NFL Nation: 49ers-Texans 102509

 
  Bob Levey/Getty Images
 San Francisco wide receiver Michael Crabtree ignited the 49ers offense Sunday in his first NFL start.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

HOUSTON -- The frustration of the moment prevented Mike Singletary from appreciating the bigger picture Sunday.

The 49ers' head coach, disconsolate after a 24-21 loss to the Houston Texans left his team with a 3-3 record, needed longer than the customary 10-minute cooling-off period before holding his postgame media session.

Singletary needed so long, in fact, that the 49ers pushed back his mandatory interview session until after players were finished with their media obligations.

"Very frustrating to come down here and get 21 points behind in the first half," Singletary said. "There is no reason for that."

There are plenty of reasons, including a few on defense and special teams, but those weren't the story for the 49ers.

While Singletary is entitled to his misery and apparently bound by it, the rest of us are free to embrace greater meaning when Alex Smith repeatedly hits Vernon Davis, Michael Crabtree and Josh Morgan in the numbers with it.

Two shockingly strong quarters from Smith at quarterback could not reverse four years of disappointment, but even Singletary had to acknowledge what Crabtree brought to his offense in the rookie's first NFL game following the longest contract dispute in 49ers' history.

"Do I think he did a great job today?" Singletary asked. "Absolutely."

The rookie receiver is a star in the making and everyone associated with the 49ers can see it.

Crabtree played all but six offensive snaps.

The 49ers converted four times on third down and Crabtree caught passes on three of them (for 35 yards). A penalty for illegal procedure against Morgan wiped out a 17-yard reception for Crabtree on a first-down play. Crabtree finished with five receptions for 56 yards, catching more passes than any wide receiver in the game, including the Texans' Andre Johnson, who suffered a chest injury late and did not return.

"I saw a guy that's going to be a good football player," Texans cornerback Dunta Robinson said. "He ran good routes and you know he's fearless. ... I think he's going to be a very good pro in this league."

You can forget the diva talk about Crabtree, too. He's the real deal.

Offensive linemen do not walk across locker rooms following defeats to initiate handshakes with divas. It's against the lineman's code. Left tackle Joe Staley made a special trip to commend Crabtree after this one, all the evidence anyone should need that Crabtree has already earned his place in the starting lineup.

Crabtree conducts himself with the poise of a five-year veteran. The receiver's competitiveness and diligence also distinguish him.

And when perhaps 15 reporters crowded around Crabtree's locker, the receiver handled their queries effortlessly. The moment was not too big for him.

"I was kind of calm," Crabtree said. "I practiced on being calm and coming into the game and executing my plays. I did a good job and I have more work to do."

Did the time he spent catching passes from Smith during the bye week help their timing?

"I guess both have the same timing, both quarterbacks are good," Crabtree said. "My place is running routes and whoever is throwing the ball, it's my job to catch it. I like Alex, I like them both."

Right answer. Promoting Smith at Hill's expense would have become a story. Crabtree didn't bite.

Singletary declined to name Smith his starter for Week 8 even though the decision should be an easy one.

Smith completed 15 of 22 passes for 206 yards and three touchdowns. His lone interception came on a desperation fourth-down play in the final seconds. Smith took no sacks despite occasional pressure and he scrambled twice for 16 yards. The 49ers were dramatically better with him in the lineup.

Smith led a five-play, 63-yard touchdown drive to open the second half. He led a 10-play, 66-yard touchdown drive spanning the third and fourth quarters. And when the 49ers' defense could not stop the Texans from driving to a field goal for a 24-14 lead with 7:21 remaining, Smith led a seven-play, 73-yard touchdown drive to give the 49ers a chance.

"Everyone was getting excited," said Davis, who caught touchdown passes covering 29, 14 and 23 yards. "They started to believe. that's what it's about."

Starter Shaun Hill wasn't solely to blame for the 49ers' early troubles, of course, but he was a limiting factor Sunday. Hill checked down to Frank Gore on one play when Crabtree might have been open. Smith was much more aggressive pressing the ball down the field and the line seemed to block better for him.

The 49ers will find out next week whether the quarterback change produced only a temporary spark. The team's problems at both guard spots and right tackle aren't going away.

"Starting the second half down three scores, you're seeing some stagnant looks from the defense and they're not throwing as much at you," Smith said.

Smith hadn't played in a regular-season game since 2007 and there was little reason to expect instant success once Singletary made the change. But the 2005 No. 1 overall draft choice threw three touchdown passes in two quarters after Hill tossed five in 22.

The 49ers know where their offense was heading with Hill at quarterback.

With Hill under siege and struggling, Crabtree proved as functional as an aftermarket spoiler on an old Buick. He was a $10,000 set of rims on a $5,000 beater.

The 49ers entered Week 7 with a roster featuring 33 of their own draft choices, tied with the Colts for second-most in the league (the Packers had 35).

It's about time they started getting more in return for their investments.

The second half Sunday was a start.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

HOUSTON -- Let the Alex Smith era begin anew.

The 49ers had to like what they saw even in defeat Sunday, with Smith coming off the bench to throw three touchdown passes -- all to tight end Vernon Davis -- as the 49ers extracted themselves from a deep halftime hole.

Benching Shaun Hill for Smith at halftime could have played out as a desperate move if Smith hadn't rallied the 49ers. Smith validated the decision by playing better than any 49ers quarterback in recent memory.

Losing to the Texans hurt the 49ers in the standings. They will probably fall to 3-4 after visiting the Colts in Week 8. But the longer-term future appears quite a bit brighter after Smith, Davis, rookie receiver Michael Crabtree and even Josh Morgan -- all 49ers draft choices -- made significant contributions.

Crabtree quickly emerged as the best wide receiver on the team. He was clutch on third down and appeared to play an error-free game in terms of the basics (Morgan was the one flagged for illegal procedure). Davis emerged as a dynamic threat over the deep middle.

If the 49ers were going to lose a game, this wasn't a bad way to lose one. They can feel better about their future.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

HOUSTON -- Alex Smith's second touchdown pass to Vernon Davis in three drives as the 49ers' new starter cements his status as the top quarterback beyond this game, I would think.
 Smith


Smith appears poised and under control. He appears decisive. The pressure is off and he is responding.

The offense has responded well to Smith. Josh Morgan and Michael Crabtree are making plays on third down. Davis is working the middle of the field.

The outlook is suddenly much brighter for the 49ers, even as Andre Johnson is getting open deep for the Texans as I type this.

Smith has shown good instincts in this game, sensing the rush and knowing when to scramble. He looks good so far.

By the way, the Texans' Johnson is down with an injury right now. Not sure the severity.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

HOUSTON -- The 49ers' unexpected selection of receiver Michael Crabtree made some think Alex Smith might be better suited than Shaun Hill to run the offense.

The thinking was that Smith would be better suited to the intermediate and deeper passing game.

Crabtree was late in signing, Smith showed little during the exhibition season and the thought faded quickly.

With Crabtree making his debut and the offense struggling Sunday, the 49ers made the switch to Smith at halftime. Smith immediately led the 49ers down the field to a touchdown, finding Crabtree and Vernon Davis over the middle.

This could wind up being a best-case scenario for the 49ers, even if they lose this game (Houston leads, 21-7). Smith was 2 of 2 for 46 yards and a touchdown during the drive to open the second half. The quarterback change also forced the Texans to adjust at the line. Smith's cadence drew Houston offside.

We'll see if the 49ers can sustain their success now that the Texans kinow Smith is at quarterback.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

HOUSTON -- Those wondering whether the 49ers might be inclined to switch quarterbacks after welcoming Michael Crabtree to the lineup didn't have to wait long.

Alex Smith is starting the second half at quarterback for the 49ers and the move appears to be sparking the offense.

Lots to talk about after this game.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

HOUSTON -- The 49ers and Rams trail by a combined 42-3 at halftime in Week 7.

The 49ers haven't looked this bad on offense since ... Week 5, actually.

I expected better from the 49ers. They have now been outscored 52-3 in their last five quarters.

Michael Crabtree looks pretty good so far, but the 49ers aren't getting him the ball. I thought Shaun Hill could have thrown to him over the middle on one play. Poor pass protection has hurt the 49ers too many other times, however.

I'm already looking forward to the Cardinals and Giants tonight. Perhaps at least one NFC West team will make an impact.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

HOUSTON -- The 49ers' decision to release return specialist Allen Rossum appears dubious after Arnaz Battle muffed a punt, setting up the Texans' second touchdown Sunday.

Battle appeared to lose track of the ball in the sunlight.

The 49ers released Rossum when they activated Michael Crabtree. It's impossible to know how Rossum would have fared fielding that punt, but he could not have fared worse than Battle fared. A costly, costly blunder.

On another subject: Crabtree does have one reception, a 4-yarder on third-and-16 after you know who -- right guard Chilo Rachal -- allowed a sack on second down.

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