Dec 9, 2012; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers quarterback Alex Smith (11) throws the ball before the game against the Miami Dolphins at Candlestick Park. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
I will not use this post to make comparisons between Alex Smith and rookie
quarterbacks who were drafted in the second round of the 2013 NFL Draft. I
already wrote that article. I will not use this space to say that Alex Smith
is an upgrade from Matt Cassel. If you need me to do that, or you think
Smith isn’t better than Cassel, you probably think the Chiefs will score the
most home runs this year using their football bats and getting past the
Nope, this post will be devoted strictly to explaining why I believe Alex
Smith has the “clutch” gene. Yes, I said clutch, as in gets it done under
pressure, doesn’t just manage the clock but goes out and wins football
games, gene. He is clutch.
We all know that Smith didn’t start out his NFL career as well as his No. 1
overall price tag would indicate. Many would call Smith a bust. If you look
only at his stats, I would be inclined to agree with you. But, I’m not just
looking at his stats. Smith is a quarterback, and while the great ones –
Montana, Favre, Brees, Brady – generally make the others around them look
better than they are, there has to be some talent there to begin with.
Smith really had no help in that department his first few seasons in San
Francisco. His first year, his leading receiver was a guy named Arnaz
Battle. Ever hear of him? Yeah, me neither.
So what makes #11 a clutch QB? Is it the ability to sling the football 4000
yards per season? Is it racking up 40 TD’s in one year? Are those stats what
make a QB a clutch player? By that account, Cam Newton of the Carolina
Panthers is the clutchest of the clutch. His rookie year he passed for 4,051
yards, threw 21 TD’s, rushed for 706 yards and 14 more scores on the ground.
But was he clutch? What was the Panther’s record in 2011? They went 6-10 on
the year, finished third place in the NFC South and obviously didn’t qualify
for the playoffs. On the other hand, in 2011, the 49ers went 13-3, finished
first in the NFC West and were a fumble away from the Superbowl. Despite the
success, Alex Smith’s stats in 2011 were not what many consider top shelf,
or elite for an NFL quarterback. He threw for a career high 3,144 yards and
17 TD’s. While he added 179 yards and two more scores in the rushing game,
his stats were far removed from the Rookie of the Year, Newton. So what’s
the difference? The winning? The playoffs? Was that Smith’s doing, or was it
the defense and the running game?
By 2011, Smith finally had talent in his receivers. While Vernon Davis had
been there as long as Smith, it also took a while for the pass-catching
tight end to come into his own. Let’s not forget, this is the same tight end
who was benched by the “great savior” Mike Singletary, for having a poor
attitude. Smith, also turned the corner in 2011 with his leadership skills
and fire under pressure. While Smith had led comeback victories in seasons
past, he didn’t truly master the art until the week 3 game against the
Philadelphia Eagles, funny enough, against his now head coach, Andy Reid.
Perhaps this was when Reid first discovered the clutch gene in his future
After falling behind to the Eagles 20-3 at halftime, Smith led a crusade
against the City of Brotherly Love and outscored the birds 21-3 in the
second half, including same late 4th quarter heroics that put his running
back, Frank Gore, in position to score the game winning touchdown. Smith
wasn’t perfect on the day, 21/33, 291 yards and 2 TDs, but he got the job
During the playoffs that season, Smith proved his mettle after the famed
49er defense allowed the New Orleans Saints to regain the lead in a back and
forth game with 1:28 on the clock. Smith had just taken the lead in the game
with 1:51 with a perfectly executed bootleg run to the left that allowed #11
to sprint his way into the endzone with the go ahead score and put the 49ers
up by five points with less than two minutes remaining. However, 34 seconds
later, the 49er offense, having barely had time to celebrate their score,
found themselves back on the field, 85 yards from the endzone, and less than
a minute and a half to play.
Smith didn’t cry. He didn’t blink. He went onto the field and led his team
on a seven play drive that ended in a touchdown. I’ve watched the drive so
many times, I could tell you exactly what happens and when. After the huge
catch and run by Vernon Davis, the commentators are talking about setting up
a David Akers field goal to tie the game. If Smith were a game manager, a
facilitator – if Smith weren’t clutch – that’s exactly what would have
happened when they got into range. That’s not what happened. Smith fired a
pass to Davis – into triple coverage – and scored the winning touchdown,
leaving Brees and the Saints only 14 seconds left. Tell me that’s not
Smith continued on his winning ways the following season. Out of the gate he
engineered a win against NFC favorites, the Green Bay Packers. Smith went on
in 2012 to win six games and drop two before being injured in the second
quarter of a game against the Saint Louis Rams. Adding to his clutch quality
(albeit a little crazy, considering) Smith stayed in the game and threw a TD
with blurred vision before coming out of the game.
The 49ers have travelled a similar road as the Kansas City Chiefs in the
last couple of years. Both teams have exceptional running games, good
defenses and above average (but not quite elite) wide receiver corps. Both
teams have gone through coaching staffs and especially offensive
coordinators, like most people change their underwear.
Last week Alex Smith took over his football team and started them on the
road to the playoffs in 2013. And that guy who everybody thought should be
drafted No. 1 overall? He fired his agent during a temper tantrum. Is that
clutch? I don’t think so.
Until next time, Addicts.