The time is now for Alex Smith to win

Aug 28, 2010; Oakland, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers quarterback Alex Smith (11) reacts during the preseason game against the Oakland Raiders at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. The 49ers defeated the Raiders 28-24. Photo by Image of Sport Photo via Newscom

For those that stayed up to watch the final two minutes of the 49ers’ loss to the Saints on Monday night, you were treated to a rare sight: Alex Smith on the verge of leading his team to victory.

Granted, the 49ers could only tie the game when Smith led them on an 8-play, 82-yard touchdown drive that took only 53 seconds off the clock in the final two minutes of the fourth quarter. But the key is that he put them in position to potentially win the game at some point by throwing the ball with pinpoint accuracy, scrambling for extra yards and making smart decisions to keep the chains moving.

In the end, Drew Brees just had too much time on the clock not to lead the Saints to victory. That’s what Brees does – he finds ways to win. And now it’s Smith’s turn to do that very thing.

The 49ers have to win the NL West this year, period. The Rams are rebuilding, the Seahawks are short on overall talent and the Cardinals don’t have a quarterback. Thus, it’s Smith and the Niners’ division to lose.

That said, they’re already 0-2 and now have to go on the road this Sunday to face a 2-0 Chiefs team brimming with confidence right now. Furthermore, Smith is just 16-24 as a starting quarterback, which is why the time is now for him to step up.

While some aren’t enamored with his arm strength, he proved on Monday night that he could throw the ball. Believe it or not, he’s also one of the smartest quarterbacks in the league and this season is the first time in his career that he’s had the same offensive coordinator (Jimmy Raye) and playbook for two years straight.

But he has to win. That’s what great quarterbacks do and while Smith is far from great, he doesn’t have to be at this point. The 49ers don’t come without some glaring weaknesses (i.e. two rookies are starting on the offensive line and some of the decision-making by Raye and head coach Mike Singletary is questionable at best), but the ’08 Lions could win this division. It’s there for the taking.

Smith doesn’t have to be a Pro Bowler and he certainly doesn’t have to live up to his draft status (No. 1 overall). He shouldn’t have to worry about what Aaron Rodgers (who was taken 23 spots after Smith in 2005) is doing in Green Bay either.

But he does have to start fulfilling some of the expectations that have been laid out for him. He has plenty of weapons around him and he’s comfortable in the offense; thus, there are no more excuses. Win now.

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Is Alex Smith on the verge of his long awaited breakout season?

In 43 career games, 49ers quarterback Alex Smith has completed just 56.1 percent of his passes for 7,029 yards with 37 touchdowns and 43 inceptions.

Those numbers aren’t good for any quarterback, nevertheless one that was taken with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2005 draft. But considering this will be the first time in his career that he’ll have the opportunity to work with the same offensive coordinator two years in a row, good things might be on the horizon for the former Utah product.

Offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye is giving Smith more responsibility this year, including setting alignments and reading defenses out of the shotgun on third downs. That was something that Raye admits Smith wasn’t ready for last season.

Asked if Smith was prepared to handle that last year, the always honest Raye said, “Not really. He had some idea. Some of it was, ‘I hope I’m right, if not, run to the right.'”

Bill Walsh used to hate the shotgun because it required the quarterback to take his eyes off the defense for a split second when he got the snap. But if it works for Smith, then it works for Raye and the 49ers. It’s time for the team to trust that the 26-year-old signal caller is ready to take the next step and get San Fran back into the playoffs.

One of Smith’s teammates, tight end Vernon Davis, also recently applauded the quarterback’s improved leadership skills.

“He’s talking. He’s vocal. He’s taking control and being that guy you want on your team — a guy who’s going to step up and take charge and handle his responsibilities,” Davis said.

Outside of shaky performances against the Cardinals (Week 14) and Eagles (Week 15) in back to back weeks late in the year, Smith played very well last season after taking over for Shaun Hill in a Week 7 game against the Texans. It’s early, but things look to be aligning for the sixth-year quarterback.

I like Smith this year as part of a two-man or three-man committee. In 11 starts, he averaged 214 yards and 1.6 pass TD against 1.1 interceptions per game. He wasn’t brilliant, but he was for the most part solid, and with an offseason to work with Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree, Smith should perform well in good matchups. I’d expect him to finish somewhere in the QB10 to QB17 range, which makes him a prime target for a QBBC.

Photo from fOTOGLIF

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