SANTA CLARA (CBS/AP) — Alex Smith was in a few precarious positions in his first game under Jim Harbaugh: throwing blocks, diving for a touchdown and getting a bear hug from the new San Francisco 49ers coach.
Even hearing some cheers, too.
The bumps and bruises that still dotted Smith’s body Wednesday earned him high praise from teammates and coaches, which also has been a rare mark in his six previous seasons.
Even with the added aches and pains from a bruising win, another season-opening loss would have felt far worse.
“It’s a lot better than 0-1,” he said.
Smith showed poise and polish in San Francisco’s 33-17 victory over Seattle on Sunday, guiding the offense slowly but steadily and giving a glimpse of promise to a franchise long waiting for him to prove his worth.
While Harbaugh emphatically embraced the 2005 No. 1 overall pick, Smith will need to lead the offense to a lot more than one touchdown before the 49ers do the same.
Winning will certainly help.
“I think Alex has been sort of victimized with the coaches in the past,” left tackle Joe Staley said. “It’s great to see the connection now and the belief from the players as well as the coaches.”
Smith threw for 124 yards and completed 15 of 20 passes with no turnovers against the Seahawks.
For all the anticipation surrounding Harbaugh’s new West Coast offense, the play calling was rather conservative, with few passes down the field.
Smith certainly didn’t dazzle.
What had Harbaugh excited and players riled up on the sideline was the gusto Smith showed in sacrificing his body to make plays, bringing the 49ers’ sideline to a frenzy more than once.
As the clock ticked down late in the first half, Smith rolled right, spun and dived into the end zone—taking a punishing hit from safety Kam Chancellor at the goal line—for a 1-yard TD run that gave San Francisco a 16-0 lead.
Smith hustled to the sideline and Harbaugh pulled the quarterback into a seconds-long bear hug, a gesture that already has become a symbol of San Francisco’s young season.
“Alex is a tough guy,” running back Frank Gore said. “I know he’s going to give it his all when he’s on the football field.”
Gore should know.
On another play in the first half, Smith sent his body into a linebacker, blocking for Gore on a reverse. Smith also scrambled several other times, turning nothing into something, the kind of plays Harbaugh craves from his quarterback.
“I was really encouraged by that,” Harbaugh said. “That was a point of emphasis during training camp, and to see him respond that way and do things that move the chains, get you closer to first downs and put you in more manageable situations as far as the down and distance is concerned, is something that is really positive.”
After a week when quarterbacks around the league broke 300, 400 – and in the case of New England’s Tom Brady, 500 – yards passing with ease, Smith will be expected to make progress with the 49ers offense, starting Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys.
There also is constant pressure on him to perform.
Second-round pick Colin Kaepernick is waiting should Smith stumble, something he has done during an inconsistent 49ers career.
That’s why Smith has fallen out of favor with many fans—some of whom have booed him on several occasions, including this preseason—after failing to lead San Francisco to the playoffs, a drought that extends to 2002.
While beating the Cowboys won’t change that perception immediately, it would be an improvement for a team that started last season with five losses.
“It’s another step,” Smith said. “It’s a team that’s outside our division and a team that’s had a lot of success in the NFC coming in here. No question, it’s a chance for us to potentially take that next step.”
Notes: WR Michael Crabtree (left foot) was in full pads but ran only one route in practice before taking a knee during the brief portion open to reporters. He missed all of training camp with the injury and had only one catch for 4 yards in the opener. Crabtree said after the game that precautionary X-rays on his foot came back negative. … The 49ers signed S Colin Jones to the practice squad, a day after they cut him. San Francisco selected Jones in the sixth round (190th overall) of the draft out of Texas Christian.
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