SANTA CLARA, Calif. — There was a sense of swagger in the 49ers locker room this week and there was good reason. The 49ers are 3-1 with a two-game lead in the division. They had just shocked the Philadelphia Eagles in one of the team’s most memorable comebacks in history.
And more importantly, they are making the Bay Area believers in them once again.
But the star out of all this, surprisingly, is Alex Smith. After years of being the goat for the team’s failures, Smith has embraced the identity Jim Harbaugh has given the team and the quarterback is running — and throwing — with the confidence we didn’t see during the Mike Singletary era.
With the lockout this offseason, Smith is learning everything from Harbaugh on the fly and so far, it looks like he’s picking things up just fine.
“Yeah and not only from him,” Smith said Wednesday of his progress in learning. “Just playing within the offense and just getting a better feel on individual plays, what we’re trying to do, how we’re attacking them and how I fit into the system. And play within the system. Be myself within the system, and let it work for you. So, absolutely, yes.”
Smith should be happy that the season is working out. After ending last season on a bad note, his return to the team didn’t seem likely. But with Harbaugh and the lockout, Smith came back to the 49ers and is finally finding success that has eluded him since being drafted.
With the two touchdown passes on Sunday, Smith now has more career touchdown passes (55) than interceptions (54). That’s a major improvement for a quarterback that started his rookie year with 11 picks and only one touchdown — and a plethora of injuries and playbook changes.
Smith credits his mentality of not forcing things like he did in years past to his current success.
“I think consciously, I’m just trying to do less, if that makes sense,” Smith explained. “I really felt like I was doing too much for a long time. Pressing too hard, trying to make too many plays instead of just letting them come to me. And that’s kind of what I talked about playing within a system, just being myself and let the plays happen. Really, not forcing things. Make good decisions, and I think the good plays will come.”
And the good plays have come. And his teammates are learning with him and benefitting from it all.
Running backs Kendall Hunter and Frank Gore have emerged as a backfield duo that is starting to find its identity. Tight end Vernon Davis is becoming a focal point of the offense and receivers Joshua Morgan and Michael Crabtree are now becoming legitimate downfield threats on offense.
The players are finding out their roles on the team and making it work. As a few of Smith’s teammates have mentioned in the past couple days, they believe in Harbaugh and the roles he has given to the players.
“We’re all figuring it out,” Smith explains. “It’s still early. We’re still going through things together, new things. So, I think that’s it. How we fit into it, letting it work for us and playing with good system.”
So far the system has worked out just fine. The team is 3-1 and a win would put them with a record they haven’t seen since 2002 — their last playoff year.