We’ll be elbows deep in ‘Mullens Mania’ until the San Francisco 49ers play the New York Giants. Given how bad the Giants are, it may very well continue past that game. The 49ers have a history of playing the quarterback merry go-round and oftentimes it hasn’t ended well. Given all the love we’ve been spewing on Nick Mullens, this writer included, it’s probably time to bring up the last time a backup quarterback for the 49ers took the starting job after a brilliant game.
No, not that time, I meant the OTHER time a backup quarterback took a starter’s job.
No, not that time either. You know what? Forget it. Not even trying cryptic stuff here.
I’m talking about the last time a third string quarterback took the starting job. A chance to save Mike Singletary’s job and put Alex Smith on the bench for good. Yep, I’m talking about Troy Smith.
In 2010, the 49ers were a disaster and starting quarterback Alex Smith was feeling the brunt of it. The “We want Carr!” chants were heard loud and clear during a home game against the Philadelphia Eagles, and head coach Mike Singletary looked even more agitated on the sidelines than usual. The fans would get their wish in Week 7 against the Carolina Panthers, where Alex Smith suffered a shoulder injury.
The game didn’t go well. Carr went 5 for 13, getting a paltry 67 yards and throwing a late-game interception. Heading into Week 8 against the Denver Broncos, Alex Smith’s injury was still an issue. It was obvious the 49ers would need to go in a different direction.
Enter Troy Smith, a third string quarterback signed from the Baltimore Ravens. In Week 8, the 49ers traveled to London to face the Broncos and Troy Smith started. And didn’t show much in the first half. Of course it’s not how you start, but how you finish — and Troy Smith finishing the game having completed 12 of 19 (63.2 percent) passes for 196 yards, one touchdown, no interceptions, and a 115.2 passer rating.
Not too shabby. Of course the 49ers would have to give it another week. It was a life or death situation with the fans hatred towards Alex Smith after all. It was that bad. So in came the (then) St. Louis Rams. Troy Smith again impressed, completed 17 of 28 (60.7) passes for 356 yards, one touchdown, and a 116.7 passer rating.
So the 49ers found their quarterback right? Nope.
The next three games, Troy Smith would not get above a 65 passer rating. A far cry from the 115 and 116 he posted in his first two starts. He’d also average an interception each game. One of these gems was an awful blow out suffered at the hands of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It goes without saying the 49ers were ready to return to Alex Smith and ride out the awful season.
But it didn’t end there. Troy Smith’s finest hour came in the Week 16 game against the Rams. See, the 49ers had a chance to make it to the playoffs. A chance with a losing record, but still a chance. So the battle for the division was held in St. Louis, and wouldn’t you know, Troy Smith would get the start.
He wouldn’t finish. Instead, after more paltry play, this happened (go here if the DMCA biscuits block the below video):
That is Mike Singletary arguing with Troy Smith after more poor play. Alex Smith would come finish the game and fumble it away, sending the Rams to fight for the West in Seattle. This is a turn of events that led to Seattle winning and the unfortunately awesome “Beast Quake” playoff game.
Singletary didn’t even make it to the end of the season. Following the Rams loss, the 49ers fired him and inserted Jim Tomsula to close out the season. Alex Smith played the final game against the Arizona Cardinals.
Troy Smith was not brought back for 2011 when the 49ers hired Jim Harbaugh. And Alex Smith, under good coaching for once, became one of the better quarterbacks in the NFL. This was the last time a third stringer took the starting role, and Troy Smith showed all sorts of promise. After that game against the Broncos, there was some hope the 49ers found their quarterback. Unfortunately, once film was seen and tendencies developed (as well as awful coaching in an even worse offensive system) Troy was proven to be worse than Alex — so much so he never made an NFL 53-man roster after that season.
Let’s hope history doesn’t repeat itself with Mullens.