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SAN FRANCISCO — In a bizarre night at Candlestick Park, Alex Smith's improbable bid to transform himself from whipping boy to wonder boy came up just short.

Smith, the 49ers long-embattled quarterback, committed three turnovers, was booed endlessly, nearly yanked from the game and, yet, he was nearly hailed as a hero in San Francisco's 27-24 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday night.

After Smith couldn't pull off a minor miracle — failing to extract the Niners from a 14-point fourth-quarter deficit he helped create — San Francisco will now need some sort of magic to save its sinking season. The 49ers dropped to 0-5, matching their worst start in 31 years, and instead of cruising to the NFC West title, as was widely predicted, they are one of the NFL's three winless teams. No 0-5 team has ever made the playoffs.

For much of the past week, coach Mike Singletary and his players have said they need to stop shooting themselves in the foot, to borrow their oft-repeated phrase. And following their latest clinic in self-destruction, their marching orders haven't changed.

The stats from Sunday: Three fumbles. Two interceptions. Ten penalties.

The Niners have lost three games by a combined eight points. And the script has looked strikingly familiar. In those three defeats, they've committed 12 turnovers.

"The thing we knew we could not do was turn over the ball," Singletary said. "But yet we did it."

With more than 13 minutes left, San Francisco, despite three previous turnovers, still trailed just 17-10.

But then, true to form, they drove the nail into their own coffin with a miscue that unleashed five weeks of frustration from the Niners faithful.

On a second-and-5 from the Philadelphia 35, Smith, under pressure from Eagles defensive end Brandon Graham, rolled left and fumbled while attempting to pass. The loose ball was scooped up by safety Quintin Mikell and returned for a 52-yard touchdown.

The turnover — one of Smith's 10 this season — unleashed an angry torrent of boos. The boos were occasionally drowned out by chants of "We want Carr!" — as the fans pleaded for backup David Carr, a journeyman on his third team in four years who has thrown six touchdowns since 2007.

After Smith threw three straight incompletions on the series following his fumble, it appeared the fans would get their wish. Singletary had some forceful words for Smith on the sideline and Carr began warming up.

Singletary conceded the obvious: He was considering putting Carr in the game. But, he said, he also wanted to see how Smith responded when told he was getting benched. After the game, Singletary said a quarterback change was possible this week.

"I thought at the moment, I really wanted to see what his response would be," Singletary said. "More than anything, in a situation, like that, a quarterback ... that has anything in him is going to have something to say about that. And we were in a situation, how do we get out of the situation? Hopefully you're part of the solution. And I think in the conversation that we had, I felt he felt he was part of the solution. And we went forward from there."

Tight end Vernon Davis said Smith initially didn't handle Singletary's lecture very well.

"He didn't know what to do," Davis said. "He didn't know how to handle it at first. So I had to take it upon myself to go over and talk to him and get his head right ... But he bounced back. He went out there after I talked to him and he continued to play."

Smith, who had an extended meeting with Singletary after the game, said some of the sideline drama was a bit of a blur. But he did understand that Singletary planned on pulling him. And he did make it clear that he wanted no part of getting benched.

"Obviously I was frustrated at the time, frustrated with myself, frustrated with my play, but didn't feel like he gave us a chance with me coming out," Smith said. "I felt like it wasn't right — that's basically what I told him."

After the tongue-lashing from Singletary, Smith was, again, heartily booed when he returned to the field on the Niners' next drive. Carr also stepped on the field with the Niners offense for the next series. Then, in an odd scene, Carr returned to the bench and Smith, in another odd scene, stayed and suddenly looked masterful in leading San Francisco on two straight touchdown drives.

Smith (25 of 39, 309 yards, 3 TDs, 2 INT) began by leading a six-play, 69-yard drive that he capped with a seven-yard strike over the middle to Davis to cut the gap to 24-17 with 7:35 left.

After the Eagles responded with a field goal, Smith again went to work with 4:22 left following a 61-yard kickoff return by Ted Ginn. The ensuing seven-play, 36-yard march was finished with Smith's one-yard pass to running back Frank Gore and the Niners trailed 27-24 with 2:02 remaining.

After San Francisco's defense forced a three-and-out, the Niners took over at their own 32 with one timeout left and 1:28 left on the clock. Smith connected with Davis on a 27-yarder over the middle, San Francisco was at the Eagles' 44 with 46 seconds remaining.

The improbable comeback, however, came up short. After two straight incompletions, Smith was drilled as he threw and his pass fluttered into the hands of cornerback Trevard Lindley for a game-sealing interception.

Smith's performance was a curious mixture of bad and brilliant. His three touchdown passes matched a career-high and his 309 yards were one shy of matching his career-best. But for the fourth time in five games he threw two interceptions and his fumble, he admitted after the game, basically decided the outcome.

He said he understood the fans' venom.

"They're sports fans ... They bought tickets out," Smith said. "I'd be pretty frustrated. I'd be pretty pissed off, too. I was. I was pissed off at myself. I don't think you can boo yourself though."

Much like their furious finish, the Niners opened the game with great promise. Their 11-play, 51-yard drive, set up by Ginn's 44-yard kickoff return, was capped by Smith's seven-yard strike to Michael Crabtree, who made a sliding catch in the back of the end zone to give San Francisco a 7-0 lead.

It marked the second straight game that the 49ers had a game-opening touchdown drive under offensive coordinator Mike Johnson. Under former offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye they hadn't managed a game-opening touchdown in 19 games.

Similar to last week's 16-14 loss in Atlanta, however, the Niners' offense couldn't sustain the momentum.

On their next three drives, Gore fumbled, Smith threw an interception and they went three-and-out. As the offense stalled, the Eagles scored 17 straight points.

Eagles quarterback Kevin Kolb, subbing for injured Michael Vick, showed why he was named Philadelphia's opening-day starter. Kolb, making his fourth career start, completed 12 of 14 passes for 123 yards with a touchdown in the first half to give the Eagles a 17-10 halftime lead.

On Philadelphia's first drive, he capped a 10-play, 85-yard march with an eight-yard touchdown strike to tight end Brent Celek in which he shooed away Ray McDonald and Manny Lawson while rolling right.

David Akers kicked a 33-yard field goal to give the Eagles a 10-7 lead and then running back LeSean McCoy did some heavy lifting. On the first play after the two-minute warning, McCoy, playing with a broken rib, shimmied 29 yards for a score and Philadelphia had a 17-7 lead.

For more on the 49ers, go to Instant 49ers at blog.pressdemocrat.com/49ers. You can reach Staff Writer Eric Branch at eric.branch@pressdemocrat.com and follow him at twitter.com/Eric_Branch.

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