The drops were numerous, otherwise Alex Smith’s numbers would’ve been comically efficient. He still finished 20-for-31 for 226 yards and kept his streak of pass attempts without an interception alive. But just pulling from memory, seven 49ers dropped passes: Kendall Hunter, Frank Gore, Mario Manningham, Michael Crabtree, Delanie Walker, Vernon Davis and Bruce Miller.
Smith, in one of the most improbable rises in the history of Bay Area sports considering where his career was in 2010, is now one of the best quarterbacks in football. As good as the agreed-upon greats in the NFL? Actually, on a given day Smith might be better. He outperformed Aaron Rodgers a week ago, and bested Matthew Stafford and the Detroit Lions at Candlestick Park on Sunday night.
That’s not Jim Harbaugh hyperbole, either. This is:
“This is one of Alex’s better or best performances,” Harbaugh said. “He had a great night putting the ball on the money.”
Smith’s stats have been great so far this season, but he also just looks better. And while he looked like a Pro Bowl quarterback for the entirety of Sunday night’s game, Smith was at his best at the beginning and end of the contest. Smith had a half-dozen come-from-behind victories last season, and now we see a quarterback who isn’t just more accurate overall, he looks as if he relishes those fourth quarter drives with the game in the balance. A good example: the 9-play, 50-yard drive that put the Lions away, as Smith converted three different 3rd-and-long passes to Michael Crabtree and capped the possession with a short pass that Vernon Davis took for a 23-yard touchdown.
Davis had two touchdowns on the night, and “shot” the ball over the crossbar both times — perhaps in response to getting rejected by the crossbar on his dunk attempt in Green Bay. The shot attempts looked better than the dunk try, but we’re still talking about how much better Smith looks … besides his nose, of course.
The 49ers quarterback was asked if that forearm he took while sliding feet-first left him dazed.
“Not dazed, just bleeding,” Smith said. “I looked up and saw the flag and I thought for sure it was a personal foul call. All the sudden we were backed up and it was a holding call. Pretty stunned that I didn’t get that call.”
Last week Joe Staley was the one with the gashed up nose, but that kind of thing is almost expected from a lineman; to see a quarterback leave a game a little less pretty than he started is a bit more rare. The 49ers already knew that Smith is tough, now a national TV audience has visual proof in the form of blood running down his face.
Harbaugh had an amusing quip about Smith’s toughness after the game (17-second video):
Postgame notes and quotes
— I went down to the field during the 2-minute warning, and found myself standing next to a couple actors you may have heard of. Are Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn filming Wedding Crashers 2 in San Francisco?
— I asked Patrick Willis about the hit on Calvin Johnson.
“I was kind of all out of wack a little bit,” Willis said. “I was kind of in no-man’s land and I was just looking around for something and that’s what I found. It was a good hit. I wish it could’ve knocked it loose but you take the hit as it comes.”
Does he say anything to you after a hit like that?
“I just remember him getting up like, ‘Whoa,'” Willis said. “I know he felt it a little bit.”
(Video length: 47 seconds)
— Megatron’s side of the story:
“He rung the bell pretty good on that one. He was just right there. When I saw him at the last second, I was just trying to concentrate on the ball. I was just trying to hang onto it.”
— Crabtree was a first down converting machine again tonight, but he mentioned how his one drop still lingered on his mind. He also deflected praise when mentioning how the Lions were defending the 49ers’ suddenly well-respected arial attack.
“It’s hard to throw the ball when guys are playing cover two. Big ups to Frank and these guys moving the ball in the run game. The offensive line was moving guys up front.”
— The 49ers’ passing offense is certainly improved, but it’s going to be interesting to see how long the 49ers keep using Randy Moss as sparingly as they have early on. Moss, who was only targeted once (a 14-yard catch), barely saw any snaps at all for long stretches. Are the 49ers worried about Moss’ blocking ability, saving him for later in the season, or do they believe that Crabtree, Manningham and Vernon are simply better?
— Anthony Davis was asked if there is a good rivalry brewing between the 49ers and Lions. “No, we won both times,” Davis said.
— Davis and Cliff Avril (who poked Vernon Davis in the eye and got into it with 49ers players on numerous occasions either away from the play or after the whistle) had a war of words on Twitter last year.
“He hates me,” Davis said of Avril. “We don’t even know each other but it burns him up.”
Davis was smiling as he talked about Avril’s hatred, and also talked about his favorite play: victory formation, because he can just smile for a good 60-90 seconds at the guys he faced for the previous 58-59 minutes of game action. I asked Davis if there’s any talking that goes on, and he said no.
“I just look at them and smile,” Davis said. Not surprisingly, Davis was smiling as he answered my question.
Since we’re on the subject, here are two different sides of the man they call “Bam” Davis from photos I took before the game.
Smiling Bam (with Alex Boone):
— I missed the postgame handshake between Harbaugh and Jim Schwartz as everyone ran to the middle of the field to catch a glimpse. From what I heard from another reporter it was the fastest handshake known to man. That story is now dead, as the 49ers look toward consecutive road games against the Vikings and Jets, as they’ll try to improve on their regular season record of 15-3 since Harbaugh took over.
— I created an album with several more photos I took before the game, including some of the 49ers warming up and a certain NBC studio host whose name rhymes with mob pastas.