When the 49ers take the field Monday night in the Arizona desert in a prime-time game lacking consequence, they’ll once again set out in search of what has eluded them for so long: A quarterback who can win them some football games.
It’s been a painfully disappointing ordeal, one brought to light once again last Sunday, when — as the 49ers were taking the field for yet another disappointing effort — the difference in production between what this team has from the quarterback position and what it has needed was on display for all to see.
After throwing a late interception and seeing his team fall behind by four points, Mark Sanchez of the New York Jets came up with precisely what his team needed at that moment.
With the clock ticking down, Sanchez shook off his earlier disappointment and produced a pair of perfect throws at the perfect time, netting the Jets the perfect outcome, a come-from-behind victory snatched from the jaws of defeat.
How many times did the 49ers need a moment like this during this season of disappointment? Against the Falcons? The Eagles? The Panthers?
And what would a moment like the one Sanchez produced might have meant to this team’s confidence, belief and subsequent play?
There’s a huge difference between delivering enough to lose a close one and delivering what it takes to win. It’s almost impossible to calculate, but Joe Montana found it. So did Steve Young. And now young quarterbacks like Aaron Rodgers, Joe Flacco and Philip Rivers are finding it, too.
Alex Smith has not, and has never. Troy Smith may have captured his lightning in a bottle for two weeks, but can he find it again? For a season? Who knows?
For a National Football League franchise, the belief that the team’s quarterback can deliver what it takes to win permeates all the way down to the ballboys. It’s what the J.T. O’Sullivans, the Jeff Georges, the Matt Leinarts, the JaMarcus Russells, even the 41-year-old Brett Favre, are unable to do.
Unfortunately, I have to quote Raiders owner Al Davis: Just win, baby!
That’s all the fans of the 49ers have wanted from their quarterback. That’s why they didn’t want to trade the pedestrian winning efforts from Shaun Hill for the tantalizing, unproductive potential of Alex Smith.
Until now, Alex Smith has been the quarterback equivalent of a golfer who looks great on the range or a tennis player who can hit all the shots during warmups, but is unable to summon the shot he needs on the 18th hole or in a tiebreaker.
Unfortunately, Mike Singletary couldn’t resist. And the decision to bank this team’s season on Smith was the first domino that fell toward the disappointment this season has become.
This leaves the 49ers in the Arizona desert looking for their quarterback, and a good portion of their fans looking ahead to the 2011 NFL draft.
Tim Liotta is a freelance journalist and regular contributor to The Examiner. E-mail him at email@example.com