When it mattered most, he delivered. The man, nearly run out of town prior to the year's start, is now much to thank for the 49ers first playoff victory in a near decade. A level of confidence in the quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers has been instilled in fans for the first time since Alex Smith's arrival in 2005, as Smith came through in the direst of situations. Down three points with a mere minute and change remaining on the play clock, and with only one timeout remaining, the door seemed to be closing on the 49ers' 13-3 season. With eighty-five yards to travel, a 49ers win could only be delivered by Alex Smith; he would have to manufacture a seamless drive if the 49ers were to emerge victorious.

What happened next debatably redeemed Alex Smith's image and his prior years of perpetual mediocrity in a 49er uniform. A seven play drive, the work of a confident, changed man behind center, will forever alter the image of Alex Smith in the eyes of those faithful to the 49ers. The former #1 overall pick's time in the spotlight was an opportunity not wasted, as with the game in his hands, Smith completed five of six pass attempts for eighty-five yards and a touchdown. Vernon Davis falling across the goal line into the freshly painted red end zone ball in hands, a ball delivered by "game managing" Alex Smith.

It's safe to say that the term "game manager" will no longer be mentioned in the same breath as the words "Alex Smith". Pegged as a "game managing" quarterback by the media earlier this year, Alex Smith's performance against the Saints justifies that term to never again be associated with his style of play. A game manager does not guide his team to a playoff win. Nor does he lead his team to two touchdown scoring drives in the last four minutes of a game or throw for 299 yards, three touchdowns and a 103.2 quarterback rating, all of which Alex Smith did. The maturation process of a quarterback takes some time, and with the effort turned in against the Saints, it appears that Alex Smith has reached that point.

Making it blatantly obvious that he is the long term answer at the quarterback position, Alex Smith is largely responsible for the 49ers advancing to what will be their first appearance in the NFC championship game since the 1997 season. I am thoroughly impressed with Alex Smith's poise and confidence throughout the most crucial drive of his seven year career. Visions of Alex throwing his classic inopportune interception indeed must have briefly entered the psyche of 49ers fans when the clock read 1:37 and the scoreboard 32-29 in favor of the Saints. Those unpleasant memories and the prior displeasure with the play of Smith is all water under the bridge, as the drives orchestrated by Alex Smith redeemed his career.

Visions of #11 leading the game winning drive of a playoff game at Candlestick Park entered the minds of 49ers fans in 2005, when San Francisco made Alex Smith the #1 overall pick. Those visions would be made a reality, albeit seven years down the road. The wait has been a long one. Filled with perpetual losing and immense disappointment the past seven years with Alex Smith at quarterback were tough. Fans of the 49ers: enjoy this victory; revel in the success of your quarterback, for he has finally lived up to the expectations that go hand-in-hand with the #1 overall pick. With a matchup against either the Green Bay Packers or the New York Giants just around the corner, San Francisco football fans should sleep easy after seeing the true capabilities of their quarterback and team leader, Alex Smith.