SANTA CLARA — His coach says bad things happen when Alex Smith "presses."
Now, the 49ers' embattled quarterback will have to pull off quite a trick: Making good things happen when the pressure on him has never been greater.
One week after narrowly avoiding a benching, Smith will be playing to retain his starting spot and to help save the Niners' fast-crumbling season when San Francisco (0-5) hosts the Raiders (2-3) today at Candlestick Park. All this seven days after 49ers coach Mike Singletary gave him a sideline tongue lashing and nearly inserted backup David Carr, a dust-up that only increased the already intense level of scrutiny on the sixth-year quarterback.
Hey, no pressure, Alex.
"I just feel that at some point in time, not only do I realize it, but he realized that you know what, I've got to play my game," Singletary said. "I've got to be who I am. And go out there and get it done. And I believe that's what he's going to do."
The most important thing Smith can do is limit his turnovers. It can be reasonably argued that Smith, who has thrown an NFL-high nine interceptions, has been the primary reason the Niners are 0-5 instead of 3-2. In three losses by a combined eight points, Smith has committed seven turnovers — all in opponents' territory — including four inside the 36-yard line.
Safe to say, the Raiders' defense wants to follow the blueprint: Harass Smith and accept the resulting charity.
"Hopefully we can put some pressure on Alex Smith," Oakland defensive tackle Tommy Kelly told the San Francisco Chronicle. "He's had a little trouble throwing it to the other team this year."
Smith, who ranks 27th in the NFL with a 71.6 passer rating, has his own blueprint for improving on his mistake-filled performances — playing more fearlessly and taking more chances downfield.
On the surface, it sounds like a recipe for more disaster. But Smith has been at his best this season in San Francisco's two-minute offense — situations in which he's been forced to let it rip.