Sunday, November 6, 2011

Mister Smith Goes To Washington

That's Alex, not Jefferson, Smith.  San Francisco's former pinata was 17 of 24 for 200 yards and one TD against the Redskins in another efficient, workmanlike effort for the victorious 49ers. 

Smith is apparently concentrating on not being the reason why the 49ers lose this season, on not making mistakes.  It's working.  Perhaps by the end of the year he'll be intent on being a big reason why they win.  

Whether he feels the need to carry the team on his shoulders or not--and Noman hopes he never does if it takes him out of his groove--Smith is a key variable in the 49ers resurgence under their new coach, Michigan-man Jim Harbaugh.

This first link shows a play that could easily have led to a crucial fumble, and certainly would have in prior years. Today, Smith got crunched and held onto the ball somehow.  It led to a punt, which is far preferable to a turnover deep in your own territory.

This second link shows 49ers v. Redskins game highlights.  Though they're winning on defense, and special teams, the offense is doing what it needs to do in order bring home the bacon.

For the season, Smith is completing 64% of his passes, and throws five touchdowns for every interception (10 TD's v. 2 Int.).  Importantly, the team didn't deflate when he turned it over on an errantly thrown pass against Detroit, for instance.

The great 49ers teams of the 1980's had a brilliant, but fumble-prone, running back named Wendell Tyler.  Whenever he coughed one up, the team would visibly sag.  It was like a bad omen.  Mercifully, Smith's gaffe did not have that affect.

Noman brings Smith up because--aside from the fact that Noman's team is winning--something heart warming is happening on the 49ers.  Alex Smith is getting some love from his coach, who made it clear coming in that he wanted Smith to lead his team. And, Smith is responding like a happy puppy.

Note the tail end of Coach Harbaugh's post game speech after the 49ers road win against the previously undefeated Lions.  He points Smith out calling him clutch, and Smith curls up into an aw-gee-golly-shucks-cut-it-out ball of joy, and bashfully soaks up his teammates accolades.

Smith was indeed clutch; not spectacular, just clutch, which was enough to win.  With time running out and the 49ers behind, they ran play after play up the gut of the Lion's defense.  It was reminiscent of Rocky's rematch fight against Mr. T in Rocky III.

With 4th and goal and time running out, the game was in Smith's hands.  He delivered a six yard, game winning TD pass to Delanie Walker when there was no margin for error.   Clutch.  This is how it looked to a deflated Lions fan.

The watershed moment came in week four of the season in Phildelphia.
The 49ers trailed 20-3 at halftime. Less than six minutes later, the Eagles' lead was extended to 23-3. 
But, then, something strange happened. The team that came into the game with the 32nd-ranked offense in the NFL, produced nearly as much offense in one quarter than it averaged in the first three games. 
Quarterback Alex Smith completed 9 of 9 passing attempts for 179 yards with two touchdowns. The 49ers, who came into the game averaging 213.7 yards of total offense, rolled up 199 yards alone in the third quarter. 
And the 49ers rallied from a 20-point deficit for the victory over the Philadelphia Eagles. And Smith returned to the Bay Area on Sunday evening with his signature NFL victory. 
"I think it's huge for a quarterback," 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said. "You don't have many 20-point comebacks as a quarterback. And when you do, that's definitely a character-builder for the football team, for the quarterback, for everybody." 
"Since I've been here, playing on the road has been a big test and something we haven't done well," Smith said. "To find a way to get two wins is something, since I've been here, we've never done it." 
"Alex Smith and I came in together," running back Frank Gore said. "He just needed a coach to believe in him and this coach does. This was a big game for him and for all of us because we know we can win." 
Read more: Alex Smith's signature victory
Here's what the locker room looked like after that win.  Note Harbaugh calling Smith "Mayberry": presumably a reference to the Andy Griffith show, a staple of 1960s television and of an age when Americana and innocence were synonymous terms.

There is a bit of mom and apple pie, of Jimmy Stewart to Smith.

Something good is happening on the team.  They're now working on a four-game road winning streak, and are 7-1 on the year.  Wow.  It's been a long dry spell.  Coach Harbaugh is getting lots of recognition for it, as he should.  

Alex Smith is not likely to win over skeptics until he brings home the hardware, that is, a championship trophy of some kind.  San Franciscans were spoiled by Joe Montana and Steve Young, who set the bar very high.  Even Jeff Garcia garnered some appreciation.  

Nevertheless, Smith deserves a pat on the back for the way he is playing.  Noman's suspicion is that fans (and No-fans) want to like him; they want him to succeed.  They're just tired of dashed expectations.

Noman is happy for Smith.  He is a likable fellow whose career has been marked by an unfortunate penchant for disappearing at key points in a game, or interview.  That guy has shown up much less this year than in prior ones.

On a final note, he wears a Giants cap to post game interviews.  Well done.  He knows where he plays, the fans he plays for, and what the 2010 Championship meant to San Francisco.  Kudos, Alex!  

Bring one home for the 49ers.  And, don't be deterred by the fickle fans, of whom legendary quarterback John Brody once said "San Francisco fans are the best in the world, win or tie."

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