After years of turmoil, QB Smith flourish for 49ers

US Presswire file photoThe Niners’ Alex Smith has the highest quarterback rating in the NFL and he will lead his team into this week’s showdown with the Giants.

Niners fans are no longer booing Alex Smith and calling for his backup.

“Seems like a long time ago, longer than two years ago, for sure,” Smith said Wednesday when reminded of some of those lower points in his career.

Things are going so well these days the quarterback got the chance to meet President Barack Obama this week — and the president had been keeping tabs on his team’s progress to boot.

“Very cool,” Smith said. “Huge honor, I mean the president of the United States. It’s one of those things when you’re a kid, yeah, maybe meet the president. Talked ball the whole time.”

That special encounter came after Smith threw out the ceremonial first pitch for the Giants’
Game 1 of the NL Division Series against Cincinnati on Saturday night. Life is good, all right.

And to think the 49ers briefly considered adding Peyton Manning to the mix this spring, even though coach Jim Harbaugh has downplayed the interest and always insisted Smith is his guy.

Harbaugh played coy Wednesday when asked about Smith’s improvements playing under the reigning NFL Coach of the Year and former NFL quarterback, clearly not wanting to offer any tips to the Giants or provide any motivational fuel, either.

“He’s a football player. That’s the highest compliment you can give a guy,” Harbaugh said. “Encompasses a lot of things.”

Nowadays, Smith owns the NFL’s No. 1 passer rating at 108.7 and heads into a hyped-up rematch with the Super Bowl champion New York Giants (3-2) on Sunday coming off his best game yet statistically: San Francisco (4-1) piled up 621 yards and became the first team in league history with 300 yards passing and 300 yards rushing in the same game.

“My personal opinion is that our players outperformed what we thought was coming,” Harbaugh said.

Smith made some throws both Tuesday and Wednesday to test his sprained middle finger, and said he expects it to keep healing as the week goes on and the more he uses it.

Two years ago to the day Wednesday, Smith struggled through another game with impatient fans at Candlestick Park yelling for backup David Carr. Smith talked then-coach Mike Singletary out of sending in Carr during the fourth quarter of a 27-24 loss to the Eagles. Smith wound up leading two late scoring drives but also committed three turnovers in prime time.

The 49ers fell to 0-5 for their worst start in 31 years with their third loss that season by three points or fewer.

Topsy-turvy, indeed — just like Smith’s entire career since being drafted with the first overall pick in 2005 out of Utah.

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