Print and Go Back ESPN.com: NFC West [Print without images]

Sunday, December 20, 2009
Wrap-up: Eagles 27, 49ers 13

By Mike Sando
ESPN.com

The 49ers remained close well into the fourth quarter despite playing poorly on the road against a superior team. They lost, eliminating them from playoff contention, and that will hurt for a while.

But this outcome should not come as a surprise or stand as a significant setback. This is what happens when decent teams with potential play important games against playoff-caliber opposition.

The game will be used to evaluate Alex Smith's fitness as the 49ers' long-term quarterback, and his interceptions will make it tough to argue on his behalf. It's fair to note that plenty of quarterbacks, including some established ones, have struggled against the Eagles' defense.

Smith's performance should serve more as a learning experience than as a closing argument. It was unrealistic to think he would suddenly become good enough to outduel Donovan McNabb in Philadelphia.

That doesn't render the evidence irrelevant. The 49ers needed more from Smith in this game. They failed to convert even once on third down, revisiting a problem that doomed them against the Seahawks two weeks ago. That reflects poorly on a quarterback.

The 49ers need Smith to play better in the final two games. The Lions and Rams should help make that happen.