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Singletary: QB Smith's starting job not in danger

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Alex Smith continues to dwell at the bottom of the NFL passer rankings, but his starting job remains safe with the 0-4 San Francisco 49ers.

For now, at least.

Despite Smith's struggles and the effect they've had on a winless team, coach Mike Singletary said Wednesday that he's not considering a change at quarterback.

"I am nowhere near that point," Singletary said. "When I look at Alex, I see growing pains of not just Alex Smith, but our team. I think Alex has done a decent job, and going forward he's only going to get better. Hopefully, we're at a point right now where everybody is growing up."

Smith, in his sixth NFL season, is tied for the league lead with seven interceptions, and his 66.1 passer rating places makes him 27th among the 30 quarterbacks who qualify for the NFL rankings. He's 27th in average gain per pass attempt and is tied for 25th in touchdown passes.

Smith's problems were magnified during last week's 16-14 loss at Atlanta. After guiding the 49ers 88 yards to a touchdown on their opening drive, Smith threw two second-half interceptions that helped the Falcons rally from an early 14-0 deficit.

Smith also overthrew wide-open receiver Josh Morgan on a deep pass that could have gone for a touchdown late in the fourth quarter. Later on the same drive, with the 49ers clinging to a one-point lead, Smith took an intentional-grounding penalty on third down that pushed San Francisco out of field goal range.

These struggles are nothing new for Smith, the first player selected in the 2005 NFL Draft. He has been inconsistent throughout his career and takes a 68.9 career quarterback rating into Sunday night's game against the visiting Philadelphia Eagles.

This year was supposed to be different with San Francisco entering the season as an NFC West favorite and Smith playing consecutive seasons under the same offensive coordinator for the first time in his career.

But now that coordinator is gone after Jimmy Raye was fired last week. Quarterbacks coach Mike Johnson was elevated to take Raye's place. And the criticism Smith has heard throughout his career continues to grow louder.

"I'm not reading a bunch of sports pages or listening to talk radio," Smith said Wednesday. "But I do get it. As a starting quarterback in the NFL, you are more responsible for wins and losses than any player on the field. We're 0-4, and I'm the starting quarterback, so no question a lot of that falls on my shoulders."

Smith remains unfazed. He's confident both he and the 49ers can still turn around the season. San Francisco is just two games off the NFC West lead and has five division games remaining on its schedule.

The 49ers will need better play from their quarterback to get back into contention. San Francisco's offense has been mostly ineffective, ranking 31st in the NFL in points scored with only versatile running back Frank Gore making much of an impact.

Gore leads the NFC with 533 total yards from scrimmage and is second in the conference with 29 receptions. But starting wideouts Morgan and Michael Crabtree have combined for just 23 receptions as Smith has struggled to get in sync with his receivers.

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"It's not Alex's fault," Morgan said. "Nothing that's happening is Alex's fault. It's us as a whole team. We just haven't been able to execute. We just have to grow up and make the plays count when they're there."

The 49ers could get some help on offense this week from center Eric Heitmann and receiver Ted Ginn, who are practicing and expected to be available for the Eagles game.

Heitmann, San Francisco's most consistent offensive lineman in recent seasons, broke his left fibula in August and has yet to play. Ginn, San Francisco's best deep threat, sustained a sprained knee in the season opener and hasn't played since.

The 49ers are attempting to become the first team since the 1992 San Diego Chargers to rebound from a 0-4 start and make the playoffs.

Notes: Singletary commented for the first time on reports that he declined to shake hands with Atlanta coach Mike Smith after last week's game. "That was poor sportsmanship on my behalf," Singletary said. "I should have went over and shook his hand. I chose not to, for a number of reasons. I was disappointed, and that was a very honest feeling after the game." ... Cornerback Will James is expected to be available to play against the Eagles. James has been out since injuring an ankle during San Francisco's Aug. 15 preseason opener.

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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