Alex Smith took a huge step forward in his progression towards shedding his “game manager” label on Sunday at Lambeau Field.
Smith went in to the game with a huge question mark over his head in regards to how he would orchestrate the offense in a hostile environment, against a team that hadn’t lost at home in their last 13 games there. He came out of the game with that question mark erased, having displayed things 49ers fans had yet to see from him since he came into the league.
Start with his first touchdown pass to Randy Moss. Green Bay’s defensive backfield broke down, leaving Moss wide open in the middle of the end zone. Smith hit him right between the numbers for the touchdown. An easy play, right? Not for the Smith of old. In fact, he missed a similar throw to Kyle Williams last year on a Monday night against Pittsburgh. Smith didn’t confidently make the throw, and threw it behind Williams. Sunday, however, Smith read the breakdown in coverage, stepped up, and threw a strike right on the future hall of famer.
Another play that stands out is Smith’s second touchdown pass to Vernon Davis. On a third-and-goal from the 4-yard line, Smith fired a strike, low and outside to Davis who was blanketed by Green Bay defenders. There was a football sized spot Smith could throw that ball for a touchdown pass and he drilled it. On the stat sheet, it’s a pedestrian touchdown pass, but to those watching the game, it was a difficult play that Smith never would have made a season ago. Progress.
The final play that stands out that won’t show up in a statistical line came in the fourth quarter on San Francisco’s final drive of the game. On a second and five, needing to kill the clock, Smith rolled out to his right with Bruce Miller running with him. Smith waited as long as he could and forced the linebacker to make a play on him. He then gently floated the ball over the linebacker’s outstretched hand and into the arms of Miller for a crucial first down. Smith took control of the play, didn’t panic and made a play. Game manager Smith doesn’t do that. He takes the sack or throws the ball away.
Bottom line is this: Smith is not just a game manager. Somebody may get that idea from his stat lines, but that just isn’t the case. Smith made big plays and made big throws when he needed to, and he and the 49ers offense did enough to beat the Green Bay Packers. That is not to omit the defensive effort, because without the defense playing as tough as they did, the 49ers do not win. However, without Smith playing as well as he did, the 49ers don’t win either.
It was a team effort for the 49ers on Sunday, with players on both sides of the ball making plays. There was no managing for them at Lambeau Field on Sunday, just winning.