Alex Smith seems to always get the short end of the stick, the backhanded compliments, the comments that seem to imply the 49ers have won in spite of him and not because of him. For all of his underwhelming achievements, lack of living up to the billing as a number one pick , and even his lack of a Pro Bowl nod, Smith is no longer as bad as he once was and not as bad as people still pretend he is
He won’t ever be Aaron Rodgers, the guy he went 23 spots ahead of in 2005, but that’s fine. A lot of people talk about Smith and say how he doesn’t make mistakes, doesn’t turn the ball over and is just on the field to make the right play, that’s somehow turned into a bad thing.
When we look at the likes of Jay Cutler and Carson Palmer, they talk about how their interceptions and untimely bad decisions inhibit their ability to win big, to really be the best that they can be. The likes of Rodgers, Tom Brady, even Eli Manning are the likes of guys who make plays in big moments and we’ve seen Smith do the same thing over the last year.
No one likes to hear it, but Smith has been the model of efficiency over the last year. We ask our quarterbacks to be smart, to make good decisions, put our teams in position to win the game and to put up more points than the other team. Sure, Smith has the luxury of playing with the best defense in the NFL, but you can’t hold that against him considering he’s still responsible for putting the offense in position to score points.
Smith’s numbers won’t ever compare to the 4,000 yard season s that have become the norm, that should be fine. Of the ten guys who threw for at least 4,000 yards, only three won a playoff game.
As much of a passing league the NFL has become, sports in general will always be about making the right play at the right time. Last year, Smith beat one of the 4,000 passers who happened to win a playoff game. In the NFC Playoffs, Smith played Brees to the very end. Statistically, Brees won the battle (462 to 299, 4 touchdown passes to 3) of numbers but Smith’s lack of interceptions compared to Brees’ pair is what made the difference.
In that game, Smith drove down the field twice for a passing touchdown to Vernon Davis and a rushing touchdown that put the game away. Smith wasn’t just effective during that one game, his consistency and efficiency dates back to his last interception, which was on Thanksgiving of last year.
He’s broken the 49ers record for most consecutive passes without an interception, which means he’s sustained such a streak longer than the likes of Hall of Famers Joe Montana and Steve Young.
For many, mentioning Smith in the same breath as the likes of Montana, Young and Brees serves as an implication that his talent is on their level, that he’s on the way Canton along with them. Smith may never make a Pro Bowl, he won’t be going to Canton, he probably won’t even win every single 49er fan over despite his growth. The thing that really matters is whether Smith wins and plays smart, which he has gotten the hang of.
For his career, Smith has 40 redzone touchdown passes with just one interception. Those types of numbers don’t get mentioned as much as his 17-29 record before last year. Now that they’re 15-3 since Jim Harbaugh has become coach, people say they 49ers win in spite of Smith.
Smith hasn’t had the luxury of playing under a consistent offensive scheme; this is the first time in his career that an offensive coordinator has actually returned. With that consistency and lack of schematic overhaul, Smith has come to become one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the NFL. His numbers won’t wow you, his throws won’t draw comparisons to John Elway any time soon and he probably won’t ever be a Pro Bowler, but he’s a smart quarterback who plays to his strengths. How often do we pick on Carson Palmer, Jay Cutler and Mark Sanchez for untimely interceptions that cost their team wins? Smith has grown out of that mold of signal-calling and into a guy who has turned into a dependable leader.
Alex may never get the credit for improving that he deserves, numbers really may tell the whole story for most people. If it stays that way, fine. If it grows to no longer be the norm, even better. Regardless, Smith isn’t bad as people like to pretend he once was.