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Fantasy owners can have their stats; Alex Smith cares only about W's

by | CBSSports.com Senior NFL Columnist
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The only numbers Alex Smith is interested in reading are the ones in the standings. (US Presswire)  
The only numbers Alex Smith is interested in reading are the ones in the standings. (US Presswire)  

San Francisco's Alex Smith says he doesn't care about yards per game, which, I guess, means he doesn't care about stats, period. Well, good for him. That's easy to say when you don't have them. Except there's one thing we're forgetting here.

And it's that Alex Smith is right. He shouldn't care about stats, nor should other quarterbacks.

Of course, that's not easy when you live in a fantasy football world where numbers have become barometers of performances and performers. But it's the way it should be, and Alex Smith gets it. It might be the era of the 5,000-yard passer or the 400-yard game, but he doesn't give a rip, and let's hear it for Alex Smith.

"I could absolutely care less on yards per game," Smith told 49ers Rapid Reporter Kyle Bonagura. "I think that is a totally overblown stat because if you're losing games in the second half, guess what, you're like the Carolina Panthers and you're going no-huddle the entire second half. Yeah, Cam Newton threw for a lot of 300-yard games.

"That's great. You're not winning, though."

It might be the era of the 5,000-yard passer or the 400-yard game, but he doesn't give a rip, and let's hear it for Alex Smith.

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So maybe he didn't have to cart out Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers to illustrate his point, but, hey, whatever drives home the message. Newton is an extraordinary talent who passed and threw for a gazillion yards, had 35 touchdowns rushing and passing and was named the league's Offensive Rookie of the Year. In short, he was every bit "the icon" he said he wanted to be.

But he was also 6-10.

I'm not saying that record is his fault. The Carolina defense stunk. I think we all can agree on that. But I am saying that I care more about that won-loss record than I do how many 300- or 400-yard games the guy produced.

Now, before we go further, let's make something clear: That's not a knock on Newton. It's a knock on fantasy-football numbers. Peyton Manning was 3-13 in his first season, yet became one of the NFL's top quarterbacks. And maybe that happens to Newton.

I hope so. Because, ultimately, the measure of a quarterback is success. If you can't win, nothing else matters.

Case in point: I was at a New England-Philadelphia game last year when Vince Young threw for 400 yards in a 38-20 defeat that caused some people to think about reassessing Young.

Except he stunk.

You heard me. He missed open receivers. He couldn't convert critical downs. And he was as culpable as an inept DeSean Jackson or a porous Eagles pass defense for blowing an early 10-0 lead. Yet people outside the 215 area code the next day were talking about how he wasn't all that bad ... except that he was.

Only the numbers didn't reflect it.

That takes me back to my favorite subject, which is Tim Tebow and the 2011 Denver Broncos. People shred the guy for his low completion percentage (46.5) and inability to hit open receivers, and I understand. What I don't understand is how you can ignore the facts, and the facts are these -- the Broncos were 8-5 with him at quarterback and beat the defending conference champion in the playoffs.

More specifically, they beat the Pittsburgh Frickin' Steelers, the league's No. 1-ranked defense and the league's No. 1-ranked pass defense, and they beat them with Tebow launching an 80-yard touchdown pass on the first play of overtime.

I don't care that he didn't complete 50 percent of his passes that day. I don't care that he threw for a career-high 316 yards, either. I just care that he won.

Now let's move on to Alex Smith. In 2011, he produced the best season of his career, yet some persons complain because he's not Joe Montana or Steve Young. Well, sorry; he's not. But he was 13-3 last year, and, sure, a lot of that had to do with a terrific 49ers defense, but a lot had to do with Alex Smith, too. He threw a career-low five interceptions and played with a poise, a confidence and a strength that stats can't measure.

Now, rewind the tape 12 years to when the 49ers worked out Tom Brady before the 2000 draft. Like others, they weren't dazzled, and there's a reason: They had 45 minutes to put him through drills, which meant they couldn't measure what makes Brady so extraordinary -- and that's his intangibles.

Brady doesn't have the talent of some of his contemporaries. But he does have an insatiable drive to succeed that has taken him to five Super Bowls. Brady knows how to win, and it's that quality -- not his arm strength or his speed -- that makes him special.

I was reminded when Robert Griffin III ripped off a 4.35 40 at the NFL combine. Griffin's time created a buzz and was perceived as another signal of how astounding he is and will be at the next level. And maybe he will. But keep this in mind: When Brady ran a 40 at the 2000 combine, he checked in at a leisurely 5.28.

Then look what happened.

I guess that's why I welcome what Alex Smith had to say about numbers and winning. If nothing else, he gave us something to debate between now and training camps, and maybe that something is stats, maybe it's Smith and maybe it's Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers. All I know is Newton gained a lot more attention last season than Andy Dalton, yet all Dalton did was lead lowly Cincinnati to the playoffs.

And he did it playing 10 top-10 defenses.

Alex Smith won a lot of games last year. That matters. He didn't throw for a lot of yards. That doesn't. What's so hard to understand?

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