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It is customary in the NFL when a team does not live up to expectations that changes are made. In the NFL, it seems changes must be made.

Ordinarily, the parties held directly responsible are head coach, offensive and defensive coordinators, general manager and starting quarterback ? not necessarily in that order.

Did the 49ers fail to live up to expectations in 2009?

Team president Jed York delivered the message at the conclusion of last season that he believed the 49ers would never again be sitting at home when the playoffs begin. And coach Mike Singletary said he thought the club had the pieces in place for a run deep into the playoffs and be a ?special team.?

With the 49ers? 27-13 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday, the 49ers were officially eliminated from playoff contention. If they finish with wins over lowly Detroit and St. Louis, the 49ers? 8-8 record will be their most victories since 2002.

But in expressing his frustration that the 49ers? season will end with the regular-season finale Jan. 3 in St. Louis, Singletary also provided evidence for why his club was not ready to end the organization?s playoff drought.

?This is a team that is good enough ? they?re good enough,? Singletary said during his news conference Monday. ?They got to play perfect every week. The margin for error is very, very small. But this a team that is very, very close to being that playoff team.?

Playoff teams do not have to play ?perfect? every week. There is not a team in the league that plays anywhere near ?perfect? more than half of the games in a season. But playoff teams are able to win even when every phase of their game is not clicking.

Playoff teams have a built-in margin for error through talent, coaching and teamwork. And it?s nearly impossible for teams in constant states of flux at important positions to get there.

Since the 49ers last finished with a winning record and made it to the playoffs after the 2002 season, the club has undergone dramatic yearly alterations.

Singletary is the team?s fourth head coach since then; Jimmy Raye is the seventh offensive coordinator; Greg Manusky is the fourth defensive coordinator; Scot McCloughan is the third person with final say on personnel matters; and Alex Smith is one of nine starting quarterbacks over the past eight seasons.

With two games remaining in the regular season, it appears as if the 49ers are determined to maintain continuity. In the NFL, when organizations often make knee-jerk decisions in an attempt to remedy their problems, this apparent reaction ? or lack thereof ? could be a refreshing strategy.

York said last week he is pleased with the direction of the franchise under Singletary and McCloughan. Singletary, in turn, has voiced his satisfaction with Raye?s willingness to adjust his offense. There doesn?t seem to be any discontent with Manusky?s performance, either.

So what about quarterback?

Key figures in the organization have hinted Smith has shown enough promise to head into 2010 as the starter. And if anyone is going to benefit from status quo, Smith is that person.

Just consider what his college coach at Utah, Urban Meyer, said about his former quarterback just moments after the 49ers selected him with the No.1 overall draft pick in 2005. Meyer foreshadowed the importance of Smith remaining in the same system.

?It?s going to be interesting in San Francisco,? Meyer said. ?Alex is an extremely quick learner. However, he?s a guy that, until he understands it, he is nonfunctional. I keep hearing how Brett Favre kind of makes something out of nothing and is a person that runs around to make a play. Alex Smith is not that kind of player.

?Alex Smith has to learn it all. He might struggle early, but once he gets it, he gets it.?

Meyer added, ?That?s why, early in his career, and early in our career with him at Utah, he was not an effective passer, because he really didn?t understand. Once he understood, there was no one better. He?s not a guy that you throw the ball out there and tell him, ?Go play.? He wants to know what is exactly expected of him and then he becomes a dynamite player.?

Keeping the key figures of the 49ers? organization intact next season won?t guarantee success, but it might be the best chance at making that long-awaited return to the playoffs.

For more on the 49ers, go to Instant 49ers at blog.pressdemocrat.com/49ers. You can reach Staff Writer Matt Maiocco at matt.maiocco

@pressdemocrat.com.