Alex Smith and San Francisco 49ers: How They Struck Gold and Why He Must Stay
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The San Francisco 49ers are, without a doubt, one of the most successful franchises in NFL history. The Pittsburgh Steelers lead the charge with six Super Bowl victories in eight tries, while the Niners are 5-0 on the ultimate stage.
In fact, San Francisco is the only club to win more than one Super Bowl but never lose one. Younger fans may be disconnected with the team's illustrious history, however, as names like Harbaugh, Gore or Willis are more likely to resonate than Walsh, Montana or Rice.
From 2003 to 2010, San Francisco averaged an abysmal 5.75 wins per season. Only once did they manage to achieve a .500 record, and the club was so out of sync that a 7-9 Seattle Seahawks group managed to win the NFC West in '10. The Niners were 6-10, good for third place in the division.
But almost out of nowhere, Alex Smith and his new coach, Jim Harbaugh, have restored faith in the 49ers after an atrocious eight years.
Smith, the first overall draft pick in 2005, became the de facto goat after Mike Nolan was fired and Mike Singletary failed to believe in him, despite Alex having to answer to three total head coaches and seven offensive coordinators.
Until the Niners plucked Palo Alto native Harbaugh from nearby Stanford, the former Ute was as good as gone, a Ryan Leaf-lite. But last summer, Smith's soon-to-be boss entrusted the QB with the playbook, even though the former was no longer under contract.
That's a pretty trustworthy endorsement from a new head coach.
In 2011, a matured defense, enthusiastic coach and renewed fire fueled the 49ers to a stellar 13-3 record, a playoff victory over the New Orleans Saints and a heart-wrenching loss to the New York Giants in the NFC Championship Game this past Sunday.
Despite these facts, largely made possible by Smith's vastly improved performance—17 touchdown passes, five interceptions and no major injuries—typical analysis of his play boils down to "he sucks."
Deep, man. Deep.
Smith made strong decisions all season long. The outcome of a football game is largely determined by turnovers. If a team never gives the ball up, it keeps the opposing offense off the field and offers chances to wear out the defense.
Aaron Rodgers, the likely MVP, was worse in terms of interceptions per attempt.
Forcing turnovers can change a game, and the 49ers defense did a great job snagging picks and virtually eliminating the running game. Pro Bowlers like Justin Smith, Patrick Willis and Carlos Rogers are still the biggest strength of this team, but discarding Alex Smith as an oblivious game-manager is an oversimplification of the quarterback, his coach and his team.
Even if there were better options available, Smith is part of Harbaugh's system. This is how the Niners play ball. Can Colin Kaepernick go from the bench to under center over the course of one offseason? Possibly, but that's a huge risk for a team that's in position to dominate its division for a while.
Look for the California native to stick with Jim Harbaugh, Vernon Davis and crew to make a run at a second straight division title. The City That Knows How knows it needs Alex Smith just as much as he needs San Francisco.
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