Alex Smith key to 49ers’ postseason hopes
If he continues to play like he did last week, Alex Smith could
save the season for the San Francisco 49ers and also save his job
with the team.
But to keep those possibilities alive, Smith will have to do it
this week as a visitor in his hometown against one of his most
influential mentors and with the NFL’s No. 1 defense on the other
side of the ball.
Smith and the 49ers face another must-win situation when they
play Thursday night in San Diego, where Smith grew up cheering for
the Chargers and where his former offensive coordinator is now the
Smith was up to the challenge in a similar position last Sunday,
returning from a five-game layoff to produce one of the finest
performances of his career. Smith’s big game sparked the 49ers
(5-8) to a 40-21 victory over Seattle, lifting San Francisco to
within a game of first place in the NFC West.
Some thought Smith might never throw another pass for the 49ers
after he was injured Oct. 24 in Carolina and Troy Smith
subsequently took over as the team’s starting quarterback.
Alex Smith now looks like the best option to lead the 49ers
through a final stretch that will define their season and likely
decide the fate of Smith and coach Mike Singletary.
”As long as he plays the way he played last week, he’s going to
give us a chance to win every game,” 49ers offensive coordinator
Mike Johnson said Tuesday. ”He was extremely disciplined, he was
calm, focused, and he made great decisions with the ball. He showed
that he has the potential to be a good quarterback, and that’s
hopefully something we can get from him this week and every week
The 49ers have been waiting for Smith to develop into a good
starting quarterback since they took him with the No. 1 overall
selection of the 2005 NFL draft.
It has been a rocky road for Smith ever since, one filled with
turmoil and injuries and six different offensive coordinators in
his six years with the team.
The coordinator who had the most impact on Smith was Norv
Turner, now head coach of the Chargers (7-6).
Turner was San Francisco’s offensive coordinator in 2006, when
Smith became the first quarterback in 49ers history to play every
offensive snap in a season and ended the year looking like one of
the NFL’s up-and-comers at the position.
Then Turner left for San Diego and things have never quite been
the same for Smith. Smith’s struggles continued into this season,
when he threw nine interceptions in San Francisco’s first five
games and was 1-6 as the team’s starter before getting injured.
Given another shot last week, Smith looked like a different
quarterback. He completed 17 of 27 passes for 255 yards and
compiled a 130.9 passer rating, the best for a game in his career.
He also matched his career high with three touchdown passes.
Turner said it’s the kind of thing Smith always has been able to
do but circumstances in San Francisco have prevented him from doing
”Obviously there’s been a lot of change for Alex, so it’s not
even fair I think to evaluate him on a game-to-game performance,”
Turner said. ”But when you look at the physical skills, and
certainly the plays he made the other day, the way he operated, he
continues to me to show that he’s capable.”
A free agent at the end of this season, it’s unlikely Smith will
return to the 49ers unless there’s a big turnaround from both him
and the team over these final three games.
Smith said he’s not worrying about that.
”I’m not thinking about any of that (future) stuff, to be
honest with you. We’re a game back in the division and we’re
playing one of the best football teams in the NFL,” Smith said.
”Our backs are up against the wall and it’s a short week, short
turnaround. So I’m excited, and I think everyone is.”