Smith, Crabtree show confidence in one another

October 31, 2012, 1:30 pm
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The topic was confidence.

Specifically, the topic was Alex Smith's confidence. And it produced another uniquely Jim Harbaugh moment.

Any speculation that Smith's confidence went in the tank after two rough games against the New York Giants and Seattle Seahawks was, in Harbaugh's words, "Just gobble, gobble, turkey, funk jive, turkey, gobblers."

OK.Personally, I haven't detected any week-to-week fluctuations in Smith's demeanor this season. But I believe there was something significant that happened Monday night in the 49ers' 24-3 victory over the Arizona Cardinals.

And, perhaps, it was all about confidence.

But it was not so much Smith's confidence in himself that was particularly noticeable. It was Smith's confidence in wide receiver Michael Crabtree that, really, for the first time was on display.

Following the 49ers' loss in the NFC Championship game -- immediately afterward in the locker room and again the next day as he was departing -- Crabtree looked to be the most frustrated player on a team of frustrated players.

Crabtree watched how the New York Giants offense functioned. And he also singled out the New England Patriots. And he wanted the 49ers to be more like those teams.

"I was seeing guys getting the ball thrown to them and they had three people on them," Crabtree said the day after the 49ers' 2011 season ended. "They were getting a chance to make a play."

Smith rarely has given Crabtree chances to make plays on his own.

Crabtree has lobbied Smith to give him more opportunities even when there is not a lot of separation between him and the closest defender. And on Monday night, Smith finally gave Crabtree that chance.

On and third-and-goal from the 3-yard line, the Cardinals came with an all-out blitz. When Smith committed to throw to Crabtree, cornerback Patrick Peterson had his hands on Crabtree at the line of scrimmage. There was zero separation.

Smith did not hesitate. He showed trust in himself to make the throw. And he also showed trust in Crabtree that either he was going to catch it or nobody was going to catch it.

Crabtree made a nice catch, displaying strong hands and concentration to haul in the pass against Peterson's objections. Crabtree did his part to earn the trust of Smith on future throws.

"We're always talking about it," Crabtree said, "but when it happens in a game, you just have to make the most of it."

In another good sign of trust between Smith and Crabtree, the two went off-script to team up on a 9-yard touchdown just before the end of the half.

"The two guys were on the same page," Harbaugh said. "Michael really broke off his route. Alex read his body language. Michael came back inside. Alex hit him and then Crab found the lane to the end zone."

Smith and Crabtree hooked up for two red-zone touchdowns. Prior to Monday night, Crabtree had caught just two Smith-thrown touchdown passes in the red zone in their previous four-plus seasons together.

Crabtree had every reason to like the approach of Troy Smith (remember him?) better than Alex Smith. Troy Smith, to a fault, would throw the ball up for Crabtree to track down during his brief stint as the 49ers' starting quarterback in 2010

.Alex Smith was a lot more calculated with his throws to Crabtree on Monday. But the fact that he made those passes was a significant development. When defenses are successful limiting the effectiveness of tight end Vernon Davis, Smith needs to be able to exploit single coverage on Crabtree.

So, yes, it could be a matter of confidence. And after Monday's showing, there is good reason for Smith and Crabtree to grow that kind of trust in each other.