Alex Smith had the best game of his career last night against the New Orleans Saints. The San Francisco 49ers lost 25-22 on a 37-yard Garrett Hartley field goal that for a second looked like it would miss the uprights as it was partially blocked. Nonetheless, it was a gutty performance by the 49ers who are now 0-2.
Their defense contained the Saints’ offense except when it really mattered: the last drive of the game that setup Hartley’s field goal. Although the 49ers didn’t force any turnovers—which was probably the difference in the game as the 49ers had four—the 49ers’ defense forced 6 punts opposed to the 3 by the Saints’. Patrick Willis led the defense with nine tackles and one sack and was honored with the most satisfying hit of the night against a charging Reggie Bush.
Frank Gore became the 49ers leading rusher of most 100+ yard games aided by an impressive outing by the revamped, band-aided offensive line.
All of that being said, what this game hinged on other than winning, was the performance of Alex Smith. In fact, I would go as far as saying if the 49ers won but Alex Smith didn’t play well, there would be more commotion and head-scratching than there is today, after a loss. Smith’s game wasn’t spectacular; he threw two interceptions against only one touchdown. But his game was calculated, composed, and timely as it could have been.
He had help…he was on Monday Night and at home playing against the Superbowl Champs. All pretty standard motivating factors when stepping up a game. But all of those factors could also turn against a player and a team just as easily, especially with the wind against him for most of the night (the Saints won the toss and chose to kick the ball to open the game so they could choose which end to defend).
Yet Smith kept his focus and led an eight-play, 82-yard drive in the fourth quarter with 2:12 left on the clock that resulted in a Frank Gore running touchdown and followed it with a 2-point conversion to Vernon Davis. During that drive Smith didn’t panic and didn’t overthrow anyone. Every play of that drive stopped the clock (one time it was due to an incomplete pass to Vernon Davis) without using a timeout. Every play but for the incomplete to Vernon Davis resulted in a 1st down. Alex Smith used his legs when nothing was available downfield.
The fourth quarter drive was something Alex Smith needed to live another week, and live he shall. He stepped up, without a problem, as if he was meant to be in that situation…it was weird (because 49er fans are used to it), but it was needed. Before this drive, Smith actually was having a good game, throwing it to 7 different receivers and methodically moving the offense up the field. At least one of his interceptions shouldn’t have happened, a short pass through the middle intended for Michael Crabtree.
So, while the 49ers are 0-2, they were able to get the confidence-inspiring, clutch performance from their quarterback that can hopefully carry over to next week in Kansas City. Each week will be a new measuring stick for Alex Smith (and the team) and he’s going to have to build on this past performance for any of this flattering to matter. But I thought I’d throw it out there since the season is still long. 0-2 isn’t good but it isn’t the end of the world. The 2009 49ers started out 2-0 and that quickly became 3 – 5 by week 9. The point is, the first two games isn’t going to make or break a season.
What do you guys think? Was this Alex Smith’s best game of his career?