Coach Jim Harbaugh got the San Francisco fan base chattering with two simple words in his postgame press conference Monday.
Harbaugh has supported Smith all year, although he cooled on his starting quarterback in the weeks prior to the 20-3 bashing of the Steelers, as the 49ers lost two of three games. That's when Smith was under heavy duress (during those three games, Smith was sacked 18 times). Harbaugh said Smith held on to the ball too long at times. But once the 49ers started winning again, Harbaugh was back on the Smith bandwagon.
"There's other great players out there in the National Football (Conference)," Harbaugh said. "I believe there's three that go to the Pro Bowl, right? Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Alex Smith -- I think those are the top three, in the NFC in my humble opinion."
There are those with far more gaudy statistics in terms of yards and touchdowns, including Dallas' Tony Romo. But Harbaugh characterizes those types of players as low-hanging fruit. Harbaugh wants voters to go beyond the stats and look at what Smith has provided -- many wins, few turnovers.
Harbaugh built his team on rugged defense, splendid special teams and a conservative offense that benefits greatly from the takeaways the defense provides and field position the special teams consistently delivers. Smith's main task is simply not to mess it up, and he's done that. Smith's five interceptions are the fewest among quarterbacks with at least 11 starts. Smith also has been able to hang onto the ball despite taking some brutal hits in the pocket.
Maybe Harbaugh realizes that Smith is well-suited for the team he has. He also might realize that the only answer he could really provide to such a question is, "I do."
Any other answer and Harbaugh is seen as undermining his quarterback while the team is attempting to hang on to the second playoff seed and forge successfully into the postseason.
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