By Jerrell Richardson
After last season’s 13-3 record and falling just one game shy of the Super Bowl, the expectations entering this year could not have been higher for the 49ers. For a franchise with multiples Super Bowl victories, there are no moral victories. The season will not automatically be deemed a bust if the team does not win the Vince Lombardi Trophy, but it may feel like it depending on why they fall short. From top to bottom, no team is as complete as San Francisco and the only glaring question remains the play of Alex Smith.
If Smith Plays Well, They Win
Some would say that Alex Smith is being judged unfairly. When the team wins, everyone praises the defense, running games of some other phase of the team, and when they lose it’s Smith’s fault. The reality, though, is that this is pretty accurate. In the team’s last two losses (Giants and Vikings), there was a lack of production from the passing game, and in the defeat at the hands of New York, this was compounded by Smith’s untimely interceptions, erasing any chance of a comeback. Smith has shown that he is still a work in progress, but its clear that he continues to make strides in his development. This year alone he has been named the FedEx Air Player of the Week and the NFC Offensive Player of the week, so there is no doubting that he can lead the team, its just a matter of him doing it consistently.
If Needed Can He Come Thru?
This team is so good that they don’t need record-setting numbers from Smith to win games. What they do need is to know that he will be smart with the ball and if the running game is struggling, or if a play needs to be made in the passing game, he can get it done. Although the Giants handed them a 26-3 beat down, it’s almost impossible to run away from San Francisco, so more times than not the team will be in striking distance entering the final quarter. In playoff football, that is all a team can ask for. The concern, though, is that if they are in a position in which they need a last-minute drive, will Smith be able to save the day? Right now, the answer is maybe.
There are plenty of games that supporters of Smith can point to which show that he does have a clutch gene. But in both of the losses this year, Smith has disappeared in crunch time, with the team scoring no points in the 4th quarter. What has elevated Eli Manning to the top of the quarterback food chain, outside of his two Super Bowl rings, is his 4th-quarter exploits, and what separates the 49ers from their potential playoff opponents (Giants, Packers, Falcons, Bears) is that they all have a quarterback who they rely to make the play for them. San Francisco can rely on Smith to not screw things up, but the jury is still out on he he can be counted on to put them over the top, which is what the team will need to take the big step and make it to the Super Bowl this year.
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Jerrell Richardson is a Bay Area native who due to a college career at San Diego State University has grown an appreciation for all things sports related in California. His heart will always remain in San Francisco though where he currently resides and covers everything from the San Francisco 49ers and Giants to the San Jose Sharks and California Bears Baseball team. His work can be found on Examiner.com.