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SALT LAKE CITY - After being sidelined for six weeks due to a separated shoulder injury to his non-throwing arm against the Carolina Panthers, former Ute Alex Smith of the San Francisco 49ers met an unruly home crowd as he earned the starting role against the Seattle Seahawks.
Starting the season 0-5, with a guaranteed division win by the team owner, the Niners forged ahead Sunday with Smith behind the helm to lead the Niners to a blowout victory over the Seahawks, keeping the team in playoff contention, winning 40-21.
Smith, in the last year of his contract, took the field with Niners fans booing him. Frustrated with how the season has been going, fans continued to boo Smith as he took the first few snaps of the game, to only be silenced when Smith got the ball moving.
After starting the game with two incomplete passes, Smith found Vernon Davis for a 22-yard gain and then again for a 42-yard touchdown pass to put the Niners up 7-0.
It's playoff mode right now. It was a must-win game. We knew that all week—our backs against the wall.
"I looked at Alex and I just started smiling," Davis said. "He's one of those guys that it doesn't really matter what people do. He's going to come out and do his best every time."
Smith continued his strong showing in the second quarter as the Niners increased the lead, leaving the Seahawks behind. After a Seahawks fumble recovered by the Niners, Smith found Josh Morgan for a 15-yard touchdown pass to put the Niners up 20-7 with 8:04 left in the first half.
On the Niners next possession, Smith found Brian Westbrook on a short pass to mid-field for a 62-yard touchdown, putting the Niners up 27-7.
"It's playoff mode right now," Smith said. "It was a must-win game. We knew that all week—our backs against the wall."
Smith managed no turnovers in his return, going 17-of-27 for 255 yards and three touchdowns. He ended the game with a 130.9 passer rating and had four carries for 12 yards.
"I thought [Smith] did a pretty decent job of getting the ball where it needed to be, for the most part," Coach Mike Singletary said.
"That's what you're ideally looking for, not having to force it and make the ridiculous play," Smith said. "Everyone did their jobs today. That's the first time I've seen it like that this season, at least when I've been in there."
The win Sunday kept the Niners (5-8) alive in the playoff race, moving a game behind NFC West division leaders Seattle (6-7) and St. Louis (6-7). San Francisco will take on the San Diego Chargers on Thursday, with Smith getting another start.
Singletary made it clear that his quarterback situation will remain as a weekly decision process, but said that with Alex, the team would be able to utilize their full playbook.
Other notable locals in play:
- Sean Smith (Utah), CB, Miami Dolphins: Smith had one of his best games Sunday as the Dolphins beat the New York Jets 10-6. Smith deflected four passes and ended the game with five total tackles, with one for a loss of yards.
- Paul Soliai (Utah), DE, Miami Dolphins: Soliai came up big as well, sacking Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez and recording three total tackles.
- Koa Misi (Utah), LB, Miami Dolphins: Misi had a strong showing in the Dolphins win with three total tackles.
- Sione Pouha (Utah), DT, New York Jets: Pouha also had a remarkable Sunday, gaining his third career sack off of quarterback Chad Henne. Pouha also recorded ten total tackles and recovered a fumble in the Jets deflating loss.
- Smith Smith (Utah), WR, Carolina Panthers: Smith and the Panthers continue to struggle, with Smith catching just one pass for 9 yards in a loss to the Atlanta Falcons.
- Bryan Kehl (BYU), LB, St. Louis Rams: Kehl had four total tackles in a loss to the New Orleans Saints.
- Stewart Bradley (Highland HS), LB, Philadelphia Eagles: Bradley had three total tackles, with one for a loss before dislocating his right elbow in the second quarter. It is likely that Bradley will be out for the remainder of the season.
- Chris Cooley (Utah State), TE, Washington Redskins: Cooley was rather quiet in the Redskins loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Sunday, only catching two passes for 22 yards.
- Brett Keisel (BYU), DE, Pittsburgh Steelers: Keisel had a pass deflection and six total tackles as the Steelers beat up on the Cincinnati Bengals.
- Aaron Francisco (BYU), S, Indianapolis Colts: With the help of Francisco, the Colts snapped a three-game losing streak Thursday to beat the Tennessee Titans. Francisco ended the game with six total tackles.
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