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GLENDALE, Ariz.

The 49ers beat the Arizona Cardinals because San Francisco coach Mike Singletary turned out to be dead wrong. That?s right, he was wrong about the most important things and because he was wrong, he had to change his offensive approach and that change won the game.

Before I get into Singletary?s general wrongness, I want to praise him for what he got right. He deserves praise for winning the game, for beating a Super Bowl team and a division rival on the road. He deserves praise for making his team tough, for making a team that refused to feel discouraged. He deserves praise for finally having a pass rush, a rush that made Arizona quarterback Kurt Warner antsy and erratic and inaccurate. He deserves praise for all of that.

But he still got the most important thing wrong. He told everyone the 49er offense would consist of running the ball. The passing game would be vestigial, and quarterback Shaun Hill would be the silent partner, sort of like the ugly buddy of the hero. Singletary could not imagine Hill actually winning the game. It is a Stone Age philosophy, if you even can call it a philosophy.

But the running game did not win the game. Frank Gore gained 30 yards, a pitiful number. And he often looked pitiful, Cardinal defenders grabbing him by the legs and slamming him down as if they were buckaroos in a calf-roping contest.

Late in the game, Singletary still didn?t get it. In the third quarter the Niners needed to expand their skimpy lead and there was Gore running three times in a row for hardly anything and the 49ers punting and the Cardinals coming right back with a touchdown that tied things up.

Finally, Singletary went away from his run-o-mania, although he never will admit that.

Here is Singletary, in denial-flagrante: ?We knew coming in here they wanted to take away our run. We felt it necessary to stay with it just to keep pounding it and the game would take care of itself. It?s tough sometimes when you do that. The offensive line was getting frustrated, but they hung in there and when you had to have it, you had it.?

Please understand what he was saying because it?s the official propaganda he?s selling to you and himself. He?s saying it didn?t matter that the running game stunk. Actually, it?s OK it stunk because it softened up the Cardinal defense and set the stage for Hill to save the day. Without Gore flopping like a mackerel at the line of scrimmage, Hill never stood a chance. This is a patently ridiculous explanation. If you insist on believing it, well, I own a hedge fund I?d like you to buy into.

Here?s what really happened. The run-first ?philosophy? proved wanting and at some point Singletary and offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye decided to go conventional ? as in throw the damn ball like a normal team. That?s where Hill came in. Until then, he had been playing quarterback like a man in a straightjacket. But at the beginning of the fourth quarter, Singletary took him out of the straightjacket and allowed him to play football.

Funny thing, the guy could play. Hill directed a drive that took more than seven minutes and devoured 80 yards. It showcased a passer, not a runner, and Hill completed nine throws, including a touchdown to Gore. He did this under pressure and it was the winning drive and it had nothing ? I repeat nada, zilch ? to do with the run offense allegedly wearing down the defense before that.

In other words, Singletary almost blew the game for the Niners, but he didn?t because he wised up and ditched his loser philosophy. I praise him for that. Afterward, someone asked how he felt about winning an ?ugly? game.

?I?m going to tell you like this,? he said. ?I could care less whether it?s an ugly game. But it was beautiful for us. Today, if you can?t see the character on the field, then you missed the whole purpose of the game.?

Now, that?s a philosophy everyone can agree with.

For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at blog.pressdemocrat.com/cohn. You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at lowell.cohn@pressdemocrat.com.