Before Sunday's match-up versus the visiting New York Giants, the consensus was that the Niners should run the ball against a team that has trouble stopping the ground game and excels at rushing the passer. I don't think anyone took into account that if Gore tweaked his knee and couldn't play, that Alex Smith would put the team on his back, throw 30 times and win.
Smith finished 19 for 30, for 242 yards, 1 touchdown and 1 interception in the 27-20 victory. The interception, in reality, should have been a completion to Ted Ginn Jr. but it bounced off his hands and into the defenders. Smith also rushed 6 times for 27 yards and made the plays when it mattered - again. How long can people keep doubting him?
I think the criticism will continue even though Smith deserves credit for beating good teams, at home and on the road. Alex Smith won the game Sunday, making it his 7th straight and the quarterback couldn't be more humble. Even if you don't think he's good, 9 games into the season, I think he's earned respect winning 8 of those contests.
49ers coach Jim Harbaugh, who has clearly transformed Smith from a liability to an asset, had some nice things to say about his quarterback:
"Alex Smith, you find a way to keep diminishing the guy. They call him a game manager and he's a great game manager, but you read it and you hear people talk about him and they're trying to slight him when they say that. He, once again, goes out and plays great football and keeps proving it. That's what the guy's about and I have a ton of respect for him as a player."
On a 2nd and 4 from the Giants 31-yard line, Vernon Davis was lined up to the right and ran a shallow in-route, where Smith led him with a perfectly placed pass. Because Smith timed the pass perfectly and put the ball where it needed to be, it enabled Davis to barrel 25 yards down the left sideline for a touchdown.
For the two-point conversion following the touchdown, Braylon Edwards and Ted Ginn Jr. were lined up right, Michael Crabtree on the left. Crabtree goes in motion; Smith snaps the ball and delivers an accurate strike to Crabtree on an out. On back to back big moments, Smith delivered without blinking.
"That's what Alex does, he is a playmaker," said tight end Delanie Walker.
In 9 games this season, Smith is boasting a 95.8 quarterback rating which is good enough for 7th in the NFL and a completion percentage of 64.0 which is good enough for 6th. In those two categories, Smith is an elite QB.
Also, since it's been 9 games, we can start to talk about consistency. In the past 8 weeks, including a bye, the 49ers have won all 7 of their games. A 7th straight win makes it the best streak for the franchise since 1997, when the team was quarterbacked by a hall of famer.
It was notable that Smith didn't make mistakes, the offensive line kept him upright for the most part, and that he was able to lead the 49ers to victory over a contender without the services of Frank Gore.
On a 1-year deal, Smith may very well play his way into a contract extension. He is still making good, smart decisions to win ball games and with 5 NFC West games left, Smith may have some opportunities to further showcase his abilities. I like what I've been seeing and I foresee improvement on the horizon.
If Smith re-signs, he will have entire off-season(s) without restrictions to work with coach Harbaugh to tweak his game. Harbaugh and Smith were limited due to the lockout and they've still gotten it done this season. With full year-round attention, he can dedicate time to working on the long ball and building chemistry with his receivers. Time will tell, but he's played beyond expectations so far.
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