Coach Jim Harbaugh was on a roll Monday night.
What was it like inside the San Francisco 49ers' locker room before kickoff?
"It was dark," Harbaugh said to laughter, alluding to the power outage at Candlestick Park.
Harbaugh wasn't kidding later in his postgame media session when he promoted 49ers quarterback Alex Smith for Pro Bowl honors. Smith has an 11-3 starting record, a 16-to-5 ratio of touchdowns to interceptions and a 91.1 NFL passer rating. Smith took no sacks and committed no turnovers during the 49ers' 20-3 victory over Pittsburgh on Monday night.
This, by almost any measure, counts as a breakout season for Smith. But with only three Pro Bowl slots available in each conference, Smith would have to beat out one of the following players to represent the conference in the annual all-star game: Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Tony Romo, Matt Ryan, Eli Manning, Matthew Stafford or Cam Newton.
That simply is not going to happen, in my view, but should it?
Smith does not measure up by the raw stats traditionally used to evaluate the position. Other quarterbacks have significantly more yards and touchdown passes. Some have higher passer ratings. But if Smith were doing the little things to improve his team's chances of winning, Total QBR would seemingly pick up on it. That is not the case.
Smith's QBR for the season stands at only 42.5 out of 100, below average. Pro Bowl quarterbacks generally rate around 65 over a full season. Smith has achieved those levels in select games, including with a 79.0 against the Steelers. But his season-long number suggests the 49ers are winning largely for reasons beyond the quarterback. Smith would deserve credit for doing his job and not preventing victories, but he would not get as much credit for securing them.
We've discussed this subject several times already this season. Harbaugh's comments invited another look.
2011 NFC West Total QBR by Week (50 is average, 100-point max)
Quick thoughts on how NFC West passers graded out in Week 15 according to Total QBR, with NFL passer ratings in parenthesis as a reference point:
Alex Smith, San Francisco 49ers (79.0 QBR, 86.4 NFL rating): Smith completed 18 of 31 passes for 187 yards with one touchdown, no interceptions, no sacks and three rushes for 12 yards. He did not fumble. Smith completed 8 of 11 passes for 100 yards and a touchdown in the second half as the 49ers extended their lead from six to 17 points, according to ESPN Stats & Information. His QBR rose from 68.6 to 83.1 during a five-play, 79-yard drive leading to Smith's scoring pass for Vernon Davis. The Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger tossed three picks and took three sacks. His QBR was 24.6. The 49ers' victory gave teams with higher QBR scores than their opponents a 16-0 record in Week 15.
The chart below shows how quarterbacks from games involving NFC West teams fared in Total QBR for Week 15.
The clutch-weight average column reflects game situations, not how well players performed during those situations. Any clutch average above 1.0 reflects a quarterback performing in higher-pressure situations.