This will always be remembered as Alex Smiths breakout game, the one where he finally brought the football world to its knees, the one where he finally changed the term game manager into a profanity.Nonsense. He is still a game manager, and game manager is not an insult at all. In fact, he managed it better than ever, which is why the San Francisco 49ers are closing in on the second bye in the NFC playoffs.The 49ers 27-20 win over the New York Giants in an electrifying game at La Candeliere advanced them to 8-1, and reduced the number of ways this could go horribly wrong by one weekend.But this was Smiths day more than anyone elses more than Carlos Rogers, or Justin Smiths, or Vernon Davis, or Jim Harbaughs for one very important reason.
Smith didnt have any tall buildings to shade him.Frank Gore was bottled up early, and then injured his knee. The defense bent, and came within the J. Smith pass-block of Eli Mannings last throw with 34 seconds left of blowing a two-score lead with 12 minutes left. This game needed lots of moments, but it also needed a central character.Alexander David Smith was it. On the big stage. With the nation watching and trying to stifle laughter from his painful resume of years past. And he slapped sense into everyone.If there was a moment that crystallized Smiths emergence from national scorn to national discovery, though, it wasnt even a pass. It was two runs, five plays apart in the second quarter, when he was flushed from the safety of the pocket, and attacked what was available to him with a confidence he never exuded quite so forcefully.The first came on a third-and-17 from the Giant 33 with two minutes left in the half. Smith had just been sacked by Linval Joseph, a sure sign that bad times were coming with the next play or so. Only Smith broke from the pocket on the next play and ran with a jut-jawed purpose for 12 yards to set up David Akers go-ahead field goal.His next initiative-seizing moment came after Eli Mannings first interception with 1:26 left in the half when, again muscled from the pocket, he took off for a 14-yard scramble and slide to the Giant 24. And even though that drive died when Ted Ginn bobbled a pass into the hands of Giant cornerback Corey Webster, Smith established the following things:1. That this was his game to win.
2. That he was ready to seize it.
3. That he would not let go once he had.By that time, Gore had already been driven from the game, and Smith understood that managing this game meant controlling it himself.So he did, and with the country watching. He tried to front it all off by saying it didnt matter to him how he was described Harbaugh had already seeded the ground by using game manager as the insult it really isnt but he did describe with understated glee the gathering of the national media, including Foxs No. 1 broadcast crew (which frankly, had really come more for the Giants and Manning than for the 49ers and him).Thats fun, he said. Its nice to have the national stage. But mostly it feels good to be 8-1.No, it feels good to be 8-1 with the national stage, and to find out that Alex Smith is now an NFL brand name a slow-acting but surprisingly effective product that can do everything from clean your grout to shampoo your rugs to change the oil in your crankcase.He is about to get the full NFL myth-makeover, because nobody in decades has done what he has done toil in abject humiliation for almost twice the length of the average NFL career and then suddenly come up aces and kings.And while hell still have the earnest inflections and sincere eyes and aw-shucks demeanor, a little bit of the I-told-you-so will leak out here and there. He has a lot of I-told-you-sos saved up, and now that his allegedly small hands have a firm grip on the second best team in football, he will let them slip out here and there. He has this coming to him, and whatever else between now and late January, he will remember this as the day that he managed not only a game, but his way into the national discussion as a quarterback other teams would like very much to have.