SANTA CLARA -- As good as Alex Smith's interception streak has been for the 49ers, it comes with a side effect: The 49ers quarterback has been sacked 51 times since the start of 2011, the most by an NFL passer during that span.
While that's not Smith's favorite stat, he argues it beats the alternative.
"Sometimes, a sack is not the end of the world," he said.
It's an approach he learned in part by watching game film of Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the reigning league MVP. Rodgers isn't afraid of a sack -- he was taken down an NFL worst 50 times in 2009 -- because it's usually a wiser choice than making a risky throw.
It's also demonstrates a willingness to buy time, even as defenders close in.
"You watch Aaron and he gets sacked a lot, but he also makes a lot of plays on his feet," Smith said Thursday as the 49ers prepared to travel to Minnesota this Sunday. "You can keep plays alive by scrambling and running and making a play. Those things don't happen if you're constantly trying to just get rid of the ball.
"There's a little give and take there. We don't want to take them (sacks), but some of them aren't terrible."
Smith has thrown 216 consecutive passes without an interception, a 49ers record. He enters play this week with a 115.9 passer rating, second in the NFL to Atlanta's Matt Ryan (117.6).
Smith has also been sacked seven times in two games. Now, he faces a Vikings defense led by defensive
But inside linebacker Patrick Willis and free safety Dashon Goldson were effusive in their praise for Singletary. Both players credited him for shaping their NFL careers.
Willis recalled that as a young player, he tried to go around mountainous offensive lineman Larry Allen in practice. Singletary instead ordered Willis to go right over him. "And I'm thinking to myself, I don't know physics but ..." Willis said, prompting a round of laughter from reporters. "But from that point on, I got to the mindset where it was like: OK, if that's what he wants, that's what I'm going to do."
Goldson said he'll "definitely show some love" to Singletary for showing him the ropes early in his career. "My hat is off to him," Goldson said.
Seeking a backup linebacker in the wake of Clark Haggans' three-game suspension, the team considered Merriman, a three-time Pro Bowler and the 2005 NFL defensive rookie of the year with San Diego.
Buffalo released Merriman in training camp.
Bay Area News Group writer Cam Inman contributed to this report