- Mike Sando, NFL Insider
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The camera showed Alex Smith on the sideline before a recent preseason game.
In the broadcast booth, two Hall of Fame quarterbacks offered their takes on the San Francisco 49ers' quarterback.
"He did not have a great year statistically, but he had a great year," Troy Aikman said. "As someone who played that kind of game when I was playing, I can certainly appreciate what he was able to do last year. His remarks this offseason were very well put in the fact that, 'Hey, it doesn't matter how many yards I threw for (because) I played in the NFC Championship game."
"You're right, Troy," Terry Bradshaw said. "When you were in Dallas, it wasn't about throwing for 5,000 yards and 50 touchdown passes. It was about running the football, playing great defense and converting third down. That is what you did and that is what Alex Smith did last year."
Almost. The third-down conversions were too infrequent for the 49ers last season, but Smith did put up Aikman-like numbers for a highly successful team.
Aikman won three Super Bowls and a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but his raw passing stats -- what 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh would call "low-hanging fruit" -- were never all that impressive. Aikman exceeded Smith's 2011 total for touchdown passes (17) just twice in 12 seasons. Smith's NFL passer rating over the past three seasons exceeds Aikman's career mark (81.6).
Aikman, like Smith, was a No. 1 overall draft choice. Both endured brutal rookie seasons. Aikman benefited from organizational continuity early in his career. The Cowboys surrounded Aikman with elite players. They had coaching stability.
All of this came to mind Monday upon reading Chris Mortensen's rationale for predicting San Francisco would reach the Super Bowl this season (he has them losing to Houston).
"Everyone seems to forget what Alex Smith did against the Saints in the final minute in the divisional playoffs last season," Mortensen wrote. "He's not going to be Drew Brees, but he will be better than last season.
"San Francisco's great defense, superior running game and an improved passing game give it the look of a team that can make it all the way to New Orleans."
The chart compares Mortensen's picks with those made by other ESPN analysts.
2012 NFL Season: Super Bowl Predictions