: 49ers optimistic

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

John Crumpacker of the San Francisco Chronicle says the 49ers are thinking playoffs despite suffering their third consecutive defeat and falling below .500 for the first time this season. Linebacker Takeo Spikes: "I still think we're going to the playoffs. I know we're going to the playoffs. Even though we're not where we want to be right now, we're where we are for a reason."

Also from Crumpacker: Michael Crabtree as The Natural. Alex Smith on Crabtree: "Just a real natural player. Strong hands, good route running. He keeps the game for what it is. He doesn't let the game get bigger than it is."

More from Crumpacker: Brandon Jones missed six weeks after suffering a broken shoulder blade. How long might Nate Clements need to recover?

Gwen Knapp of the San Francisco Chronicle says Smith took a step forward in his development despite suffering defeat in his first start of the 2009 season. Running back Michael Robinson: "He's letting it fly, just playing football like he's in the backyard. He plays well when he's relaxed and just going out and letting the ball go. ... Before, you could look at him and almost see the pressure on his back - you know what I mean, being a first-round pick and all the expectations."

Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says the 49ers failed to finish against the Colts. Maiocco: "The 49ers managed just 87 yards passing in the second half to give the Colts all the opportunities they would need to pull out the victory. Rookie receiver Michael Crabtree, who led the 49ers with six receptions for 81 yards, lost a third-quarter fumble near midfield."

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says three 49ers have suffered broken scapulas. Tony Pashos was the other. Also, left tackle Joe Staley will undergo an MRI exam Monday to determine the severity of an injury to his knee.

Dan Brown of the San Jose Mercury News says the schedule is looking up for the 49ers. Brown: "When they face the Tennessee Titans on Sunday at Candlestick Park, the 49ers will be looking for their first win since Oct. 4. And, they'll be looking to erase the pain of another close call against a future Hall of Fame quarterback. They have lost to (Peyton) Manning and Brett Favre this season by a combined seven points."

Mark Purdy of the San Jose Mercury News says Smith did a better job improvising Sunday than he might have in past seasons: Purdy: "Smith's helmet radio went out. Four years ago, he might have melted down under the circumstances. But this is not four years ago. Smith signaled to the bench that the radio was out, then he coolly went into the huddle and called his own play. The pass to tight end Vernon Davis wasn't complete. But the incident -- followed by a perfect two-minute drill at the end of the first half where Smith also called all his own plays and generated a touchdown -- was indicative of how far Smith 2.0 has come."