Alex Smith hasn't started a game for the San Francisco 49ers since November, but the veteran quarterback deserves just as much credit as second-year signal-caller Colin Kaepernick for the team's run to Super Bowl XLVII.
No, Smith hasn't led the Niners to a playoff win—or even attempted a pass this January—but he did propel San Francisco to a crucial 6-2 start before leaving Week 10's tie with St. Louis halfway through with a concussion.
Smith's career-high 70.2 completion percentage and 104.1 passer rating through the first half of the regular season put Kaepernick in position to lead the Niners to the NFC's No. 2 seed.
Twitter's @GOSU49 points out Smith's early-season contributions that are easy to forget all these weeks later:
Alex Smith, thanks for getting us almost halfway there...somebody needs to give him props for this turnaround with Harbaugh. #49ers— ChrisIsTheWayILive (@GOSU49) January 20, 2013
In addition to igniting San Francisco's fast start in 2012, Smith's team-first mentality throughout the 49ers' run to the title game has been key. He could have rocked the boat at any moment, but he has remained selfless, saying and doing all the right things.
I think the thing I've been impressed with most is, not so much the play-making. I knew that and the guys around here knew that. I think it's the lack of young mistakes that's really jumped out at me.
Most young guys who come in, yeah, they show flashes and they can play good at times. But they also seem to have those young moments as well, rookie moments, and bone-headed things. He hasn't done it. Period. He's played good ball. He's played patient and smart, playing good football.
The circumstances under which Smith lost the starting job are disturbing, considering it was an injury—not his play—that cost him the No. 1 spot. But he has handled the entire situation flawlessly, and now the Niners find themselves drama-free and in the Super Bowl for the first time in 18 years.
Win or lose in New Orleans this February, Smith's value to the 49ers as a mentor to Kaepernick and as a teammate must not be overlooked.
Not only did Smith help restore one of the NFL's most storied franchises in 2011 under Jim Harbaugh and lead the Niners to a fast start this season, but over the past few weeks, he has also demonstrated the character that helped make him the No. 1 overall pick in 2005.
Follow Bleacher Report Featured Columnist Patrick Clarke on Twitter.