Honestly, the comeback of Alex Smith stands incomplete.
After seasons of ridicule for his struggles to become the next 49ers quarterback in the line measured by Joe Montana and Steve Young, Smith’s Comeback Player of the Year-type season has been filled with hollow applause.
That’s because, up until now, Smith has heard more about what he hasn’t done than what he’s done.
Basically, Smith has been credited with not screwing up this Niners season, for not making the bone-headed mistake that might have bounced the 49ers off their 13-3 regular-season run.
To all who’ve surveyed the most surprising NFC team to get this far, the 49ers are touted for playing great defense, pounding opponents with a powerful running game and following a terrific new coach. Any mention of Smith has focused on him not turning the ball over. And don’t forget his selfless leadership — bringing the team together during the lockout, teaching the basics of coach Jim Harbaugh’s offense without so much as a contract.
Going into this game against the Saints, the portrait of Smith hangs in the balance between his past struggles and his present success.
Those still unconvinced rarely recognize the comeback Smith led to beat the Philadelphia Eagles or his perfect throw to Michael Crabtree to beat the Seattle Seahawks. And how those two victories mean the difference between playing the Saints here or having to play them at the Superdome.
The Saints at Candlestick Park in a divisional playoff game sounds like the perfect answer to a quarterback’s version of “Clue,” the game Niners fans might play when offering up a winning scenario for Smith to prove he should be the long-term answer as the team’s quarterback.
According to his teammates, Smith’s climb off the pile of failed 49ers quarterbacks began by playing within himself, not trying to do too much, which is exactly Smith’s game plan for the franchise’s first playoff game in nine years, nine days.
“We’re not going to be somebody we’re not,” Smith said. “We’re going to continue to do what we do. We’ve done it all year.”
Despite all of the individual possibilities, Smith is focused upon the group picture.
“I don’t care. I really don’t care,” he said when asked about his matchup with Saints quarterback Drew Brees. “I’m looking to outscore him. He can throw for however many yards he wants to.”
If Smith does shine against the Saints, he’ll finally have the game on his record that says he’s no longer the failed quarterback he was under Mike Nolan and Mike Singletary. This is his opportunity to cast himself as the Niners quarterback who can be counted on to play winning football when the 49ers need him most.
Completing the comeback of Alex Smith.
Tim Liotta is a freelance journalist and regular contributor to The San Francisco Examiner. Email him at email@example.com.