Nation Is Seeing a New Alex Smith

'He's a championship quarterback,' says former 49ers QB Steve Young.

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Getty Images
    Vernon Davis and Alex Smith have played together a long time. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

    It wasn’t by chance that Alex Smith was able to zip a perfect pass to Vernon Davis, or that Davis was able to make what he’s labeled “The Grab” for the winning touchdown in the San Francisco 49ers’ playoff victory over the New Orleans Saints Saturday.

    The Niners quarterback and tight end have been playing together since 2006, and they were roommates this summer at training camp.

    Often through the seasons, Davis has been Smith’s go-to guy.

    Raw Video: 49er Vernon Davis on Hero Status

    [BAY] Raw Video: 49er Vernon Davis on Hero Status
    Vernon Davis talks about an epic finish and the game ahead at Candlestick.

    But Monday, even Davis was still talking about Smith’s perfect pass, while others inside and outside the organization were continuing to speak about how much Smith has grown as an NFL quarterback.

    Davis told Cam Inman of the Bay Area News Group that Smith’s winning, 14-yard slant pass “might have been 100 miles per hour.”

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    [BAY] Raw Video: 49er Coach Jim Harbaugh
    Coach Harbaugh talks about the pride he has in his team.

    “It was just like practice,” Davis added. "He pushed up 12 or 15 yards, I snapped my head and the ball was there, just like practice. Great timing. Great timing on Alex.”

    After Saturday’s victory, Smith said of his pass to Davis: “I got the window and cut it loose.”

    For Smith, Saturday’s game was a national coming-out party to most NFL fans and national media. While Smith has played efficiently and particularly well in clutch situations while leading the 49ers to a 13-3 regular season, a No. 2 playoff seed and the NFC West Championship, he’s still most often thought of as the Alex Smith of past seasons, when he struggled under a succession of systems and coaches.

    Now, however, the nation is seeing Smith’s new incarnation, the man who will lead the Niners against the Giants Sunday at Candlestick Park in the NFC Championship Game.

    “Alex is a changed guy now,” former 49ers quarterback Steve Young told ESPN. “He’s a championship quarterback. I talked to him in February when Alex was trying to decide what to do (as a free agent). He said, ‘I think I’m going to do this with Jim (Harbaugh).' Jim really understands and loves quarterbacks. I knew Alex would thrive in this system.”

    In Saturday’s victory, Smith completed 24 of 42 passes for 299 yards and three TDs, plus sprinted 28 yards for a score to put his team ahead in the fourth quarter.

    Trent Baalke, the Niners general manager, told Inman that, “I don’t know if I’ve ever been happier for an individual than I was for Alex to come through in those moments like he did, and to have the type of game he had.”

    Left tackle Joe Staley told USA Today that Smith “put us on his back.”

    So, while the rest of the quarterbacks still playing in the NFL’s Final Four have more accolades than Smith, the Niners believe the former No. 1 overall draft choice out of Utah can carry them to the Super Bowl. Tom Brady may have three Super Bowl rings, Eli Manning has one and Joe Flacco is 5-3 in the playoffs, but the 49ers will take Smith, who waited a long time for the chance just to be 1-0 in the postseason.

    “This last game was pretty special to be part of,” Smith said Monday to CSN Bay Area. “You take the half day or 24 hours to enjoy it, and now we move on. Looking at one more to get to the Super Bowl, and obviously that’s the goal.”