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SAN FRANCISCO

Give the 49ers credit for winning a game 10-6, a score you?d more readily associate with baseball than football. In their previous game the Niners had given up a lead, but against the Chicago Bears they held onto their lead, such as it was.

That may be a sign of progress. On the other hand, the Bears are a very bad football team. They out-gained the Niners in total net yards 350-216, a sizable advantage, and almost surely would have won except for one thing. They have Jay Cutler at quarterback. From Chicago?s point of view Cutler is either a subversive in their midst or an arsonist always trying to burn down his own house.

He threw five interceptions. He threw recklessly and badly, but give him credit for one thing. He was consistent ? consistently self-destructive. The 49ers were the beneficiaries of his quarterback sins and they surely contributed to some of them.

The 49ers played a steadier offensive game than the Bears. Give them credit for that, also. Their offense is boring and rudimentary, but given Cutler?s in-game insanity it was appropriate and it was enough.

Alex Smith is the current quarterback and it is clear the 49ers don?t allow him much leeway. Obviously, they are afraid he has an inner Jay Cutler ready to go berserk at any moment, so he throws a bunch of short passes and mostly he hands off the ball. He handed off very well in the fourth quarter when the 49ers sustained a long drive of more than six minutes and put away the game. On that drive, which led to no points, Smith threw two passes and completed one.

You wonder if Smith is the 49ers? quarterback of the future. Asked how Smith played, Singletary shrugged and replied, ?I thought he did OK.?

OK is a ?C? or a ?C+.? You know for sure Shaun Hill isn?t the quarterback of the future. You wonder if any quarterback on the roster is the quarterback of the future.

The 49ers get credit for lots of things, but they don?t get credit for playing well or being creative or daring. They played it safe.

The Bears, by comparison, were nuts until the very end. On their last drive, when a touchdown could have won the game, they once lined up without enough men and were penalized for that. After that, they were called for illegal contact and offensive holding. These Bears showed a disturbing tendency to hurt themselves.

Like what happened at the end. They were driving for the win, had the ball at the 49ers? 12 and, of course, Cutler threw a pick, a beauty if picks can be considered beautiful. It was his fifth and final pick and, of course, he leads the league in interceptions.

Afterward, Singletary looked like a man who?d just been granted a reprieve from the firing squad. ?I?m thankful we were able to go out there and do the things we needed to do on the defensive side of the ball,? he said.

He said the game plan focused on creating turnovers. If you were playing Jay Cutler it would make sense to focus on turnovers, although if you forgot he?d be happy to remind you.

Singletary did not seem as jacked up about the offense. ?On the offensive side of the ball we did not do all the things we thought we could,? he said. ?We did just enough on offense to win the game.?

So, we come back to the key fact. The 49ers won. There is all the difference in the world between a win and a loss. But based on their performance you wonder where exactly the 49ers are. As bad as the Bears are ? and they are horrendous ? they almost pulled it out. The Niners want to be a playoff team and, even though they won, you can?t imagine a group this limited making the playoffs.

There?s another way of stating this. They won?t play against Cutler every week, although they?d sure like to.

To summarize the status of his team, Singletary said, ?We just have a lot of work to do.? The 49ers? next game is in Green Bay. They have a lot of work to do for that one.

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.