There's not much more that could be expected from unsigned quarterback Alex Smith during this work stoppage. He is living up to expectations in March, April, May and June. And none of it will matter one bit unless he also plays well and leads the 49ers to some victories in September, October, November and December.--CSNBayArea.com, June 13SAN FRANCISCO -- When the above paragraph was written at the conclusion of Camp Alex, the idea of the 49ers winning games in January seemed a bit far-fetched.And, now, the same team that went 6-10 a year ago -- and seemingly had no opportunity to get better during a lost offseason -- is just one victory away from extending their improbable run into February, too.Back in those summer months, quarterback Alex Smith did everything in his power to give himself and his teammates a chance to succeed this season.He had no intention of returning to the 49ers after his contract expired. But after spending considerable time with new coach Jim Harbaugh and his coaching staff, Smith reconsidered.
When the lockout lifted for one day in late April because of a court order, Smith spent all day at the 49ers' team offices gathering material about the team's offense. He did that despite being unsigned.After studying all that material for a month, Smith held two weeks of seminars at San Jose State for his offensive teammates in which he taught an introductory course in the new offense."It was like the first coat of paint, the primer," Smith said.Nobody could've expected seven months later that the 49ers would be playing host to the NFC Championship Game on Sunday against the New York Giants at Candlestick Park. The winner earns a trip to Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis to face the winner of the AFC Championship, either Baltimore or New England.Smith was, without question, the perfect quarterback for Harbaugh in those months of the lockout. And he hasn't been too shabby during the season, either.He posted career-best numbers in every statistical category. Under his direction, the 49ers' passing game was efficient but certainly not prolific.Giants coach Tom Coughlin offered praise of Smith in November, saying he was doing a good job of managing games. New York defensive lineman Justin Tuck said all the 49ers ask of Smith is not to lose the game.Then, the 49ers defeated the Giants 27-20, and Smith was asked about the labels."I just saw the one that I got called a manager or whatever, and this and that," Smith said. "I could really care less, honestly. That is the honest truth. It feels good to be 8-1. I managed myself into a victory that's all I could care about."With Smith throwing just five interceptions during the regular season, the 49ers tied an NFL record for fewest turnovers in a season with 10.Through it all, it was reasonable to wonder if the 49ers could keep pace with a high-scoring team once the playoffs began. Smith provided that answer in the divisional round against the New Orleans Saints.Smith became the first quarterback in NFL history to lead his team to two go-ahead touchdowns in the three minutes of a playoff game. His 14-yard dart to tight end Vernon Davis in the end zone provided the 49ers with a 36-32 victory over the Saints.Suddenly, Alex Smith is looking as comfortable in the most pressure situations as he appeared during the low-key workouts at San Jose State in the summer.Smith and his teammates appeared unusually calm during the week of the championship game."I think all the guys feel better this week even more than last week," he said. "The bye week and the first playoff game there was maybe a little more anxiety than this week. I feel like this week, obviously guys know the stakes are high, but we're a little more back in the routine of things."