The San Francisco 49ers are rolling so far in 2011, but don’t for a minute think that complacency is about to rear its ugly head. This franchise has been through far too much embarrassment and turmoil over the last few years to let a few little wins derail a train destined for the NFL Playoffs.
How exactly do players avoid that aforementioned complacency from seeping into their minds, particularly during an off-week?
By understanding history.
San Francisco quarterback Alex Smith let it be known to one and all over the last few days that he and his guys knew the stats. They had heard all of the forewarnings about how teams cool off after a “bye week” and temper off from an otherwise winning pace.
“I’ve seen the reports,” Smith told reporters. “Teams coming off their bye week this season are 3-9.”
Those who do not study NFL history are doomed to repeat it, so it's good that Smith knows. But once you’ve studied the history, you also have to do a little something something to ensure that you don’t fall victim to the same end result.
And Smith realizes that.
Seven years after being selected with the first overall pick by the 49ers and languishing as a permanent punching bag for all of the franchise’s struggles, he’s finally found a winning formula. With new head coach Jim Harbaugh calling the shots, running back Frank Gore making history, a completely unheralded defense putting up shockingly legitimate numbers, Smith has finally regained something he lost a long time ago – confidence.
Heading into this coming weekend’s game against the Cleveland Browns, Smith has done precisely what the coaching staff has asked of them. He hasn't tried to blow anyone away with his arm, hasn't tried to win the game by his lonesome. Rather, his objectives have been clear from the getgo: don’t turn the ball over and, simply put, find a way to win.
At the end of the day, that’s all he needs to do.
For the season, Smith has only recorded two interceptions en route to eight touchdowns. He’s also racked up 1,090 passing yards on a 95.2 rating. Again, he’s not going to challenge Green Bay Packers superstar Aaron Rodgers for quarterback supremacy any time soon, but that’s not his goal.
“There are different measures [of a quarterback],” Harbaugh said recently, “but winning is primary. A team plays to win.”
And that’s all there is to it. Smith has been defined for his entire career as being an integral part of a losing operation. This year, he’s on the right track to alter that distinction by virtue of his winning ways, and that means far more to him than any quarterback passing metric.
Keep an eye on Smith’s production as the year progresses, because it’ll serve as an excellent benchmark for where the team is headed. If he continues to play smart and avoid making bad mistakes, the 49ers are golden.
If he doesn’t…
Well, then just dig up game tape from any other year of his career, and figure out the end result from that.