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Alex Smith Keeps Rising

Posted Oct 8, 2012

Not in the business of comparing or contrasting players, coaches, schemes, personnel, or even rock and roll acts, Jim Harbaugh opened his doors for business Monday morning when asked about Alex Smith’s recent stretch of solid play.

Specifically, Harbaugh was asked to compare Smith’s 2012 season to his own bounce-back season of 1995. Harbaugh didn’t take much time to answer it either.

“He’s better,” Harbaugh said.

The 49ers quarterback is statistically better than most NFL quarterbacks these days. As of Monday morning, Smith leads the NFL with a 108.7 quarterback rating. San Francisco’s signal-caller also ranks fourth in completion percentage (68.6), sixth in yards per attempt (7.9) and eighth in touchdown passes (8).

Smith’s statistics saw a solid increase after his impressive outing in a 45-3 win over the Buffalo Bills. The quarterback’s stat line read as follows: 18 of 24, 303 passing yards, 75 percent completion percentage, three touchdowns, no interceptions and a 156. 2 quarterback rating. Oh, and Smith added three rushes for a career-high 49 yards.

“Alex definitely had a great game,” Harbaugh said.

Smith’s ascension under Harbaugh’s watch has been undeniable. Since 2011, Smith has the most wins by any starter in the NFL, going 17-4 during that period.

With the eighth-year signal-caller producing a signature win over the Bills, it’s clear Smith’s risen to the occasion multiple times for the 49ers in his 21 regular season games under Harbaugh.

For all Smith endured during his early years in the NFL – injuries, criticism and multiple coaching staffs – the 49ers quarterback has never pointed the finger outwards. Instead, Smith’s been sharpened by the experiences.

“I can’t tell you much respect I have for him,” Harbaugh said on Monday. “He plays so well, handles himself. He does all the things. I look back and say I wish I could have done as good a job as he’s done on and off the field.”

Smith’s 156.2 quarterback rating versus the Bills on Sunday was higher than any rating Harbaugh produced in his 15-year NFL career.

Harbaugh’s best rating as a starter (146.6) came in an Indianapolis Colts 41-0 win over the Miami Dolphins in 1997, Harbaugh’s 11th NFL season. Like Smith’s performance against the Bills, Harbaugh never turned the ball over. However, Harbaugh completed a higher percentage of passes (76.9 percent) and threw for more touchdowns (4) in a 41-point victory.

Smith’s 42-point win over the Bills saw the team improve to 13-0 when Smith starts and posts a quarterback rating over 100.0.

The 156.2 rating was also the best single-game performance in the NFL dating back 23 weeks of the regular season.

“A lot of things went really well,” Harbaugh said of his team’s performance, one that saw the 49ers set a franchise record with 621 net yards of offense, while becoming the first team in league history to rush and pass for more than 300 yards in the same game. “A lot of good play to highlight.”

Harbaugh, however, was most pleased in how his team bounced back from uncharacteristic first-half penalties.

“Consistently good things,” Harbaugh said while discussing his team’s fourth win through five weeks. “(We) overcame some things and were able to control the game – that was the most encouraging thing.”

Harbaugh credited his coordinators for coming up with solid gameplans.

“Great credit to (offensive coordinator) Greg Roman,” Harbaugh said. “Just the game he called, the plan he had for our team, he’s a shining light, a real superstar… the same for Vic Fangio and Brad Seely -  great games for both resumes, exceptional job by those men.”

When discussing his offense’s breakthrough performance, Harbaugh singled out several perimeter playmakers in addition to Smith. Michael Crabtree, Mario Manningham, Vernon Davis, Kyle Williams and Randy Moss were all highlighted by the 49ers coach for exceptional route-running and team-first football.

Harbaugh also highlighted “Mr. Do-it-all,” tight end Delanie Walker for his tremendous efforts in both the run and pass game. Walker had no catches, but still impacted the game in a major way according to the 49ers coach.

With Smith throwing for 303 yards, Frank Gore rushing for 106 yards and Crabtree and Davis totaling 113 and 106 receiving yards, respectively, Sunday’s win marked the first time the 49ers had a 300-yard passer, 100-yard rusher and two, 100-yard receivers in the same game since Nov. 19, 1961.

Harbaugh said Smith was in-sync with Williams on their 43-yard touchdown connection. The 49ers coach went on to point out how the presence of Moss and the team’s other vertical threats have opened things up for Gore and the 49ers running backs, who’ve also opened things up on the outside for the team’s perimeter weapons.

Even with a few penalties committed in the first half, Smith completed 12 of 15 passes for a career-high 237 yards with two touchdown passes and a perfect quarterback rating of 158.3.

The solid opening continued into the second half. Smith was protected solidly throughout the game. Only a fourth-quarter quarterback hit soured Smith’s seemingly perfect day. The 49ers quarterback is presumably dealing with a finger sprain on the middle finger of his throwing hand.

Harbaugh, however, doesn’t doubt that Smith will be ready for Sunday’s NFC title game rematch against the New York Giants.

“He talks about it not being a big deal,” Harbaugh said of Smith’s reaction to the finger injury. “We’ll see.”

It’s hard to fathom Smith not being available for Sunday’s pivotal NFC non-division matchup against the Giants (3-2).

Harbaugh admitted to already studying New York on film.

“Already seeing the obvious things,” Harbaugh said, “the outstanding team they are, explosive offenses, very balanced, exceptionally balanced, they do everything well offensively, defensively, the same… Just an all-around top team in this league.”

Come Sunday, the Giants will face one of the all-around top quarterbacks in the league, too.

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