As Smith goes, so go the 49ers
When Alex Smith is good he can be very good. When Smith is very good, the San Francisco 49ers are practically unbeatable.
While the staples of San Francisco’s success this season remain a rock-solid defense and the NFL’s top-ranked rushing game, Smith’s play at quarterback has been a key variable that’s put the 49ers over the top in a string of lopsided victories.
The first-place 49ers, coming off a bye week, begin the second half of the season Sunday against the St. Louis Rams at 6-2 with a 1 1/2-game lead in the NFC West. The six victories have come by an average margin of 20 points, and Smith has a 120.0 quarterback rating in those games.
The eighth-year veteran is one of the league’s top performers so far. Smith ranks fourth among NFL quarterbacks with a passer rating of 102.1. He’s second in the league with a completion percentage of 69.4.
Smith is playing some of the best football of his career. He has steadily emerged beyond the “game-manager” label some tagged him with last season when he guided the 49ers to a 13-3 record and berth in the NFC Championship game in coach Jim Harbaugh’s first year with the team.
Smith has developed more as a playmaker and is averaging 7.9 yards per pass attempt, which ranks fourth in the NFL. He enters the second half on a roll, having produced two of the best statistical games of his career in the past month.
Smith threw for a season-high 303 yards with a passer rating of 156.3 while leading the 49ers to a franchise-record 621 yards during a 45-3 blowout of the Buffalo Bills on Oct. 7. He topped that with a career-high 157.1 passer rating in San Francisco’s last game, a 24-3 victory at Arizona on Oct. 29.
Smith completed 18 of 19 passes for 232 yards and three touchdowns against the Cardinals, setting an NFL record with a 94.7 completion percentage for a quarterback with a minimum of 15 attempts.
He was named NFC Offensive Player of the Week for the first time two days later.
Johnson on the mend
Detroit receiver Calvin Johnson said he suffered nerve damage from two big hits in a September loss to Minnesota that’s made it tough for him to grip the football. Johnson, who hasn’t practiced this week because of a lingering knee injury, said the nerve problems subsided though there are some aftereffects.
Around the league
Chicago Bears star cornerback Charles Tillman says on Twitter that he will play Sunday against the Houston Texans, after all. Tillman’s status had been up in the air after he told Chicago radio station WSCR-AM that he might not be available because his wife, Jackie, is due to give birth. … Buffalo Bills defensive end Chris Kelsay hurt his neck in practice, leaving his status uncertain for this weekend’s game at New England. … A 19-year-old man has pleaded no contest to involuntary manslaughter stemming from the heroin-overdose death of the 18-year-old son of former NFL quarterback Erik Kramer. David Michael Nernberg was immediately sentenced to five years of probation and 90 days of community service in Los Angeles. Kramer’s son, Griffen, a quarterback at Thousand Oaks High School, died Oct. 31, 2011.
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