49ers Blog and Q&A

News, notes and reader questions about the San Francisco 49ers

October 7, 2012
49ers not just beating opponents; they're bullying them

AlexBills.jpg

To find the last time Alex Smith threw for more than 300 yards, you have to go back to October 10, 2010. It's not a pleasant memory for Smith.

That was the game in which then-coach Mike Singletary -- national television cameras hovering -- ripped into the quarterback on the sideline and chants of, "We want Carr! We want Carr!" for backup David Carr coursed through Candlestick Park. Smith threw for 309 yards that night as San Francisco's second-half comeback against the Eagles fell short.

If those images mark the low-point in his career, Sunday's performance showcases his resurgence. Smith shoved those bad memories even farther behind him with perhaps his best start-to-finish outing since the 49ers took him with the first pick in 2005. He left the game midway through the fourth quarter with 303 passing yards - his first-ever 300-yard game in a winning effort - and threw three touchdowns in the 49ers' 45-3 win over the Bills.

If not for two incompletions just before he was removed from the game, Smith would have finished with a perfect, 158.3 passer rating. As it turned out, he had to settle for a 156.2 rating, by far the best of his career.

"Good throw after good throw," Jim Harbaugh said of Smith. "And the protection was excellent. It was a little windy out there, but he was just putting it in - pinpointing it. He had a fabulous day."

For the second straight week, the 49ers didn't just beat -- but rather bullied -- an opponent, this time making history along the way:

• Their 311 rushing yards and 310 passing yards marked the first time in NFL history a team had 300 yards on the ground and in the air in the same game.

• The 621 combined yards was a franchise best for the 49ers. The previous high - 598 yards - also came against the Bills, on Sept. 13, 1992.

• Two pass catchers - Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis - had more than 100 yards receiving and Frank Gore rushed for 106 yards. It was the first time the 49ers had achieved that combination since 1961.

Offensive coordinator Greg Roman, whose play calls averaged 9.9 yards a play, said he didn't see Smith's game coming. The quarterback's week of practice didn't stand out, Roman said.

And Smith wasn't exactly sharp Saturday evening. He threw out the ceremonial first pitch in the Giants-Reds game, and the ball was outside and skipped in the dirt. Roman said Smith and the 49ers coaches laughed about it during the team meeting later that night. "He said he was working - like any smart pitcher or quarterback - he was just throwing some junk in there, keeping it low," Roman said archly. "Looking for a grounder, and just using the pitch count to his advantage."

On Sunday, Smith came out throwing strikes. He had 101 yards by the end of the first quarter and would have had a lot more had long completions to Davis and Crabtree not been called back because of penalties. Indeed, the 49ers' first half was punctuated by mistakes, including a fumble by last week's hero, Colin Kaepernick, at the end of the first half.

The Bills recovered with 46 seconds remaining. But instead of running out the clock and going into the locker room down 10-3, Buffalo tried for a last-second score, a decision that backfired when linebacker Patrick Willis forced a fumble.

On the next play, Smith - who wasn't sacked - went through his reads before finding Crabtree alone for a 28-yard touchdown. From that point, the rout was on.

Throwing out the first pitch at a playoff game? An historic offensive performance on a team than can boast Joe Montana and Steve Young as former quarterbacks?

Smith was asked to reflect on how far he's come since fans were chanting, "We want Carr!" "It seems like a long time ago," he said. "It was a long time, I feel like. It's a completely different world."

-- Matt Barrows



MATTHEW BARROWS

Matt was born in Blacksburg, Va., and attended the University of Virginia. He graduated in 1995, went to Northwestern for a journalism degree a year later, and got his first job at a South Carolina daily in 1997. He joined The Bee as a Metro reporter in 1999 and started covering the 49ers in 2003. His favorite player of all time is Darrell Green.

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