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Smith Having Time of His Life

Posted Jan 18, 2012

Alex Smith can be hard-headed at times.

Don’t be mistaken. The 49ers quarterback is well-liked by teammates, but there’s a few that know him in a different light.

Take starting right tackle Anthony Davis for example.

When Smith jetted off on a 28-yard touchdown run, the first of two long touchdown drives to help the 49ers defeat the New Orleans Saints 36-32 to advance to the NFC Championship game, Davis tried to celebrate with his quarterback by smothering Smith in the end zone.

Smith had just been escorted into the end zone by key blocks from wide receiver Kyle Williams and left tackle Joe Staley. Meanwhile, Davis hustled downfield to be the first one to greet Smith in the end zone.

“I hit him and bounced back,” Davis said with a chuckle. “He’s got a hard head... I was just trying to make sure I didn’t knock him down.”

It’s hard to slow Smith down these days, especially in the fourth quarter where he’s led six, fourth-quarter comebacks this season.

In the best season of his seven-year career which saw him post his first, 3,000-yard passing season, Smith has led the 49ers to 14 wins and newfound respect around the National Football League.

In one of two Sports Illustrated covers to be released this week, Smith is on the West Coast regional cover along with three other teammates: center Jonathan Goodwin, fullback Bruce Miller, and 49ers all-time leading rusher Frank Gore.

“Right place, right time,” Miller joked on Wednesday.

Smith, himself, wasn’t concentrated with the spotlight he’s currently under. When Smith faces the New York Giants and quarterback Eli Manning this Sunday in the NFC Championship game at Candlestick Park, it’ll be the second time in league history that two quarterbacks taken first overall have faced each other in a conference championship.

The magnitude of the moment speaks volumes to where Smith has come in seven seasons, now 1-0 in the playoffs after throwing for 299 yards and putting up four touchdowns (three passing, one rushing) against New Orleans.

Coming off a remarkable moment in his much publicized career, Smith aims to make the final statement on the field, not in the media.

“I think if we win this game and go to the Super Bowl, it’ll say it in itself,” Smith said standing with the George Halas NFC Championship game trophy displayed nearby. “I’m not thinking about that right now. I really think winning games as a quarterback at this time of the year speaks for itself. That’s how you do your talking. I’m just focused on this game, preparing myself all week.”

Smith isn’t worrying himself about comparisons to Manning, the quarterback drafted first overall in 2004, one year before Smith.

“I don’t think anyone has been in the situation he has. Those are pretty unique circumstances,” Smith said of his Sunday counterpart. “Your older brother is arguably the greatest quarterback ever and there are a lot of expectations on you.

“I didn’t have to face those things.”

Smith had to face his own unique circumstances, new coaches, coordinators and offensive systems to learn and execute.

But in displaying true dedication to his craft over the years, Harbaugh instantly recognized Smith to be a winning quarterback.

Asked about what he liked about Smith for possibly the 100th time of his first season coaching in San Francisco, Harbaugh offered a succinct, yet memorable reply.

“We’ve plotted this ground pretty thoroughly, it’s well documented,” said Harbaugh, one of eight NFL head coaches who entered 2011 with NFL playing experience. “We watched the tape on Alex and felt like this could be a fresh start for him. We loved the toughness, loved the intelligence and loved the leadership ability.”

And after Smith’s two touchdown drives in the final four minutes of a monumental win over the Saints, there’s no doubt Harbaugh feels even better about the decision to commit to Smith.

Perhaps there’s no better example than Smith’s 14-yard, game-winning touchdown to Vernon Davis which sent the Saints marching back to New Orleans wondering what went wrong.

“There’s times when no-conscious throws are needed to be made and he’s done a spectacular job of that all season long,” Harbaugh said.

“It speaks volumes about Alex and how he’s understanding those situations.”

Teammates see that calm, controlled demeanor all the time.

“We knew we had to do something,” left guard Mike Iupati said of the offense’s mindset before both late scoring drives against the Saints. “We had to bring everything and it showed in the couple of big plays that we made.”

Smith’s behavior through it all has further endeared him to teammates, even ones like his right tackle, who’ll try to corral him in the end zone to join in the celebration.

“We’ve seen him take the worst of it and now he’s in the Championship game,” Anthony Davis said. “And he’s the same dude… The same dude.”

The same player who beat the Giants 27-20 at home in the regular season will have to bring another clutch performance against a New York defense that is much healthier this time around.

“They’re playing just as good as before I really feel like,” said Smith of a Giants defense that totaled 48 sacks in the regular season. “Across the board, not a lot of weaknesses. The defensive line is unique to have that many guys that can get after the passer.”

So while Smith finds himself on the cover of SI, the same week he prepares for the biggest game of his life, there’s something to be said for the 49ers quarterback who has remained humble throughout the process.

“At this point, everybody is as good as each other,” Smith said. “It comes down to how you execute on that day. We’re all capable of beating each other that’s for sure.”

Even if Smith has more media obligations than normal this week, including a sit-down interview with former 49ers Hall of Fame quarterback and ESPN analyst Steve Young, the current San Francisco signal caller will continue to lead by example.

“I don’t know how many wins we were picked to have at the start of the season – not a lot of people were in our corner,” Smith said. “It was just us here working. To be down here to the last four with a chance to go to the Super Bowl this Sunday, that’s how we want it.”

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