The revitalization of Alex Smith’s seemingly sinking career has become one of the most intriguing and unlikely storylines of the NFL postseason.
In one calendar year, Smith morphed from an afterthought as a starting QB option to an efficient, smart signal-caller who led the 49ers to one of the most exciting playoff wins in franchise history.
And while Smith’s saga steals the lion’s share of the headlines, it’s just one piece of the intricate puzzle that has become this version of the 49ers.
From Vernon Davis, who went from being booted off the sideline by then-coach Mike Singletary in 2008 to playoff hero Saturday night, to rookie fullback Bruce Miller, who was a defensive lineman in college, to Pro Bowl cornerback Carlos Rogers, who was thought by some to have already played his best days with the Washington Redskins, this Niners roster is littered with players who have something to prove.
“I don’t know how many wins we were picked to have at the beginning of the season, it wasn’t many,” Smith said. “Certainly, I don’t know where we were picked to come in the division, all of that. Not a lot of people were in our corner.”
Dashon Goldson took to Twitter to say his goodbyes to San Francisco after the team signed Donte Whitner in the offseason. But as fate would have it, he re-signed and turned in a Pro Bowl season.
The Philadelphia Eagles went with a rookie kicker over aging veteran David Akers, who was essentially run out of town after a big miss in the playoffs. All Akers did in his first year in The City was promptly set an NFL record for field goals made in a season.
Few, if any, stood on rooftops and shouted praise for general manager Trent Baalke when he took Aldon Smith with the No. 7 overall pick in the draft in April. Fourteen sacks and victories later, it’s Baalke who has had the last laugh.
“I changed my life around and I became more of a leader, because in the beginning it was all about me and that’s not right,” Davis said. “You don’t want it to be all about you. I find it that, when it’s more about the team and you put the team first, you have more success.”
That team-first attitude stems directly from coach Jim Harbaugh, who immediately put his stamp on the franchise.
The players bought in and have turned the franchise upside down in a short span.
“There was no five-year plan, or three-year plan,” Harbaugh said. “It was ‘let’s win this year.’”
And with one more win, as unlikely as it seemed 12 months ago, they’ll be standing smack dab in the middle of football’s grandest stage.