Smith vs. Favre? It's no contest whatsoever

The Green Bay Packers had Brett Favre. The 49ers had Alex Smith. It was no contest whatsoever.

With one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history slinging arrows for the opposition, the Niners needed a big game Sunday from their second-year signal-caller. But it didn't happen. Not even close.

Instead, Smith had his third dismal game in a row, completing just 12 of 29 passes for 201 yards and two killer interceptions which contributed greatly to San Francisco's downfall in Sunday's 30-19 loss to Favre and the Packers.

Is Smith, after a promising start to his second season, regressing instead of improving?

"If you look at the stats, one would think so, statistically speaking," Smith said, once again standing up to the heat of questions regarding his lackluster play. "As far as seeing things, playing faster, making things happen, and making better decisions, I feel that I'm so far ahead of where I have been, looking back at the start of the season, and where I am now."

Smith would have trouble convincing others of that after compiling a passer rating of 48.2 - his third consecutive game of a rating of 50.1 or lower. Smith's sophomore slump has coincided with San Francisco's three-game losing streak that has dropped the 49ers from playoff contention.

Smith had been a good game manager during a three-game winning streak that lifted the 49ers onto the edge of playoff contention, but the 49ers have needed more from him in recent weeks, and he has been unable to deliver.

Smith struggled throughout the day to connect with receivers, and he threw short to rookie tight end Vernon Davis on a third-and-2 bootleg in the third quarter when the 49ers - trailing 17-13 - had reached the Green Bay 41-yard line and appeared in position to take control of the game. The pass was intercepted by safety Nick Collins, and the game never again would be the same.

Favre showed how it's done two plays later, connecting with Donald Driver on a 68-yard touchdown bomb that put the Packers in control to stay. The 16th-year Green Bay quarterback was vintage Favre on this afternoon, completing 22 of 34 passes for 293 yards and two touchdowns with a passer rating of 111.5.

Smith's numbers pale considerably in comparison, but 49ers coach Mike Nolan - who inferred earlier this week that the 49ers needed Smith to step up and make plays - wasn't about to blame the loss on his young quarterback. Of course, he never does.

When asked if Smith has regressed in the past few weeks, Nolan replied, "As a football team, we haven't played like we did prior to that. I think it's more fair to say that, as a team, we aren't playing like we did in those three wins we had back-to-back-to-back. As far as Alex, obviously, he plays the most critical position on the team. He has spurts also. I thought he made some good plays today, but he also made some not-so-good plays."

Translation: Smith made some bad plays when the 49ers desperately needed him to be good.

"I threw a lot of balls away today," Smith said. "I felt like I had been playing smart. All of a sudden, you get down three scores with six minutes left and you have to force some throws to get your team back in there. Although it might hurt my stats and QB rating, I'm trying to help this team win."

Alas, Smith failed again in that pursuit.

But there still is hope for the 22-year-old, still the youngest starting quarterback in the NFL. Favre said so himself.

"He kind of reminds me of myself when I was young," Favre said. "Maybe he tries to do too much by himself. But he's going to come to realize a lot of his performance hinges on your supporting cast. You can see that they're trying to build a solid offense around him. He's a tough guy who took a lot of hits today and kept bouncing back."

Then Favre predicted, "He's going to be a heck of a player. I can see why they drafted him. In a year or two, he'll be lighting them up."

That doesn't do the 49ers and their followers much good in the present as San Francisco now is assured of a non-winning season for the fourth consecutive year.

But Favre says Smith needs to keep his head up, and he has some pointers for San Francisco's developing quarterback.

"I'm not the right person to give advice, but I'd tell him to keep swinging for the fences," Favre said. "Keep doing what you're doing. As I've gotten older, I've come to realize that one of the keys is to not be afraid to fail. You've got to take chances as opposed to just trying to play it safe. You can't play scared out there. Believe me, he doesn't. Eventually, he'll find things will work out for him if he keeps swinging for the fenches."

The 49ers sure hope so, because eventually can't come soon enough.

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