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San Francisco 49ers quarterback Alex Smith during the fourth quarter of an NFL football game against the Detroit Lions in San Francisco, Sunday, Sept. 16, 2012. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Kragthorpe: Alex Smith, 49ers getting even better
First Published Sep 17 2012 09:24 am • Last Updated Sep 21 2012 05:44 pm

Even if the label was meant to be complimentary, Alex Smith is rising above it.

Game manager? How about game-changer?

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Through two games of the NFL season, the San Francisco 49ers quarterback is looking a lot like the guy who led the University of Utah to an unbeaten season as a junior in 2004. The parallel is obvious: Smith improved markedly in his second season as the Utes’ starter under coach Urban Meyer, and he’s doing the same in his second year with 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh.

The results are impressive. Smith has posted nearly identical statistics in victories over Green Bay and Detroit, completing 40 of 57 passes for 437 yards and four touchdowns, with no interceptions. He’s the league’s No. 3-rated passer at the moment ­­— and he could move up after tonight’s game that pairs the top two quarterbacks, Atlanta’s Matt Ryan and Denver’s Peyton Manning.

Smith looks very comfortable in the 49ers’ offense. It helps that he’s supported by a good running game and a great defense, but he’s certainly doing his part. That was especially true in Sunday’s fourth quarter, when the 49ers held a 20-12 lead. Smith drove them to a clinching touchdown, three times connecting with receiver Michael Crabtree to convert third-down situations in the eventual 27-19 win.

Crabtree has emerged as a key component in the offense. Tight end Vernon Davis is still the No. 1 target, but production from the wide receivers is what the 49ers were missing. The additions of Mario Manningham and Randy Moss have helped, but Crabtree’s improvement is the biggest difference right now.

The result is that Smith is taking his game to another level. Last season was viewed as a career breakthrough for him, but it may have been just the start.


Twitter: @tribkurt

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