Over the course of this week, we've had several discussions at NN about whether the 49ers could hang with another team in a shootout. Looking back on those discussions, one problem with all of that was that we never really decided what constituted a "shootout." I say this because I would argue yesterday's game was comparable to a shootout. We did not see monster point totals, but the passing games were in full effect for huge chunks of the game.
Both teams struggled early to get touchdowns, but through much of the first half, each team was slicing and dicing the opposing defense between the 20s. The 49ers led 9-6 at the half, but this was not your normal 9-6 ballgame. In the second half, both teams started putting bigger totals as the two teams combined for 32 points in the second half.
I would argue this was a shootout in the sense that the Giants were moving the ball extremely well between the 20s and were placing a certain level of pressure on the 49ers offense to keep getting points on the board. Eli made two costly mistakes and the Giants struggled in the red zone, but I felt like the 49ers had to score every possession to stay in this thing.
Alex Smith did not put together huge passing totals, but he did have his second highest yardage performance of the season. The 49ers have not blown the gates off the passing game too frequently, but we've seen four games where Alex Smith has attempted 30 or more pass attempts. They were against the Bengals, the Eagles, the Lions and the Giants.
I'm not saying he is the second coming of Joe Montana, but in all four of those games the 49ers trailed in the fourth quarter. They handed the ball to Smith and he made plays when the team needed plays. The 49ers have been fairly conservative in the passing game, but even before unleashing a wave of passes in the first quarter yesterday, Alex Smith had shown an ability to take control of games and help guide the 49ers to victory.
I would argue that yesterday was an exclamation mark on his 2011 season to date as opposed to a breakthrough. There is talk of this being a breakthrough because it was on his shoulders with the running game struggling and the defense getting gashed at times by Eli Manning. However, for me it was confirmation of what he has shown at times, but never been able to do with complete consistency.
This is only one game and the 49ers still have much more to accomplish this season. They are not playing perfect football, and I would argue that makes this season all the more exciting. Aside from the Bucs game, the 49ers have not played a perfect game. Maybe they won't play a perfect game this season, but they have something to keep building towards. They have questions that they need to keep answering week in and week out. This is what allows them to keep improving as the season moves along.
It is pretty amazing that this team is still improving and has such a high ceiling above them at this point. People continue to doubt the 49ers. As recently as last night on NFL Network, Michael Irvin and Deion Sanders questioned whether Alex Smith could get the 49ers to the Super Bowl. I don't know what will happen in January, but I am incredibly excited to find out.
Alex, at what point did you know that you guys would be opening the game so pass happy?
"All week we kind of talked about it, and then obviously as we just got closer to the game, we knew that's what it was going to be like. No shock to me. The way we've been running it the last five games the attention to the O-line. We knew we were going to have to come balanced and potentially soften them up throwing it, so."
So throwing was a way to open up the running game?
"It would just be balanced I guess. No question. They both feed off of each other, but we knew we weren't going to be able to beat our head against the wall, so."
Alex, have you heard any comments particularly from the Giants' media and the Giants players themselves about you being a game manager and things like that?
"I just saw the one that I got called a manager or whatever, and this and that. I could really care less honestly. That is the honest truth. It feels good to be 8-1. I managed myself into a victory that's all I could care about."
What did you see on the touchdown play to TE Vernon Davis?
"He's just so fast. Anytime they're playing the zones and then trying to pass things off, he just has so much speed it's trouble to pass off. They tried to pass it off and couldn't bump it off in time, and that's what happened with Vernon up the sideline."
Alex, do you feel like this is one of the biggest games in your career just because you threw the ball so much?
"I don't know. It was a huge game. I don't know. I'm not going to compare it to any other games. It was a really good game. We talked about it all week. This was a big challenge for us. We've got a quality opponent coming in here, and we were going to have to go after these guys. And we did that, and the guys around me played great."
Does that label bother you at all, manager?
"I honestly could care less. I don't care. We're winning games. That's the types of games we've been into. The offensive line's been playing great, and [RB] Frank [Gore]'s been running it, and we've been able to do that. And the way defense has been playing as well, it's just the way the games have gone. So, I didn't look at it any different."
At what point did you know Frank was hampered a little bit? I mean we didn't see him in the second half.
"I didn't really know until halftime, honestly. I didn't know what had happened."
Alex, do you feel like this is a little bit more your team now after today just because it was more on you today with Frank not being able to produce?
"No, I don't know that I feel it's any more my team. It feels great to-knew we were going to get a lot put on our shoulders in the pass game, as far as the guys on the perimeter and me. And it feels great to be accountable to your teammates. We work so hard, so to be able to hold up our end and to come through the way we did, feels great."
You guys are 8-1 now, you beat New York, obviously the biggest market, this was a national T.V. game, is it impossible for you guys to be under the radar anymore?
"I have no idea. That's probably a better question for you guys. I'm not thinking about that. It was a big win for us yeah. Obviously all week we talked about it. We had the number one, we had [Troy] Aikman and Joe Buck doing the game. First time in a long time. The number one Fox crew and all that, the national media here, this and that. So, yeah knew as we continued to win we are getting on a bigger stage and that's exactly what we want. We want to continue to climb and get on a bigger stage."
Alex, how good do you think you guys are?
"8-1. That's it, obviously you are as good as your record. You're as good as your last game and we beat a really good football team."
Can you put that into perspective a little bit, just joking about the Fox crew coming in here, but you've been through a lot here to be sitting here now at 8-1 in this position, just kind of put it into perspective.
"To tell you the truth, the thing that I'm loving the most is the guys we've got in the locker room. They're so much fun. Come into work every single day, playing for each other, having a blast. The locker room, these few hours after the game, you put in so much all week, and to get to celebrate these few hours after the game with each other and to come out on top, that's what we're playing for."
Is it different than it has been in the past?
"Yeah we're winning, yeah."
Alex, how would you compare that crowd and that atmosphere in the stadium to the past?
"Again, I don't want to compare it and this and that. But yeah, it was a big atmosphere. You could tell. The fans knew it. They had just come off and beat the Patriots last week, and coming here. All week talked about they weren't going to fly six hours to come out here and not get a victory and this and that. And we came out on top."
Why do you not like to look back and compare the games you've played in the past?
"Because it's hard to compare after seven years. I'm not going to sit here and kick anything that happened in the last seven years. I'm thinking about now. We're on a great run. I've got a great group of guys in the locker room, and that's all I'm going to worry about."