By Scott Ostler
San Francisco Chronicle
Tuesday, December 20, 2011
Ah, San Francisco - the only NFL city that has stadium mood lighting.
Romantic table for 69,732? Right this way.
Unfortunately, the fans who came to the Steelers-49ers game Monday night didn't get the PG&E memo asking each fan to bring a candlestick to Candlestick.
There was little or no panic in the stands when the lights went out twice, probably because about half the people in the seats were Pennsylvania coal miners, accustomed to pitch-black working conditions.
On the field, nobody was happy. The Steelers suspected foul play, maybe Jim Harbaugh gamesmanship. You can't trust Harbaugh's handshakes, why trust him with the light switches?
The 49ers were ticked off because the two long delays gave Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger time to heal his sprained ankle.
Meanwhile, south of the 'Stick, the folks planning to build the 49ers a stadium rushed to update their website with a new slogan: "Santa Clara: We've got lektricity!"
Not that clever, but better than San Francisco's new motto: "We're half-lit."
And this is so San Francisco: During the first blackout, somebody spotted Reddi Kilowatt under the bleachers, smoking a doobie.
When word went out that the problem was a balky transformer, the news got twisted on the Internet, leaving folks back in Pittsburgh and around the country asking, "Is that the San Francisco thing where you can't decide which way to dress?"
Hey, it was a goofy night, but this is a season for the unpredictable and unexpected for the 49ers.
At the beginning of the season (we now move to football talk), who would have predicted that at Week 15, 49ers quarterback Alex Smith would be on the team, let alone that he would outplay Roethlisberger?
Sure, Roethlisberger was injured, playing on a badly sprained ankle that left him as mobile as a peg-legged pirate captain. Still.
Incidentally, why was Roethlisberger even in the game? The Steelers are fighting for favorable playoff position, but Roethlisberger was a glacier.
Throwing off one foot, Roethlisberger threw two interceptions in the first quarter. And his signature, extending the play by buying time by ducking and weaving and knocking people over, was null and void.
Even in the fourth quarter, the Steelers in a no-chance situation, Roethlisberger played. For whom? For what?
Smith, meanwhile, continues to be the most fascinating quarterback in the NFL, with all due respect to Tim Tebow. Much of football is entranced by the theater of Tebow, but is convinced he is a passing (or non-passing) fad.
Smith exists in the real NFL world, and he's the most unexplainable quarterback on a contending team. With him, the question persists: Can the 49ers finish strong and continue to perform with a quarterback who has improved more than any QB in the league, but so often seems a cut below the big guys, the Roethlisbergers, Rodgerses, Bradys, Breeses and their elite ilk?
There's no doubt in Jim Harbaugh's mind.
"Tremendous job by Alex Smith," the 49ers' head coach said. "He was just on the money all night long. Played great. There's no doubt in my mind that he deserves to go to the Pro Bowl. He's had that kind of season, and he really put an exclamation point on that tonight."
Really good, and efficient. Check.
Appropriately, Smith's civvies Monday night included his Harbaugh-issued blue-collar gas-station-attendant shirt with "Alex" on one pocket. And his S.F. Giants ballcap.
Against the best pass defense in the league, Smith was 18-for-31 for 187 yards, one touchdown, zero interceptions and zero sacks - after taking 18 sacks the previous three games.
Harbaugh, showing faith in Smith, didn't shy away from the pass against the hawkish Steelers. Five of the first eight plays were passes.
Along with the efficiency, Smith had flashes of hotness - not to be confused with hot flashes. Such as the 49ers' first touchdown drive in the third quarter. He faked the Pittsburgh defenders out of their jocks on back-to-back plays - a 21-yard, cross-field, over-the-shoulder loft to Vernon Davis, then a play-action flip to Davis alone in the end zone.
Yes, Davis was back in the thick of the offense: six catches for 72 yards.
"Feels good to be back in the passing game," Davis said.
The touchdown pass was a nice red-zone moment for the 49ers, who, to that point, had scored touchdowns on only three of their previous 20 trips to the red zone. Red zone? For the 49ers, it has been more like the Bermuda Rectangle.
Big night for Smith, big win for 49ers. Turn out the lights, the party's just starting.
E-mail Scott Ostler at firstname.lastname@example.org.