It’s too late for Alex Smith to save the San Francisco 49ers’ season. But the top overall pick in this year’s draft is still considered the struggling Niners’ best option at quarterback as they host the Arizona Cardinals in a matchup of the NFC West’s two worst teams.
“We didn’t draft Alex to be our savior,” said San Francisco coach Mike Nolan. “We drafted Alex for him to be the best quarterback on our football team, and would execute our offense in a way that we’d be good. That’s how I look at the quarterback position.”
Smith missed five straight games with a knee injury, watching San Francisco go 1-4 during that stretch, including Sunday’s 33-22 loss to Tennessee. The former Utah star will try to provide a boost for the NFL’s worst offense, averaging 217.5 yards per game.
San Francisco has scored 47 points over its last two games—both losses— after managing 15 in the previous two contests. Regardless of the numbers, the Niners have lost four straight and nine of 10 after a surprising season-opening win over St. Louis.
Smith wasn’t exactly setting the league on fire before his injury. In four games, he completed 23 of 50 passes for no touchdowns and five interceptions.
Making matters even more difficult for the rookie signal-caller this week will be the absence of center Jeremy Newberry, who was placed on injured reserve Tuesday and will undergo season-ending knee surgery. San Francisco re-signed offensive lineman Tony Wragge to help fill the void.
Scoring isn’t San Francisco’s only problem. The Niners also rank last in total defense, and gave up 461 yards to the Titans, yielding more than 300 for the fifth time this season. The defensive unit did manage its second touchdown of the season when Shawntae Spencer scored on a 61-yard interception return.
“We beat ourselves,” 49ers linebacker Julian Peterson said. “We have done that a number of times this season already. We just have to find a way to stop shooting ourselves in the foot.”
Kurt Warner completed 29 of 46 passes for 315 yards with two touchdowns and one interception but Arizona lost 24-17 to Jacksonville last week.
“Anytime we don’t win, in my book, it’s a minus,” said Warner, who has started seven games this season. “I am not for moral victories at this point. Let’s win. We have been close a lot, but we have to find a way to finish it.”
The close loss was a rarity for the Cardinals, who suffered their previous seven defeats by an average margin of 14.3 points.
Wide receiver Anquan Boldin, who helped key St. Louis’ 38-28 win over St. Louis two weeks ago, continued his strong play Sunday with 115 yards on 10 receptions against the Jaguars. Fellow wideout Larry Fitzgerald grabbed a five-yard touchdown pass from Warner.
Neil Rackers kicked a 42-yard field goal in the third quarter, but it was his 43-yard miss in the opening period that ended his string of 31 consecutive field goals. Rackers’ streak tied Fuad Reveiz (1994-95) for the third-longest in NFL history.
Arizona continues to struggle with penalties, racking up 21 and 216 yards in the past two games.
“Penalties hurt us and I think our guys understand it,” Cardinals coach Dennis Green said, “but they’re high strung, and they should be high strung. I don’t think you can be successful without being high strung. I think (Sunday) it didn’t help us being high strung.”