49ers, Alex Smith continue to prove the doubters wrong

You can’t go .500 in a lockout shortened season with a rookie head coach and Alex Smith as your starting QB. You can’t win the division in a lockout shortened season with a rookie head coach and Alex Smith as your starting QB. You can’t compete with the Packers and Saints in the NFC with Alex Smith as your QB. You can’t be a serious Super Bowl threat with Alex Smith as your QB. You can’t keep up with the Saints’ high powered offense with Alex Smith as your QB. All things said about the 49ers this season, all involve people refusing to give Alex Smith any credit.

All season everyone has called Alex Smith a “game manager”. A guy who can’t win you a game but wasn’t gonna lose you one. Not only was this unbelievably disrespectful, who couldn’t have been further from the truth. Last time I checked, his 5 4th quarter comebacks weren’t the defense scoring for him. He made numerous big plays at the end of games. He had Eli Manning led the NFL with 5 4th quarter comebacks. Alex led the NFL with four 4th quarter comebacks on the road. However, Eli was praised all season by the national media for his “Poise and ability to thrive in the clutch” but Alex received no such praise. He was essentially slapped in the face and told he would never be a good QB. Funny thing is of all regular starting QB’s Alex had the fewest INT’s by a QB in the 4th quarter in the entire NFL. But of course that fact is ignored.

All season Alex has been the best in the clutch and has willed his team to victories. In week 4, the 49ers were down 23-3 to the Eagles in Philadelphia in the third quarter. Comebacks like that really don’t happen that much on the road, especially against teams with high powered offenses like the Eagles. It was a defining moment for the 49ers and Alex Smith. Most expected him to fold, I knew he wouldn’t. He’s been a fighter his whole career. I just had confidence Alex would come back and make it close. He then led his team on a memorable second half comeback. He went 13 of 17 for 201 yards and two touchdowns. After a Justin Smith forced fumble and Dashon Goldson recovery, the 49ers held on for a 24-23 victory. Despite Alex putting the team on his back and making play after play to get the win, the 49ers D got credit and the Eagles “lost” the 49ers didn’t win.

Two weeks later, the 4-1 49ers showed up in Detroit to face the red hot and 5-0 Detroit Lions. With the 49ers down 19-15 in the 4th quarter, on a 4th and goal Alex Smith threw a dart to Delanie Walker for the go ahead touchdown with 1:51 left to go. It showed the mental toughness of Alex Smith. He struggled for parts of the game. Balls were sailing on him a little bit, but he found a way to make the throws when he needed to. Most national writers didn’t see things that way and just thought it was a great throw and that’s it.

After a bye and wins over the Browns and Redskins, the Giants came to town at 6-2, everyone was high on the Giants and felt they should win, considering they just went to Foxborough and beat Tom Brady and the Patriots. Eli Manning had just had a 4th quarter comeback and people were praising him. Understandably so. But in the game another QB came up big in the 4th when his team needed him to. Alex Smith had to do it all for the most for the 49ers after Frank Gore injured his knee and left the game. He had 6 carries for 0 yards. It was up to Alex. Despite the fact that his receivers were letting him down with brutal drops(including an atrocious drop by Ted Ginn in the red zone that led to Alex’s 2nd pick in the red zone in his career), Alex stuck with it. Down 13-12 in the beginning of the 4th quarter, the 49ers needed someone to play, Alex found Vernon Davis for a 31 yard touchdown pass. After a bad Eli Manning interception, Kendall Hunter ran for a 27 yard touchdown run. After a late Giants rally came up short, 49ers won 27-20 and Alex had his fourth 4th quarter comeback. He was his team’s second leading rusher and came up clutch and should have been praised. He outplayed Eli Manning, but this was not acknowledged. The 49ers’ D was great as usual and deserved credit, but not all of it. They won the game because of Alex Smith. It was just another example of Alex getting it done in the clutch.

Then in Seattle in week 16 on Christmas Eve, with the 49ers down 17-16 thanks to a blown blocking assignment which led to a Seahawks blocked punt and then touchdown, the 49ers had a 2nd and 18 from their own 31 yard line. They needed a play badly, Alex Smith delivered. He hung in the pocket and delivered a perfect pass to Michael Crabtree for a 41 yard gain. This helped set up the game winning by David Akers. This drive was a lot more important than just a win over a divisional rival. The 49ers needed this win or else the Saints would have gotten a first round bye in the playoffs and the 49ers may have needed to go to New Orleans to try and reach the NFC Championship game. In a high pressure situation Alex Smith delivered like he has been delivering in those situations all season.

Alex Smith ended the regular season with 3144 yards passing, 17 touchdowns and 5 interceptions. Those numbers don’t jump out at everyone and scream “really good QB”. The numbers are very deceiving. Alex has not had great talent at wideout and has no true #1 receiver. He does not even have a really good #2 receiver. He has a great tight end in Vernon Davis but Vernon underachieved at times. He had the case of the drops at points this season. The 49ers had 3 receivers/tight ends in the top 20 in drops in the NFC. Ted Ginn didn’t make that list but he still had drops and would sometimes run the wrong route and look lost as a receiver. Alex had no real receiver that he could go to that was sure handed once Josh Morgan went down in week 5 with a broken ankle. If he had better talent at wideout he would have had close to 30 TD’s this season. He only had 5 interceptions, that was a San Francisco 49er record for a season and it led the NFL for the fewest INT’s from a full time starter. The franchise record he broke was Steve Young’s mark in 1992, when Steve had 7 INT’s in 16 games. Alex broke the 16 game mark by 2 picks and it was hardly mentioned.

Coming into the NFC Divisional Round, the Saints were on a 9 game winning streak and scoring at an incredible rate. Including the Wild Card Round, the Saints had scored 40+ points in 4 straight games. Everyone said the 49ers wouldn’t be able to keep up with the Saints’ offense. Alex Smith was “incapable” of winning a game where him and Drew Brees went toe-to-toe.  Alex was deemed the “weakness” on the 49ers. There was no actual evidence to back this claim up but the media was pushing this because of struggles for Alex in past seasons. Alex would once again prove doubters wrong.

Thanks to the playmaking 49ers defense, the 49ers’ offense had a short field twice in the first quarter. The Saints were going in for what could have been a touchdown but Done Whitner forced a fumble with a big hit on Pierre Thomas inside the 49ers 5. After the 49ers offense had an impressive drive for a touchdown, Dashon Goldson baited Drew Brees into an interception and brought it back to the Saints 3. Alex Smith threw his second TD of the game, this time to Michael Crabtree to give the 49ers an early 14-0 lead. On the ensuing kickoff, the 49ers forced another turnover on a fumble. This allowed the 49ers to go up 17-0.

When Darren Sproles got a pass that went 44 yards to put the Saint sup 24-23 in the 4th quarter with 4:02 to go, I know a lot of people felt the 49ers had let one slip away. They forgot the 49ers had one of the best late game QB’s in the game. Alex hit Vernon Davis for a 37 yard catch to the Saints’ 30. Three plays later Jim Harbaugh and offensive Greg Roman pulled out at the time the call of the year. On a 3rd and 8 from the Saints’ 28, the 49ers called a designed Alex Smith run to the left. Kyle Williams and Joe Staley threw blocks that helped Alex go into the end zone untouched for a 28 yard rushing TD. It gave the 49ers a 29-24 lead with 2:11 to go. It appeared the 49ers may hold on there and the play would be remembered as “The Run”. The normally great 49ers defense made a bad mistake and allowed Jimmy Graham to take a 66 yard TD to the house as Donte Whitner badly misjudged the play.

Only 1:37 was left with the Saints up 32-29. The 49ers had just taken a big blow from the Saints. and their usually great defense gave up a big play at the worst time. The game was on the shoulders of Alex Smith. It was his time to show he’s a damn good QB. With 40 seconds to go Alex Smith hit Vernon Davis on a slant across the middle against the blitzing Saints for 47 yards down to their 20 yard line. After a check down to Gore for 7 yards and a spike. The stage was set for Alex to make the biggest throw of his NFL career. He hit Vernon Davis on a post in between two Saints defenders for the touchdown with 9 seconds left. The 49ers would win 36-32 and Alex Smith won them the game.

The team that the 49ers “Couldn’t win a shootout against” lost to the 49ers in a shootout in the 4th quarter. The 49ers and Alex Smith proved the doubters wrong yet again. Nobody could have fathomed they would be in the NFC Championship and Alex Smith would be the quarterback. A lot of that is Jim Harbaugh. Harbaugh believed in Alex when nobody else did. That has made Alex really believe he could do it. He has gotten confidence and has become a damn good QB and will keep improving.

The 49ers play the Giants for the NFC Championship on Sunday afternoon in San Francisco. The 49ers had already beaten the Giants 27-20 at Candlestick earlier in the season. Both teams have improved a great deal since, but you wouldn’t know that from the way the media is portraying it. The Giants are the media darlings and the 49ers again are the underdogs according to the media. The 49ers have been the better team from the beginning of the regular season until now. They’ve been proving doubters wrong all season long and will get a chance to do it again.

The 49ers have the edge linebacker, secondary, kick and punt return game, kicker, punter, punt and kick return coverage, rush defense, pass defense, rush offense. The 49ers take care of the ball better and force more turnovers. The 49ers forced 38 turnovers in the regular season and turned it over just 10 times. Both were the best in the NFL. If you add in the turnovers forced and times turned it over in the playoff game against the Saints, the 49ers would have a mind boggling +32 differential in turnovers. The Giants have the edge at receiver, quarterback and a small edge at defensive end. With the way rookie Aldon Smith has been coming along to compliment Justin Smith at DE/OLB, the two teams are close when it comes to pass rushing

It should be a tough, tight game. The Giants are hot after beating the Packers at Green Bay, but the Giants would not be the first hot team to be cooled off by the 49ers. With the 49ers being arguably the best defense, the Giants will find it tougher to score on them than it was on the Packers. The 49ers play, physical, fundamentally sound football. They don’t make mistakes and make the opposition make mistakes. The 49ers advantage with that and the fact that they have better special teams and defense will be the difference in the game. The Giants will play the 49ers tough but the 49ers will once again prove the doubters wrong and advance to the Super Bowl with a 27-23 victory over Eli Manning and the Giants.

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