Think he managed that one well enough? You want to compare Alex Smith to Joe Montana or Steve Young? Well compare away. Alex is the new miracle worker by the Bay.
What he managed to do on Saturday at the ’Stick was turn logic and inevitability upside down.
This was one for the ages, and for the Niners. This one was redemption for Alex Smith — the quarterback who was the first-overall pick in 2005 NFL draft, but then turned into a tragic figure instead of a hero.
But in one marvelous afternoon, everything changed. The years of doubt and booing and criticism were swept away in one of the great quarters of San Francisco football.
The divisional playoff the experts thought would belong to Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints instead was wrenched away in the closing moments by Alex and Vernon Davis and the rest of the 49ers, 36-32, at Candlestick Park.
With San Francisco trailing, 24-23, Smith, on a brilliant call, used his legs — not his arm — on a 28-yard sweep to the left end with 2:11 remaining. Then, after Brees moved the Saints in front once more, 32-29. Alex earned his place in Niner lore.
He connected with Vernon Davis for 47 yards to get to the Saints’ 20, and then — memories of Young finding Terrell Owens on the goal line of the same south end zone in the 1999 playoff — hit Davis in virtually the same spot with the 14-yard game-winner.
“Very emotional, game, it was like a roller coaster,” said Davis, who as Owens on that day, Saturday was shedding tears after his catch.
The Niners now advance to the NFC Championship on Jan. 22 against the winner of today’s New York Giants-Green Bay Packers game. Winner of that goes to the Super Bowl — two words which at the start of this season for the 49ers seemed as unlikely as a December in Northern California without rain.
New coach Jim Harbaugh in a Bill Walsh redux, came over from Stanford and reworked the dynamic, for Smith and the Niners, who had gone eight seasons without a winning record until this one.
Harbaugh, an NFL quarterback himself once, asked of Smith what was possible not what was fantasy. And Alex responded during the regular season by throwing only five interceptions and posting the third-highest passer rating in the NFL.
The question became how he would perform in the postseason, where he never had been before, especially against Brees, who was a Super Bowl MVP and who last week in the wild-card round threw for 466 yards.
“He can throw for as many yards as he wants,” Smith had said of Brees, who Saturday did throw for 462 yards with 40 completions in 63 attempts, “I’m looking to outscore him.”
He and the Niners did, in part because of a defense which forced New Orleans into five turnovers. Brees was intercepted twice. Smith, 24-of-42, didn’t have a single pick.
What he did have was that game-winning drive that called down the echoes of championship years.
“I didn’t want this to end,” said Smith. “It’s been such a good year. We have a great group of guys.”
It’s not going to end, at least for another week. And maybe not then. The dream is reality.