After a New York 3-and-out late in the 3rd led to a botched 29 yard punt from Weatherford, the San Francisco 49ers started right at midfield.
At this point in the game Frank Gore was long gone. Having rushed for 0 yards on 6 attempts in the first half, he spent the second on the sidelines, giving an opportunity to Kendal Hunter and Anthony Dixon to show depth at the running back position. On the first play of the drive Hunter ran 6 yards left, bringing an end to the 3rd quarter.
To start the 4th, with the 49ers trailing by one, 12 to 13, Dixon got the nod, producing 2 yards to the left end. A shift by Walker on 3rd and 2 prompted some yellow flags. Unlike last week the call went the 49ers' way, giving them a fresh set of downs. They followed this with another 6 yard run by Hunter; again to the weak side (left).
The Niners now faced 2nd and 4 from the Giants' 31. Vernon Davis lined up inside on the right and ran a short route underneath. It became obvious as he passed Goodwin to the left side of the field that there was no one guarding him. Alex Smith spotted Davis open and quickly made a short, 6 yard pass, which Vernon took another 25 yards, leaping into the end zone for the go-ahead score. Tack on a well-executed two-point conversion from Smith to Michael Crabtree, and the 49ers had overcome their early 4th quarter deficit, now leading 20 to 13.
After a second Manning interception to Carlos Rogers led to a 17 yard touchdown run by Hunter (again to the weak side), the Giants were facing a two-touchdown hole.
Coming into Sunday, Eli Manning was leading the league in games in which he had completed a 4th quarter comeback (4QC) and a game winning drive (GWD) with four. He drove down the field once against the Niners in the 4th on Sunday, and then twice - but the second time Justin Smith's hand got in the way of Manning's chance to extend that league-high total to five.
Instead, Alex Smith extended his own total to four, tying Manning for the season and, more importantly, winning the game against a team that would otherwise be threatening San Francisco's first round playoff bye.
Over at Cold Hard Football Facts, Scott Kacsmar runs a weekly column called "Captain Comeback" - highly recommended to all of you here. Kacsmar is the same guy who did a godly amount of research for Pro Football Reference to produce historical records for every quarterback's game winning drives and 4th quarter comebacks. I linked to one of his articles in a previous post this season where I spoke of what Alex Smith and Joe Montana have in common (the only quarterbacks in NFL history to lead three 4QC/GWD on the road in a four game span).
In Kacsmar's article this week, he provides some very awesome information, including a comparison of Jim Harbaugh's break-out year with the Colts in '95 to Smith's play so far this season. Harbaugh's year culminated with a last second loss (or, rather put, an almost-last-second-win) against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Championship Game. Here's the final drive of that game. Check out 1:40 to 1:45 - those eyes! What a bad-ass.
Once your done man-crushing on Harbaugh in that video, we can move forward. It's ok. Take your time.
Scott Kacsmar also tells us this week of what Alex Smith has in common with Steve Young: they both doubled their career 4th quarter comeback totals in one season after having been in the league at least 7 years.
Young, after completing only three from to 85' to 91', tacked on three more in the '92 season. Similarly, from '05 to '10, Smith had only accomplished four 4QC, but in '11 thus far he has added another four (and I don't think he's done yet). As it happens, '92 was Young's "break out" year. He confirmed his spot as the 49ers' starting quarterback ahead of Joe Montana, who would eventually be traded to the Chiefs. This year has been Smith's "break out" year as well (random: both Young and Smith lost in Week 2 at home by 3).
All this comeback talk had me thinking of what Smith's record looks like in terms of comeback opportunities. How often in the past have we been down by only 1 to 8 points in the 4th quarter with Alex Smith under center? In these instances, how often did Smith throw a pick and screw it up himself? How often was there a fumble instead? How much time was left on the clock in these situations, and where did the drive start? Was Alex starting within his own 10 with 30 seconds left and no timeouts, or did the Niners' defense produce a turnover in the opponent's end of the field, only for Alex to fail to punch it in? Did Alex lead a game-tying drive, only for us to lose in overtime? Some people have said that Alex often led our team to overcome a deficit and take the lead, only for our defense to let up and give the lead away. Is there any truth to that?
Well, hopefully most of these questions have been answered. What follows below is Alex Smith's "comeback history." Take notice that games where we were down by a lot do not count. So we might have been tied before Alex threw two picks in the third, and then we entered the 4th down by 10. Only games where we were down 1 to 8 points in the 4th, with Alex taking a snap, are counted. From there I sort of decide for myself based on subjective criteria whether or not the comeback failure was Alex's fault. Feel free to look over the games I list and disagree with me. And apologies if I missed any games altogether, which is more than possible.
I'm going to first talk about the general conclusions before providing all the details.
2005 (1 for 3) - Alex Smith had three opportunities to convert a 4th quarter comeback his rookie season. The third time ended up being a charm, as the Niners beat St. Louis on the road. The first two failed attempts were most definitely his doing. He had more than one chance to take the lead in each game, but could not. The game where he did post a successful comeback actually required little effort from him. On the 77 yard comeback drive, Smith put up only 16 yards (1/1 passing for 9, and a rush for 7). Gore contributed most the work, including the 30 yard go-ahead touchdown.
2006 (1 for 2) - Alex Smith had two failed comeback opportunities in '06. Both came late in the 4th, with around 30 seconds left, and no timeouts. I counted one against him because, overall, his play in the 4th could have better, and the dire situation at the end could have been avoided. The other one I did not count against him because the go-ahead touchdown for the Rams came so late, that there was really nothing Smith could do. He did have one successful 4QC this season, on the road against Seattle in Week 15.
2007 (2 for 3) - He began the season with two successful come-from-behind victories against Arizona and St. Louis. His failed attempt came against Atlanta in his first game back from a shoulder injury and was arguably more Mike Nolan's doing than anything, given that he doubted the seriousness of Smith's injury and questioned his toughness.
Notice here that all of Smith's 4QC through his career so far have come against NFC West teams - a trend he would not break until 2011, where all four of his 4QC have been against non-divisional opponents. That says a lot. Instead of getting typically non-impressive comeback victories against lacklustre NFC West opponents, Smith and the 49ers are beating playoff quality non-divisional opponents. Harbaugh would say, as usual, "All the credit goes to the players"; but when it comes to Alex Smith, Harbaugh is the antithesis of Nolan. He believes in him. He trusts him. He actually has faith in the guy. And, honestly, that's probably the one thing Smith needed all along: someone to have his back through thick-and-thin. Tebow may have God on his side, but Alex Smith has Harbaugh.
2009 (0 for 3) - This was a tough year for Smith and the Niners. #11 went 5 - 6 in his 10 starts and the half he played against Houston, with the average margin of defeat being 6.5. If there was any year, so far, where Alex Smith detractors could point to Alex's lack of "clutch" ability, it would be this one. Nothing but oh-so-close yet oh-so-far-away moments all year; and none of it, as far as I could tell, was the fault of our defense. In his only duel to-date against Aaron Rodgers, he had a chance late to come back, but a costly turnover in his own red zone led to the Packers extending their lead. Still, Alex once again finished the season strong, posting two 97+ ratings in dominating Week 16 and 17 victories.
2010 (0 for 2) - If '09 provided all the evidence to Smith detractors that he was costing us games late, '10 seemed to provide all the opposite evidence. It was far from pretty, but the resiliency and mental toughness of Smith displayed in 2010 was hard to deny; he was playing under immense pressure - not just game pressure, but outside pressure, ridiculous coach pressure, fan pressure, etc. He would deliver the Niners a late lead, or tie the game, only for the defense to give away the game-winning points in the final seconds. This did not happen often, but it happened enough, and in dramatic enough fashion (Falcons, Saints), that the impression was there: sure, Alex's numbers were not improving much, but his "intangibles" seemed to shine through in '10 more than ever before.
Perhaps that is part of what Jim Harbaugh saw when he elected to lobby hard for #11 to stay with the team another year and receive a fresh start. Perhaps it is appropriate that 2010 was Alex Smith's most disappointing season (it is darkest just before the dawn, etc.). Very high expectations and nothing came of it but a string of last second losses that left all of us feeling we were so close to a return to the glory days, but that there was just one piece missing...
2011 (4 for 4) - You all know the story here. Go to the conclusion at the very bottom of the post if you really wanna read about it.
Total (? for ?) - Sticklers could argue 8 for 18. I say 8 for 17. Sticklers in the other direction could take away the two games where he did not start and was either thrown in with a huge deficit (Houston, '09) or thrown in with less than 10 minutes to go, down by 8 (St. Louis, '10). That would make Smith 8 for 15 in his career.
It's really all the same, though. Before entering this year, Smith was posting what I assume to be a modest "comeback" percentage, so to speak: 4 for 14/13/12 (depending on your interpretation). Either way, it's no better than 33%. I don't have the numbers as to how that compares to other quarterbacks in the league, but we can imagine it probably does not compare to Peyton or Eli Manning, or Roethlisberger or Brady. However, it's important also to add context to Smith's numbers: he has not been playing for a winning team or a winning program. I am quite sure it's easier to post comebacks with good play-calling and a head coach that actually believes in you.
Smith has both those things this year and he's batting 1,000 in the comeback department. #11 and the entire 49ers squad are looking superb. On to the details, then...
4th of December, 2005 vs. Arizona (1) - Kurt Warner and the Cardinals take advantage of a Frank Gore fumble and go 44 yards for a touchdown. They complete the two point conversion and go up 17 - 10 with slightly under 11 minutes left in the game. This is Alex's first real opportunity to lead a 4th quarter comeback. He goes from his own 32 to the ARI 30, only to throw an interception. He would get a second chance later in the game with 2:14 left, starting from his own 8. He goes 17 yards up field before throwing another pick. Warner promptly kneels to run out the clock.
Results - 3/6 for 41 yards, 2 INT, 9 yards rushing, 32.64 rating (ouch!). Clearly Smith's own fault. He starts his comeback career 0 for 1.
18th of December, 2005 at Jacksonville (2) - The Niners drive down the field as the third quarter expires. Nedney kicks a 33 yard field goal to start the 4th and take the lead, 9 - 7. If the Niners hold on Smith would get credit for a 4QC/GWD, but Nedney shanks the kick-off out of bounds and Garrard drives to the 49ers' 13 for the go-ahead field goal. Smith would get four more fresh drives through the rest of the quarter (from his own 33, 35, 39, and 20) but could not re-take the lead as the Jaguars held on 10 - 9.
Results - 0/9 for 0 yards, 1 INT, 7 yards rushing, 1 false start penalty, 0.00 rating (yes, zero). Had more completions to the other team than to his own in clutch time. Safe to mark this one up against Smith. 0 for 2.
24th of December, 2005 at St. Louis (3) - Alex Smith gets two opportunities in the 4th quarter to overcome a 17 - 20 deficit. The first one was ugly. Started with an offensive holding penalty, then a 5 yard run, then a 7 yard sack, then a false start penalty, then an 11 yard run on 3rd and 26 from the Niners' own 4 yard line, followed by a punt - which also included a holding penalty, though St. Louis declined it. The second one, starting from his own 23, went much better and ended with a 30 yard touchdown run from Gore. On the next drive Martin actually drives St. Louis from their own 9 to the Niners' 31, only to throw his second pick of the 4th quarter, allowing Alex smith to kneel for the 24 - 20 comeback victory.
Results - 1/1 for 9 yards, 7 yards rushing, 1 sack,1 false start penalty, 104.17 rating. The Niners drove 77 yards on the GWD, but Smith was directly responsible for only 16 of those. Still, he gets the credit and his first career 4QC/GWD game. 1 for 3.
1st of January, 2006 vs. Houston (n/a) - The game was tied at the end of the 3rd thanks to a 49ers pick 6. The 4th featured no scores and the game went to overtime, where the Niners' third overtime drive finally produced the winning field goal thanks to a Banks interception (Banks took over around halftime for Carr). Gore ran twice for minimal gain before Nedney finished it.
Results - In the 4th quarter and overtime combined: 2/6 for 43 yards, 1 yard rushing, 59.72 rating. All 44 yards of Smith's production came on the second drive of overtime, but the Niners were backed up on their own 5 so it amounted to nothing. Still, give him credit for getting the ball out of his own end and switching field position. It did end up being instrumental to the victory.
This was not a 4QC however, since there was no 4th quarter deficit; it was just a GWD - the actual drive of which only included two Gore runs and a field goal. We won't count this one at all since it wasn't a comeback victory. 1 for 3.
This ended Smith's rookie season and it foreshadowed some things to come. Smith won his first January game; he is currently undefeated in January (3 and 0). He also won in Week 16 and 17; he is currently a combined 6 - 2 over those two weeks in his career. Strong/decent/better-than-average/whatever-you-wanna-call-it finishes to seasons is a Smith staple. His detractors have often noted that he does well to end the season, giving just enough hope to the 49er Front Office to keep bringing him back. This fact used to seem like a curse, but with a post-season appearance almost certainly looming, it now seems a blessing.
Perhaps, however, even more important than anything else, is what it might say about Smith. Having to learn a new offense every year, by the time the end of the year comes around maybe that's when he starts to "get it"? I don't know. Just a thought. Moving on:
10th of September, 2006 at Arizona (4) - Alex Smith led a drive that started late in the 3rd from his own 23 and ended at the Arizona 16 with a missed field goal. I'm including the 3rd quarter bit in his stats below. If Nedney had made the kick, the score would have been 24 - 31, but instead it remained a 10 point game. After an awesome punt return, the Niners next drive started within the Arizona 10, but they could not punch it in. Warner responded with a field goal drive of his own, and then Alex did the same with a great drive that maybe would have gone for points but after a 15 yard penalty on Bryant for taunting, the Niners settled for a first down field goal attempt from the 26 so that they could have time for an onside kick, making it a 7 point game. The Niners recovered the onside kick but only had about 30 seconds to drive down the field for a touchdown with no timeouts, and they did not.
Results - 11/16 for 138 yards, 95.31 rating. This one was hard, but I'm going to call it a failed comeback for Smith. The Nedney missed kick was not his fault, nor was the taunting penalty on Bryant after a deep pass brought them to the Arizona 11; but they started a drive within the Arizona 10 and Smith had a pass for no gain, and an incomplete pass. Put that in the end zone and suddenly, after the subsequent Warner field goal, it's a 6 point game. Then you just have to punch it in from the Arizona 26, instead of taking a field goal there on a first down in order to have time for the onside kick. This is one of those up-in-the-air ones, but Smith did technically have the ball at the end only down by 7, and though his position there was difficult, it could have been averted earlier in the 4th; so if Smith gets credit for the 4QC last year, it only seems fair to count this one against him. Such is the life of an NFL quarterback. 1 for 4.
26th of November, 2006 at St. Louis (n/a) - Coming into the 4th quarter, the Niners were in the lead 14 - 13. The Niners tacked on a field goal with under 4 minutes left, but Bulger then led a comeback drive, scoring the go-ahead touchdown with less than 30 seconds in the game. After the kickoff, Smith got the ball at his own 24 with no timeouts. A short completion for 11 yards was followed by a deep pass to Bryant that was intercepted and the Niners lost the game.
Results - 1/2 for 11 yards, 1 interception, 27.08 rating. I am not gonna count this one against Smith. If comeback histories ever go official, this one will likely count against him, since he did technically touch the ball only down by 3 in the 4th quarter. But the context of his possession was near impossible: 21 seconds from his own 24 with no timeouts. So, as far as I'm concerned, he's still 1 for 4.
14th of December, 2006 at Seattle (5) - The Niners were driving as the 3rd quarter came to an end, trailing 3 - 7; and then Alex Smith started kicking some butt. I'm including the part of the drive that took place in the third into his stats below. The Niners took the lead on that drive with a Alex Smith touchdown to Vernon Davis. He would record another throwing touchdown to Frank Gore, and then Smith ran another one himself. Overall a great 4th quarter. Seattle got a late tocuhdown in garbage time and the Niners won 24 - 14.
Results - Including the drive that ended the 3rd and the entire 4th quarter, even when Smith was already ahead: 6/9 for 111 yards, 2 touchdowns, 17 yards rushing, 1 touchdown, delay of game, 148.61 rating. This might be considered Smith's first true comeback. He actually led the drive that put the winning points on the board, including the go-ahead touchdown, and then followed through the rest of the game and put it out of reach. 2 for 5.
31st of December, 2006 at Denver (n/a) - Most of us will remember this game as the overtime "thriller" that ruined Denver's Wild Card hopes. The lesson? Never put your entire playoff future on one Week 17 game against Alex Smith: he's 4 and 0 all time to end the season. This game was not a comeback victory, though; just another GWD, like in '05 against Houston.
Results - In overtime: 3/5 for 32 yards, 78.75 rating. Smith gets credit for the game winning drive, but there was no comeback. Still 2 for 5.
As I mentioned above, Smith won in Week 17, and he is undefeated in that week through his career. Also of note is that Smith got his first two career rushing touchdowns this season, both against Seattle, and both were victories. His third career rushing touchdown came in 2011, also against Seattle, and also in a victory. Smith is 3 and 0 all time when rushing for a touchdown.
10th of September, 2007 vs. Arizona (6) - With 2:58 left and 1 timeout, Alex Smith started at his own 14, trailing 13 - 17 to the Cardinals. He led the Niners to the Arizona 45, where they faced a crucial 4th down with 1:34 to play - Smith converted with his legs for 25 yards. A couple plays later on 3rd and 13, Smith threw what I believe would have been a 23 yard touchdown pass to Battle, but he fumbled it into the end zone. It was recovered in the end zone by a 49er, and by rule placed at the 1 yard line. The next play Battle ran it in for the game-winning score with 26 seconds left.
Results - 6/12 for 60 yards, 25 yards rushing, 64.58 rating. Smith starts the year off right with his third career 4QC, this time against the Cardinals, meaning Smith now has one 4QC against every NFC West team. The game-winning drive included nothing but throwing plays, until Battle ran it in from the 1 at the end. This was certainly a quality comeback, and Smith made up for playing not-so-well in the first 57 minutes where he was 9/19 for 66 yards. 3 for 6.
16th of September, 2007 at. St. Louis (7) - The 49ers recovered a fumble during a St. Louis punt return and so Smith took over at the St. Louis 26. Three runs for minimal gain and a Nedney field goal later and the Niners took the lead 17 - 16. The Rams would later have a chance to take the lead back, but a missed 56 yard field goal sealed their fate.
Results - 2/2 for 15 yards, one sack, 97.91 rating. This is Smith's second 4QC in as many weeks to start the '07 season. It is also his third career 4QC on the road, second against the Rams, and fourth overall. He didn't have to do much for this one, but still. 4 for 7.
4th of November, 2007 at Atlanta (8) - Smith had three opportunities to take the lead after the Nedney field goal made it a one point game. He went 3 and out once and threw two interceptions - including one in his own red zone, allowing the Falcons to tack on a field goal and increase their lead to four. Overall, Smith played very poorly in the 4th quarter, and it is easy to mark this one up against him.
Results - 4/11 for 35 yards, two interceptions, sack, 6.06 rating (yowzers!). The second interception may have been out of desperation, given that the Niners were driving with 22 seconds left and had barely made it to their own 31; but that does not excuse Smith in my opinion. In Smith's defense, however, this was his first game back from a shoulder injury that he should not have been playing with at all - but Nolan insisted. 4 for 8.
Alex started the season pretty decent and, if he had not been injured early in a Week 4 game against Seattle, perhaps this would have a break out year for him. We are all aware of the Nolan silliness. In retrospect, especially, it seems ridiculous for Nolan to question Smith's toughness. We've all seen Smith take some serious hits in his career - hits that most quarterbacks would crumble from - but Smith always gets back up and keeps fighting. Everyone in the locker room and outside of it recognizes Smith for his physical and mental toughness.
Smith played one more week after the tough Atlanta loss, and then his shoulder injury would keep him out the rest of '07 and all of '08 when doctors confirmed Smith's side of the story over Nolan's: the injury was serious and he should not have been playing.
Chalk this failed season up against Nolan for not recognizing what Jim Harbaugh and some of us Faithful did: that Alex Smith is one tough son-of-a-gun and a great NFL quarterback.
25th of October, 2009 at Houston (9) - This is the game where Smith came in after halftime and lit up the scoreboard with Vernon Davis for three touchdowns. Smith led the Niners to two touchdowns in the 4th quarter alone, but on the final drive of the game a deep pass intended for Isaac Bruce was picked off, allowing Houston to kneel and escape with the win.
Results - Including the drive that ended the 3rd, as well as all of the 4th quarter: 12/18 for 156 yards, two touchdowns, one interception, 16 rushing yards, two delay of game penalties, 107.64 rating. While the first half was not Smith's fault, and the second half he did just about everything he possibly could have to get the "W", this one is still technically a failed comeback. On the final drive the 49ers were down by three with 1:38 to go from their own 6 yard line. Not the best position for a comeback, but still good enough that a drive into field goal range for the tie was possible. Still, an inspiring performance. 4 for 9.
1st of November, 2009 at Indianapolis (10) - The Colts took the lead just as the 4th quarter began on a tricky pass play from Addai to Wayne. Smith would then have two drives to lead the comeback: one from the SF 21 with 14:47 left, and one from the SF 6 with 8:36 left. Both drives lasted about 3 minutes and ended with 4th and long punts. The Colts' last drive of the game came with 5:45 left, from their own 33, and the Niners, despite using their three time outs, would not see the ball again.
Results - 5/9 for 58 yards, three sacks, delay of game, 75.23 rating. Smith had two opportunities, but could not get it done. I don't have the data on whether those sacks were his fault, or the line's, but none-the-less he could not put points on the board in the 4th. 4 for 10.
8th of November, 2009 vs. Tennessee (11) - The game was tied going into the 4th. Smith led a field goal drive to take the lead, but the Titans responded with a touchdown, going up 24 - 20. After an Alex Smith interception the Titans increased that lead to 7; and then another Alex Smith interception was returned for a touchdown, giving the Titans a 14 point lead, and putting the game basically out of reach. Smith would lead the Niners down the field for a touchdown after that, but it was in more-or-less garbage time against a prevent defense.
Results - Smith's stats while it was still a one score game: 1/3 for 2 yards, two interceptions, including a pick-six, 2.78 rating. Not much to say here other than Smith blew this one himself. 4 for 11.
Tough year for Smith. He goes 0 for 3 in comeback opportunities, and loses a couple other close games as well. The average margin of defeat in his 6 losses was 6.5, meaning in just about every game there was a chance that things could have gone the other way. I would not consider this his most disappointing year, though. Small losing margins, plus another strong finish to the season, left Smith with a 5 - 5 record as a starter; and many of us will remember that the 49ers entered the 2010 season as favorites to win the NFC West. Which brings us to the next season, which I really, really don't wanna re-live. Nothing but empty promises... but let us continue:
20th of September, 2010 vs. New Orleans (n/a) - This game pissed all of us off, and it was just another sign of things to come for San Francisco. Smith did not play perfect in the 4th, but he did lead a great drive and complete a heart-wrenching two point conversion to tie the game with slightly over a minute to play. Then Drew Brees and the Saints drove from their own 30 to kick the game-winning field goal as time expired.
Results - 6/11 for 66 yards, one interception, two point conversion, 24 yards rushing, 34.66 rating. This one does not count for or against Smith, he technically completed the comeback, having tied the game, but the Niners lost. So he does not get credit for the comeback, but he did not fail the comeback either. Still 4 for 11.
10th of October, 2010 vs. Philadelphia (12) - A very emotional game that saw Alex almost benched, but then kept in; that saw him lose a fumble for an Eagles touchdown, to him coming right back and leading two touchdown drives amidst boos from his own home crowd. It finally came to a climax when, with 1:28 left on his own 32 and one timeout, Smith looked to lead the Niners on a game-winning drive, needing only three points to tie it up. Instead, after getting past midfield, Smith got hit just as he released the ball and it soared right into the hands of the wrong team, ending any hope of a comeback.
Results - 2/5 for 24 yards, one interception, 15.83 rating. This game was too much. It was a heart-breaking day for us Smith supporters; seeing the Candlestick crowd boo him like that. Still, much like against the Saints, Smith seemed to thrive under the pressure and almost completed the 4th quarter comeback. He'd get his revenge next year. 4 for 12.
26th of December, 2010 at St. Louis (13) - This game pissed me off in particular because we still had a chance to make the playoffs, and Singletary elected to start the wrong Smith. Still think, if Alex starts this game, we win. But it was all for the best as Singletary lost his job, giving way to Harbaugh. Either way, with less than 10 minutes left in the 4th, Alex Smith was suddenly thrown into the game. Much like in his "failed" comeback attempt vs. Houston, Alex was faced with a deficit that he did not contribute to. Still, he drove down the field for a field goal on his first drive, bringing the Rams' lead to 5. The Rams responded with a field goal of their own, and over the next two drives Alex could not repeat any success, losing a fumble on the first one and running out of time on the second.
Results - 10/13 for 120 yards, two sacks, fumble, 104.65 rating. Sadly, I am going to mark this one up against Smith, much like the Houston one. He did not come into the game in the best situation, but had it not been for a fumble and a late sack, maybe this game turns out different. 4 for 13.
As I said above, this, in my opinion, was the most disappointing season for Alex Smith and the 49ers. Such high hopes, and nothing came of it. Several close losses throughout the season, inept coaching, inept play-calling, a mid-season change of offensive coordinators, a mid-season change of quarterbacks, and despite all the losses we still went into the last few weeks of the season thinking we had a chance, only to lose it. It was like some kind of cruel joke. The Gridiron Gods were laughing up above at our poor franchise; but perhaps they were only punishing us for not believing in our quarterback. The few of us who did have been described as heretics of sorts; delusional, even. It was not until a Michigan man turned Stanford Head Coach came during the spring and gave Alex Smith "The Playbook" when the lockout was briefly lifted (this is the day AleX was born, some say). That was the extending of the olive branch, so to speak. A lot of people shook their heads and cried; I was loudly proclaiming, "Yes!" Give Alex Smith one more shot, with a good coach who knows how to play quarterback, and he'll prove to everyone how great he really is.
And despite a shortened off-season and training camp, and having to learn a new playbook, Alex Smith has done exactly that, doubling his career 4th quarter comeback total in the first 9 games alone; three of those on the road in a four game span - which is an NFL record he now shares with our own Joe Cool; including a tough-fought battle with the Bengals, a heroic 2nd-half comeback against the Dream Team, and a 4th-and-goal, game-on-the-line, now-or-never touchdown pass that brought an undefeated Cinderalla squad to their personal midnight (and gave Harbaugh the sweet satisfaction of revenge on a coach who said he couldn't do it). Tack on one more comeback at home against the NFC East-leading Giants in a game with huge playoff implications, and you get a season many never would have thought possible.
How, exactly, has Alex Smith turned it all around so quick? He's having his best year ever, by far - and his 4th quarter comeback stats are perhaps the most telling: after going through the boos and the hatred and the distrust and the doubt, Alex Smith has emerged as arguably the most mentally prepared and tested player in the league. There is no quit in this guy. No fear. So when the Niners need him to finish games, he does just that. Harbaugh is ready, now, to pass the moniker that he once held to his fearless quarterback.
Captain Comeback has returned...
... and he's a 49er.