Alex Smith, whose first pitch in Saturday's playoff game at AT&T bounced to the plate, has been firing strikes in the first half today. The 49ers quarterback, who has not had a 300-yard passing game since October 2010, already has 237 yards, and he's thrown touchdowns to Kyle Williams and Michael Crabtree. The 49ers lead the Bills 17-3. The 237 yards is - by far - a personal, first-half best for Smith.
Smith, criticized in the last two games for not throwing downfield, has answered those gripes with long passes to Vernon Davis, Crabtree and Williams. He's also had two long passes - a 21-yard pass to Davis and a 41 yarder to Crabtree - wiped out by penalties. The 49ers have five penalties for 38 yards.
Indeed, the 49ers' big-play offense has been muted a bit by mistakes, including a fumble by Week 4 hero Colin Kaepernick. After a long drive that began at the San Francisco 3-yard line, Kaepernick lined up as a wideout next to Randy Moss and took an end around from Smith.
But as he cut up field, he was tackled hard by Buffalo linebacker Nick Barnett and lost the ball. The Bills recovered, and with 46 seconds remaining in the half it appeared as if they would run out the clock and head into the locker room down only 10-3.
Instead they tried for an end-of-half score, a decision that backfired when Patrick Willis poked the ball from tight end Scott Chandler and Dashon Goldson recovered. On the next play, Smith - who has not been sacked - waited in the pocket and then found Crabtree uncovered for a 28-yard touchdown, Crabtree's first of the year.
The other story line of the first half involved the 49ers' porous coverage units. Bills return man Leodis McKelvin returned his first punt 80 yards for a touchdown, but the play was wiped out by a holding penalty. The next time McKelvin touched the ball - on a kickoff following a David Akers field goal - he returned it 59 yards and had to be chased down from behind by Tramaine Brock.
-- Matt Barrows