It’s only week 2, but sometimes a short impression is enough. After going 13-3 last season, missing out on the Super Bowl by only 3 points, the San Francisco 49ers under Jim Harbaugh were already very close. In 2012, after two convincing wins against the NFC North’s best (Green Bay Packers, Detroit Lions), it seems that a team with Alex Smith at quarterback is the best the NFL has to offer.
Smith isn’t going to become an all-pro caliber quarterback, but in the right system, simply being responsible and accurate is enough. The 49ers destroyed the Packers running game in week 1, terribly limiting a usually sensational Aaron Rodgers. In week 2, against the Detroit Lions, they kept Matthew Stafford on only 230 yards (19-32) and one touchdown, while sacking him twice, intercepting him once and keeping a persistent Lions running game at only 82 yards on 26 carries, just a 3.2 average.
With Alex Smith being efficient, it’s pretty much enough. He got sacked three times and roughed up by Ndamukong Suh quite a few times, but his streak of passes without throwing an interception turned into 284, nine straight games without throwing a pick. Previously in his career, he never went more than 3 football afternoons without throwing one.
And that’s all Smith has to do. For once, he’s loaded with receivers who get open. Vernon Davis caught two touchdown passes, and life is made quite easy with Michael Crabtree, Mario Manningham and Randy Moss as your receiving crew. The 49ers didn’t do anything explosive, but they didn’t have to. The Patrick Willis led defense was closed down when it mattered, allowing the Lions’ first touchdown with 1:29 left in the game. Too late for more than a 19-27 loss.
You aren’t going to see any offensive blowouts from the 49ers, because they’re not that kind of team. They have a rushing attack spearheaded by Frank Gore, running 89 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries (5.1 average), and have a strong back in Kendall Hunter to complement him.
This team is tough not just because of their defense, but because they have a quarterback that due to the confidence boost he’s been getting for his head coach, is suddenly unfazed and impossible to shake. After getting roughed up he delivered a 79 yard drive, throwing a 23 yard pass to Davis, pretty much closing out the game with 3:04 left on the clock.
Is this smash-mouth football? Not far from it. It’s weird thinking of the 49ers as that kind of team, after the West Coast offense, Bill Walsh, Joe Montana and Steve Young. But that’s the reality. Instead of finding a quarterback to replace legends, they’ve built a team that doesn’t need a legendary one to lead them. Just a tough, confident smart one.
It might not have been true a couple of years ago, but with the right kind of head coach to believe in him, Alex Smith is now that kind of quarterback. Someone leading the best team in the NFL; a quarterback who can end up a Super Bowl winner in four months.]