49ers QB Alex Smith: The next step

SAN FRANCISCO - SEPTEMBER 20: Alex Smith #11 of the San Francisco 49ers throws the ball during their game against the New Orleans Saints at Candlestick Park on September 20 2010 in San Francisco California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Yesterday was one of the most frustrating and exciting games we've had in 49ers-land in quite some time. Losing is certainly not something I enjoy, but there were positives to take from the game. First and foremost was the play of Alex Smith in the 49ers final offensive drive. Smith drove the team down the field using his arm and legs in impressive fashion. Obviously the team left too much time on the clock, but at that point a score was all that mattered.

On that final drive, Smith was 4 of 5 for 51 yards and had two key scrambles for 24 yards and a pair of first downs. Smith showed incredible poise and precision in marching the team down the field. And yet, it's not the first time we've seen this from Smith. There weren't a lot of comments about it, but some may recall the 49ers 20-17 win over the Arizona Cardinals in 2007. In that game, the 49ers were trailing 17-13 with 2:58 to go when Smith led the team on an 86 yard drive that culminated in the go ahead touchdown on an Arnaz Battle end around with 26 seconds left.

Of course the difference in that game was the fact that Alex Smith had been fairly abysmal up to that point. Smith threw for 60 yards on that final drive, which was almost half his total for the game (126). Last night Smith made his share of mistakes, but Smith also put together some quality drives that we didn't see in that 2007 game. We had the drive that led up to the Delanie Walker fumble and the drive that saw a tipped pass to Crabtree get intercepted.

For 5+ seasons now folks have been waiting and waiting for Alex Smith to take his game to the next level. At this point I'm not ready to declare last night a "turning point" in his career. It only becomes a turning point if he follows it up with success this weekend against the Chiefs. The Chiefs are definitely not a gimme game in spite of what some might think. While they've had their fair share of breaks, 2-0 is still 2-0.

Alex Smith has provided teases of his great talent from time to time. Off the top of my head, there was the 21 points fourth quarter against the Seahawks in 2006, there was the closing minutes drive against the Cardinals in 2007, there was the filthy second half performance against the Texans in 2009 (trailing but still impressive), and then there was last night. The consistent factor throughout Smith's career has been inconsistency.

The question now is whether he can build on last night's performance. At this point, Smith seems to find the most success when he's got quality offensive line play and a strong running game. How shocking is that? He's shown that he can occasionally put the team on his shoulders, but give him a strong supporting cast and he'll make some plays. It seems like we've said this many times before, but once again, if he can build on last night's performance, we might have the makings of a legit quarterback on our hands.

Will he take that next step, or will we have our hopes dashed yet again?

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