A Nice Ring To It
I feel delight, contentment, a sense of approaching full circle and finally, a feeling of deja vu. The San Francisco Forty-Niners, led by Alex Smith, upset the former NFL champion New Orleans Saints, Saturday afternoon, 36-32, to advance to the NFC title game, for the first time since 1997. The victory was the result of a superior, balanced effort, on the part of the defense, special teams, and oh, by the way, Alex Smith.
No one is surprised to hear that Patrick Willis, Dashon Goldson, Justin Smith, and Aldon Smith on defense, and David Akers, Andy Lee, and Blake Costanzo, on special teams, were a huge part of the victory. However, it may interest you to know that the much maligned Alex Smith, the much ridiculed Alex Smith also played a role in the victory, a role that no other NFL quarterback has ever performed before, not even Joe Montana, or Steve Young.
Alex brought his team back into the lead twice in the final three minutes of the Saturday playoff game, by engineering scoring drives that resulted in touchdowns. He scored himself, on a designed bootleg around the left side, surprising the Saints with his only intended rush of the game, and he sent a laser beam to Vernon Davis, with nine seconds remaining on the clock, to seal the deal. Quarterbacks, including Montana and Young have come from behind countless times before, but never twice in the same playoff game, when pressure is the greatest, and there is the most to lose.
The Niners have been able to ignore the lack of respect they have garnered from the out-of-areas media. After all, they had yet to prove themselves in the playoff arena. There were four quarterbacks entering this past weekend’s playoff schedule, who possess Superbowl rings, one of them having earned three rings. None of the four is named Alex Smith.
Alex hasn’t had the opportunity to play in the playoffs before. He has played under three different head coaches, and astonishingly, seven different offensive coordinators, in seven seasons. That means he has had to learn seven different play-books in seven different seasons. Though he is a cerebral guy, that is a lot to ask of someone, and then expect that he will be able to establish any semblance of continuity, in a single season.
Alex was joined in 2006 by Vernon Davis, the same year that Frank Gore was established as the primary running back. All it took was a head coach who had faith in him. Mike Nolan felt that Alex lacked leadership, and Mike Singletary called the former number one draft pick “meek.” But how fair is that? He was never given two consecutive seasons to develop a rhythm to his offense, never given a head coach who could orchestrate all three components of a successful NFL team, to allow Alex to show his ability.
With the defense taking the ball away, and the kicking team dictating favorable field position, on both sides of the ball, Alex has stepped up to the task of providing the leadership qualities that the four ring-bearing quarterbacks possess.
In this, his seventh season in San Francisco, he has thrown only five interceptions. He has not thrown for more than 300 yards one time this season, accumulating 299 in the New Orleans game, and he barely topped 3,000 yards, unlike Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees, who both threw for more than 5,000 yards, each. But, unlike Alex, both of those quarterbacks will watch the rest of the tournament from their living room couches.
Alex said prior to the game, when asked about the disparity in yards thrown, that he did not care if he, Alex, threw for more yards than Brees, only that he outscore him.
When the Saints went ahead with only three minutes to go, Alex delivered, and when they retook the lead with 97 seconds left, Alex once again came through. When it was over, he had done what no other quarterback has done. The only thing left is a ring.
But first we have invited the New York Giants to visit. Things worked out well in the first meeting, as the Giants’ defense shut down the Niners’ running game and Alex produced a victory. He has to do it again to join the circle of elite quarterbacks, with a ring of his own. There, that has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?