While the 49ers are rolling along nicely at 9-1, having dispatched eight straight opponents, San Francisco quarterback Alex Smith admitted after Sunday’s victory over the Cardinals that the offense needs to be better.
So far, it has been good enough. And, good enough – combined with a superlative defense and special teams – is going to march right into the NFL’s postseason. With a victory over Baltimore Thursday night on national TV and a Seahawks loss this week, the 49ers will be in the playoffs for the first time since 2002.
Yet Smith looked back at Sunday’s 23-7 victory over Arizona and saw what could have been, not what was. He saw opportunities left on the table. He saw some of his off-target throws early in the game that could have kept drives alive and led to touchdowns instead of field goals.
“It’s good to keep winning, but it’s frustrating too,” Smith told Bay Area columnist Ray Ratto. “You look at the defense and see how they’re doing to keep us in games, and it’s kind of frustrating to leave so much out there. In fact, it makes it more frustrating when they play like that.”
Though the offense has been efficient with a strong rushing game led by Frank Gore and Smith’s usually mistake-free performances, the 49ers offense still has some observers wondering if it has enough tools to get the job done.
As Ratto noted, the 49ers “rank closer to the bottom than the top in touchdowns scored, but lead in field goals and field-goal attempts.”
Yet when the 49ers have needed to score, they have. The Lions, Giants, Eagles and Cardinals can attest to that.
And, at the outset of the second half Sunday, Smith – who threw for 267 yards– led two touchdown drives that secured the win. The offensive line has been outstanding, and the receiving corps has improved.
And Smith, though frustrated, ranks No. 7 in the NFL in passer rating at 93.9, with 13 TD passes vs. four interceptions. He is doing what he needs to do and proving past critics wrong.
Former NFL quarterback and current ESPN analyst Trent Dilfer said last week that Smith is a very talented player who’s finally getting the chance to prove it under coach Jim Harbaugh.
Dilfer told Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News that he’s long been a Smith admirer.
“They would just laugh at me,” Dilfer said of his ESPN co-workers in past seasons, when he defended Smith. “I kept telling them, ‘Guys, you’re seeing about 50 percent of what Alex Smith can do. If he ever gets the right coach, he’s going to flourish.' ”
This year, Smith is flourishing. But he’s still frustrated, knowing he can be better.