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Monday, January 3, 2011
Around the NFC West: Loose 49ers win

By Mike Sando
ESPN.com

Kevin Lynch of Niner Insider says interim coach Jim Tomsula showed the 49ers it's OK to have fun. Not that anyone would suggest Mike Singletary was wound too tight.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says the 49ers thrived without any pressure Sunday. Barrows: "The players seemed to enter their Week 1 game in Seattle with the weight of playoff expectations hanging around their necks and they played accordingly. They fell 31-6 in that game, and afterward coach Mike Singletary gave Smith and his teammates a vicious tongue-lashing in the visitors' locker room. Singletary followed that by calling a team meeting as soon as the 49ers' charter flight landed in the Bay Area. Smith cited that game when asked what he learned this season."

Also from Barrows: a look ahead to the 49ers' 2011 draft.

More from Barrows: 49ers notes, including prevailing opinion that Jim Harbaugh tops the list of candidates the 49ers want to hire as head coach.

David White of the San Francisco Chronicle expands on the idea that the 49ers were out to have fun. White: "Tomsula wouldn't let the 49ers do it any other way. Not on his watch, even if it was a one-week watch between Mike Singletary's firing and the offseason hunt for his replacement. Team meetings were animated. Practices were high-energy. Jim Nobody From Nowhere, as Tomsula puts it, had this team keeping its spoon in its own soup, as he also said, instead of worrying about the chaos all around the organization. Have fun already, player after player said they were told."

Eric Branch of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says Alex Smith is not ruling out a return to the 49ers. I'd be surprised if the 49ers made less than a clean break from Smith and all their quarterbacks, however. It's time to start anew. And yet there's no sense in making a change for the sake of change. The 49ers need to line up better options. Disliking your dilapidated car doesn't necessarily make you better off walking, in other words.

Lowell Cohn of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says the 49ers have relatively few building blocks. I think they've got good young talent lacking coordination and strong quarterback play.

Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News says Trent Baalke would not confirm reports suggesting he would become the 49ers' general manager.

Also from Brown: a 49ers report card with a "B" grade for Smith at quarterback.

Monte Poole of the Bay Area News Group says Smith followed up his initial thoughts by saying he could not envision returning to the 49ers.

Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat looks at key variables as the 49ers enter an unpredictable offseason. Maiocco: "Those close to Smith say he is ready for a change of scenery and has no plan of re-signing with the 49ers. And, of course, it would be unprecedented for a new coach to wish to retain a quarterback that played for two fired coaches. Publicly, Smith did not rule out anything following Sunday's game. But it was clear this season would be his last chance at making his case for a long-term future with the 49ers."

More from Maiocco: NaVorro Bowman and Alex Boone saw playing time in Week 17.