The 49ers’ hot 8-1 start—their first since 1997—has been made possible not only by NFL elite running back Frank Gore and tight end Vernon Davis, but by quarterback Alex Smith, coach Jim Harbaugh and the team’s newfound ability to win football games.
Let’s see why being a Niner fan is back in style—and why Alex Smith is a keeper.
Not enough can be said about the intensity and confidence Jim Harbaugh has brought to the 49ers.
Fresh off the farm at Stanford, the rookie coach has made an immediate impact with a team that has virtually the same player personnel as last season. Except that, this time last year, the 49ers were 2-6 and struggling to find consistency.
Unlike last season, where coach Mike Singletary appointed a different starting quarterback for nearly every game, Harbaugh has stuck with Alex Smith unconditionally, and with great success. Each week we see how his faith in Smith gives the team stability. This consistency has allowed players to gel in the system and perform.
And not to mention—win.
Harbaugh has brought a fresh perspective and fearless attitude to a team—and quarterback—in need of confidence. His unconventional, brilliant call to run an onside kick in the middle of Sunday’s game against the New York Giants worked perfectly and led to a vital field goal.
By relying on Smith day in and day out, Harbaugh has seen impressive numbers from a quarterback with a shaky past.
While the 49ers' transformation has been impressive, Alex Smith still has a lot to prove.
But Smith’s numbers have put the team on the map. His passer rating has peaked this season (95.8) and is up from 82 in 2010. With only three interceptions in 10 starts, he is one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL. Last season, Smith threw 10 interceptions in 11 games.
In Sunday’s 27-20 comeback win over the Giants, Smith threw for 242 total yards, his second-highest total this season. He rushed for 27 yards with six carries.
Alex Smith is en route to having a career year that will likely continue well into January. His newfound confidence has inspired his teammates and has created a winning environment.
Not only is Alex Smith a changed man in 2011, his teammates haven’t missed a beat either. They have complemented his leadership in every aspect of the game.
The 49ers’ hard-hitting defense has been a dominant force in the NFL. Going into Sunday’s game against the Giants, the 49ers had only allowed 118 points—the fewest in the NFL.
Linebacker NaVorro Bowman ranks second in the NFL with 92 tackles, while cornerback Carlos Rogers leads the league with five interceptions.
And having someone to throw to doesn’t hurt either. Receivers Vernon Davis, Michael Crabtree and Josh Morgan are all averaging over 40 yards per game and over 10 yards per catch.
These three have accounted for six of the team’s 11 touchdowns this season. Their efficiency is a major factor in Alex Smith’s success, and vice versa.
As if to spoil Alex Smith even more, he has Frank Gore—one of the top running backs in the NFL with five touchdowns and 782 rushing yards this season. When the two-time Pro Bowler was sidelined with a knee injury for the last half of Sunday’s game, the rest of the team stepped up and found a way to win.
In the fourth quarter, running back Kendall Hunter rushed for a 27-yard touchdown and Smith connected with Vernon Davis for a 31-yard touchdown pass. A two-point conversion to Michael Crabtree sealed the deal at 27-20.
Kicker David Akers is also having a career year of his own. Akers is 5-for-5 from 50-plus yards this season and ranks among the NFL kicking leaders with 23 field goals. He makes 92 percent of his field goals.
Basically, Alex Smith has the best support system in the NFL. His coach believes in him and has transformed the 49ers into a dominant NFC force.
His defense bruises up opponents, forces turnovers and keeps points off the board. He has an elite running back in Frank Gore—but even when Gore is out, other players fill in the gaps and find ways to win.
And his kicker is nearly perfect. What more could a quarterback ask for?