2011 Alex Smith vs. Cam Newton
Pro Bowl honors recognize individual achievement. In some cases, too many players from the best and most popular teams wind up earning Pro Bowl honors by association, not because they were better players.
The 49ers went 13-3 with Smith as their quarterback last season. That reflected well on Smith and at least as well on the rest of the team, including the coaching staff. The Panthers owed more of their improvement (2-14 to 6-10) to Newton, who did something Smith has never done: carry his team.
Smith is correct in saying passing yardage can be overrated, but are we supposed to believe Newton earned Pro Bowl honors simply because he held a commanding edge over Smith in passing yards? That would be a ridiculous assumption. Newton rushed for 706 yards and 14 touchdowns. He had 35 total touchdowns.
"This is the honest truth: I could absolutely care less on yards per game," Smith told reporters this week. "I think that's a totally overblown stat. Because if you're losing games in the second half, guess what? You're like the Carolina Panthers and you're going no-huddle the entire second half and, yeah, Cam Newton threw for a lot of 300-yard games, that's great. You're not winning, though."
We could look up how many yards Newton amassed while his team was trailing. Perhaps I'll do that. I just think most of us can agree that Smith enjoyed the more satisfying season because his team fared better, but Newton did more to earn the individual acclaim that came his way. Or can we not agree on that?
Note: Smith was not challenging Newton's Pro Bowl credentials directly. The fact that he would bring up Newton's name led us naturally into that discussion. Niners coach Jim Harbuagh promoted Smith for the Pro Bowl, after all, and Newton made it as the alternate instead.