They bet the house on Alex Smith in 2010, and there's no turning back from it now. Even if the 49ers really wish they could.
Actually, 49ers team president Jed York bet everything on Mike Singletary, and he's the one who chose to push all the chips in on Smith, one last time.
Oops: At the moment, the 49ers are 0-4, and Smith is playing as erratically as he has his entire NFL career.
"I thought overall Alex was pretty decent in the game," Singletary said of Smith's two-interception performance in Sunday's 16-14 loss to Atlanta.
But Singletary probably didn't mean it seriously. Or he was grading Smith on a curve that even Singletary understands is far too lenient.
And there's nothing for York or Singletary to do except hold their breaths (again) and hope Smith comes around in time to save the season and perhaps Singletary's job along the way.
If Smith can't do it, the high hopes and big dreams of the 2010 season are lost. That was the bet.
On Monday, Singletary spelled out what had become obvious the last seven months of rationalizations and 49ers non-moves:
He cleared out the quarterback spot for Smith, set up the offensive staff, and intentionally brought in a backup (David Carr) who posed zero threat.
"I think the only person that Alex Smith needed to really compete with this year is himself," Singletary said, "and get rid of some of the ghosts that he already has.
"That's the competition I felt was the most important thing for him to get rid of. And I think he's working through that."
Working through it? Maybe, if this is a 10-year Build Alex plan.
But while that lengthy process continues, the 49ers sink further -- they're off to their worst start since 2004, when they finished 2-14 -- and Smith's 66.1 passer rating is lower than his career rating of 68.9.
Smith's interceptions Sunday both came in crucial situations, and now he has seven on the season, compared to only three touchdown passes.
How much responsibility does Smith bear for this?
"A ton," Smith said Monday. "Especially after a loss. I take a lot on my shoulders for yesterday. Two crit-ical errors and it cost us, looking back. To win consistently, you can't do that."
Singletary said he truly believes that the 49ers don't need greatness out of the quarterback -- not if the defense is dominating and the run game is consistent.
So far, not much of that has happened, and when things break down, it almost always is nice to have a quarterback who can win.
Sunday's loss brought Smith's career record as a starter to 16-28. In his most recent run, dating to Game 7 last season, Smith has looked more confident, but the 49ers are 5-9.
Still, Singletary knows that Carr is absolutely not the answer. He knows it too well because he brought him here precisely for that reason and Carr has done nothing to disprove that conclusion.
The answer had to come last offseason.
Instead, the 49ers released Shaun Hill (not nearly as talented as Smith, but 10-6 as a 49ers starter) and bypassed a chance to trade for Donovan McNabb or draft Jimmy Clausen.
No problem . . . that is, if Smith turned into an efficient, effective quarterback this season.
"So the thing I wanted to do is make sure that he had some consistency without trying to compete with somebody else," Singletary said. "Getting all that crap out and just having a system that he can run."
And now, offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye has been correctly dispatched in favor of quarterbacks coach Mike Johnson, who made the offense look slightly more interesting Sunday.
But the midseason coordinator change spoils some of Singletary's plan, which focused on Smith getting his first chance to go back-to-back seasons with the same coordinator.
Oh well. When asked directly Monday about a Sunday report that his own job might be in jeopardy, Singletary shrugged and said he knows this is part of football life.
Smith, too, said he understands what is at stake with every game, especially now, at 0-4.
"It's on all of us," Smith said. "I mean, you pretty much play for your job. We're all doing it."
And when you're the 49ers' quarterback, in your sixth season, in this most expectant season, you're playing for your coach's job, too, which was Singletary's shaky bet all along.