SAN FRANCISCO – Alex Smith knew this was probably his last game in a San Francisco 49ers uniform. He had chased away the thought all last week, but as Sunday approached, he finally acknowledged the truth.
"You know going out there that there's a chance this could have been my last game here, as far as the home team goes," he said. "It was there in the back of my mind, no question, but obviously (I'm) happy for the team, happy for this win."
Smith went out triumphantly, even though he never met the expectations the team had for him when he was drafted No. 1 overall in 2005. He had a 19-31 record as a starter, and he lost the 2008 season injuries, but his final game was pretty good: 15 of 29 passing for 276 yards and two touchdowns in the 49ers' 38-7 win over the Arizona Cardinals. It was Smith's highest yardage total in a victory in his career.
"I felt great for Alex," said interim coach Jim Tomsula. "I really did. I thought Alex took command of it today. I thought he never blinked. … He's got a steely demeanor and he just kept going."
If nothing else, Smith was allowed to have fun without the prospect of being pulled in favor of a backup. There was no danger that he might be scolded on the sideline or booed by the fans, although there weren't many at Candlestick Park.
Practice was fun and fast-paced.
"The whole week, it was kind of that energy," Smith said. "It wasn't careless. We still had a job to do and we're going to go about it as professionals, but we were going to be smiling, we were going to enjoy ourselves, we were going to be running around. The tempo, I thought, really helped."
Asked if he might have benefited earlier in his career by playing a little more loosely, he said, "You know, it's a great ‘what if?' Who knows? We'll never know, I guess. It was great to have this week."
Now what? Smith said he's not sure.
"Good question," he said. "I'm moving forward. Who knows where, if that's what you're asking. There's a lot of ‘what ifs' left in this offseason."
One thing's for sure: Whatever happens to Smith from now on, it won't be in a 49ers uniform.