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Harry How, Getty Images
Quarterback Alex Smith #11 of the San Francisco 49ers is sacked by defensive end Luis Castillo #93 of the San Diego Chargers in the second quarter at Qualcomm Stadium on December 16, 2010 in San Diego, California.

49ers switch on which Smith will start

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — The San Francisco 49ers are going back to Troy Smith as their starting quarterback while leaving open the possibility they might switch to Alex Smith at any time.

Coach Mike Singletary said Thursday that Troy Smith will start Sunday's pivotal NFC West game against the St. Louis Rams in place of Alex Smith, who started San Francisco's last two games. The coach also said he wouldn't hesitate to change quarterbacks during the game.

The 49ers have now changed quarterbacks after each of their last two defeats in an attempt to salvage a losing season. At 5-9, San Francisco still has an opportunity to capture the NFC West title and end a seven-year playoff drought by winning its final two games against St. Louis and Arizona.

Troy Smith, who didn't join the 49ers until Sept. 6, has remained focused throughout the week on his second chance as San Francisco's starter. Troy Smith went 3-2 in his five games as a starter earlier this season after taking over for Alex Smith in late October. Troy Smith had a career-high 356 yards passing to lead the 49ers to a 23-20 overtime victory against St. Louis on Nov. 14.

The 49ers went back to Alex Smith two weeks ago after Troy Smith completed just 10-of-25 passes during a 34-16 loss at Green Bay. Alex Smith had statistically the best game of his career the next week during a 40-21 victory over Seattle, but the San Francisco offense could muster only 192 total yards in last week's 34-7 loss at San Diego.

Alex Smith began this season 1-6 as San Francisco's starter before separating his left shoulder during a Week 7 loss at Carolina. Selected by the 49ers with the No. 1 overall pick of the 2005 NFL draft, Alex Smith is 18-31 as the team's starter.

Mayo's father is facing serious charges

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — The father of Memphis Grizzlies player O.J. Mayo was charged with attempted murder Thursday after he hit a police officer with his car and dragged him for several feet, police said.

Two officers were searching for someone else at about 3:30 a.m. when they saw 39-year-old Kenneth Maurice Ziegler of Huntington in a vehicle trying to hide, police said. When they confronted him, he put the vehicle into gear, drove into one of the officers and dragged him, they said. Police chased the vehicle for several miles through a Huntington neighborhood before disabling it with spike strips. Ziegler was captured after a short foot chase and charged with attempted murder, two counts of possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver, obstructing, fleeing in a vehicle and fleeing on foot, police said.

According to police, about 85 grams of marijuana and several chunks of crack cocaine were found in the vehicle.

Ziegler was being held Thursday at the Western Regional Jail. Police say there also are outstanding warrants charging him with fleeing, driving on a suspended license and burglary.

Lemaire will take over as Devils' coach

NEWARK, N.J. — Facing the prospect of missing the playoff for the first time since 1997, the New Jersey Devils fired rookie coach John MacLean on Thursday and brought back the firm hand of Jacques Lemaire to try to salvage the season.

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The Devils have been one of the most disappointing teams in the NHL this season. New Jersey is tied with the New York Islanders for the fewest points in the league with 20 in 33 games (9-22-2) and is last in the NHL in goals with 59 goals.

The 65-year-old Lemaire received a loud ovation from the crowd at the Prudential Center when he was introduced before Thursday night's game against the Islanders.

Lamoriello made the decision two days after the Devils dropped a 5-1 decision to Washington for their third straight loss and eighth in nine games this month. The Devils have been outscored 15-3 in their last three games.