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Poised for a Super Bowl birth.
Again, let’s review their statistical production thus far in the postseason.
Smith (one game): 26/42 (61.9%), 299 yards, 7.1 avg, 4 TD (one rushing), 0 INT, 103.2 Rating
Manning (two games): 44/65 (67.7%), 607 yards, 9.3 avg, 6 TD, 1 INT, 121.8 Rating
The latter has been clearly sensational up to this point in the playoffs.
There is one important blemish, however: the INT.
Manning will be unable to shed his propensity for throwing the interception. He has coughed it up in all four of his postseason appearances, throwing three in 2005, one in 2006 and 2007 and two in 2008.
Against the 49ers in Week 10, he threw two costly picks as well.
Notice the trend?
While Eli has made incredible strides—both since his first playoff game in 2005 and during this season—the INT will inevitably be his downfall.
(For those that cite his 2007 Super Bowl-winning run, I will remind you that he threw a would-be interception perfectly into the hands of the Patriots’ Asante Samuel that would have sealed the game for the Pats. Let’s also give most of the credit to David Tyree for that ridiculous helmet-assisted catch).
The ball hawking, four takeaways-achieving 49ers defense (38 takeaways in the regular season) will capitalize on Manning’s hurtful tendency and snag at least one interception on Sunday.
Let’s now bring Alex Smith back into the picture.
He has been masterful through 17 games, throwing only five interceptions and losing just three fumbles.
In his first NFL postseason game last week against the Saints, he did not throw the ball into the hands of the other team and lost just one fumble. That one turnover proved inconsequential, as his defense stood strong and prevented the Saints from scoring off that takeaway.
He plays in a system that laughs at offensive turnovers. The 49ers led the league with a mere 10 in the regular season and surrendered only one so far in the playoffs.
Smith throws away from his receivers if the opening just isn’t there. As showcased in his epic comeback against the Saints, he nails receivers in stride when the greatest odds stare him down.
Manning, on the other hand, will not be able to overcome his turnover-happy ways. His 20 regular season giveaways—16 INT, four fumbles lost—and one so far in the playoffs will ultimately get the best of him and his teammates.
His seven fourth-quarter comebacks in 2011 will not apply here. Nor will his torching of the opposing secondary against the likes of Atlanta and Green Bay. San Francisco’s defense simply will not allow it.
But it is more than just a suffocating defense.
Smith will cause fewer turnovers than his counterpart as he did in Week 10.
His superior ball security will enable him to generate a game-clinching drive (six in the regular season, two against the Saints)—whether that be a touchdown pass or putting Akers in position for a field goal that overcomes a deficit, breaks a tie or puts the Niners ahead for good—when it matters most.
As in when a birth in Super Bowl XLVI is on the line.
Sorry Eli, you won't have diva-boy Brett Favre handing your team the ball and granting them easy entrance into the Super Bowl this time around.