KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Trailing by three touchdowns with one minute left in the third quarter, it figured the 49ers offense would develop a sense of urgency Sunday in a 31-10 loss to the Chiefs.
Instead, they ran three consecutive plays that surely made some of their fan base question whether they had lost their senses.
First, Frank Gore ran up the middle for two yards and a first down. Then, Gore gained five yards over left guard. Finally, on the first play of the fourth quarter, Gore probed the middle for three yards.
It was the type of conservative play-calling that has many fans questioning offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye. But coach Mike Singletary, when asked about the commitment to the run while trailing by 21 points, signed off on the strategy without hesitation.
"I think what we wanted to is, we felt like we could still create a balance," Singletary said. "The thing we did not want to do is go strictly into the pass. If you can't really execute them, then you are talking about your three-and-out and your defense is out on the field or they are just strictly pass rushing."
Singletary said changes would likely be coming in the wake of the loss - a defeat in which the offense didn't score a touchdown until the final play from scrimmage - but said Raye would remain the offensive coordinator.
Quarterback Alex Smith was asked, indirectly, about the offensive game plan and he didn't quite offer a ringing endorsement. Were the problems a result of execution or the offensive philosophy, he was asked.
"Like I said, when you play like this, I don't think you can point to one thing," Smith said. "We all have a hand in this. I don't think you can point to one area or another. I think we were all pretty ineffective."
In contrast, the Chiefs offensive coordinator Charlie Weis appeared to keep the Niners off-balance with a variety of screens to speedsters Jamaal Charles and Dexter McCluster, who combined for six catches for 126 yards. Kansas City then used some trickery - a 45-yard touchdown pass from Matt Cassel to Dwayne Bowe that began with running back Thomas Jones taking the snap in the Wildcat formation. The play gave the Chiefs a 17-3 third-quarter lead.
The Niners did try a similar play - a second-quarter flea-flicker on third-and-3 from the Chiefs 33 - but Smith threw the ball away after finding no open receivers.
"It gives us confidence as players," said Cassel when asked about the aggressive play-calling. "You can see it in the huddle, in the linemens eyes and in the running backs. They get energized; they get excited about going for it on certain plays and making big plays downfield."
<b>NOT ON THE SAME PAGE</b>
Wide receiver Michael Crabtree matched his season catch total with three catches for 37 yards, but it seems apparent his chemistry with Smith is still lacking.
On third-and-4 at the 49ers 30 in the second quarter, Smith's pass intended for Crabtree was batted in the air and intercepted by cornerback Brandon Flowers.
Crabtree, who missed the four exhibition games with a neck injury, said Smith's throw was too far inside. Smith said he expected Crabtree "to come in front" of Flowers, who jumped the route.