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.