Greg Cosell calls Alex Smith’s game-winner “As good of a red zone throw as you’ll ever see.”

Here’s what Greg Cosell said about Alex Smith this morning on KNBR’s Murph and Mac Show.

Q: The reasons I liked the Niners to beat the Saints are the same reasons I like them to beat the Giants – coaching, defense and Candlestick. But I guess we’ve got to add quarterback to that list, huh?

COSELL: And you’re right about that. They’re defense, despite Drew Brees’ numbers, played exceptionally well. You could argue that other than Sproles touchdown and the Graham touchdown in the fourth quarter, I thought this defense was close to playing a gem of a performance. And with all that it was 24-23 Saints with four minutes to go.

Sooner or later in playoff football the quarterback has to make throws in critical situations. That’s the way the NFL is. And you know what? Alex Smith made three throws in those final three minutes and thirty seconds of that game that were as good as you can make. You can’t make them any better. And I would personally argue that the winning touchdown to Vernon Davis, and I’m taking nothing away from the catch, but the throw made that play, not the catch.

The throw had to beat the safety, Roman Harper. Smith threw that ball before Davis even got past the underneath linebacker, Scott Shanle. Think about that for a minute – the anticipation and accuracy of that throw. He threw that ball before he got past the underneath defender. Isn’t it fascinating that they’ve been terrible in the red zone all year long and they win and advance based on as good of a red zone throw as you’ll ever see.

Q: Doesn’t that end notion that Jim Harbaugh doesn’t have confidence in Alex Smith.

COSELL: Yes, because that was third down and that play was designed for a touchdown. I bet a lot of people wouldn’t have been surprised if they played to tie it at high in a playoff game, with the momentum sort of teetering. So, yes, I think that that shows absolute faith and obviously that was rewarded. The other two throws, by the way, on the first fourth quarter drive which ended in Smith’s run – which by the way was as good of a play call as we’ve also seen all year – but the throw to Davis on the fade route to get to that point, and then throw to Davis on the final drive in the middle of the field – all those throws.

A number of people I talked to this week said no one would have expected that from Alex Smith. A lot of people think I’m nuts, but Alex Smith had not shown this ability throughout his career. When he made those three throws – those are big, big time throws.

But the other thing you have to remember is – and this is why I love watching tape – Gregg Williams, the D coordinator for the Saints, he chose to be incredibly aggressive with blitz and with man coverage. He understood that he was putting a safety, either Roman Harper or Malcolm Jenkins, on Vernon Davis. Now, why do you think he did that? He did that because he didn’t believe that Alex Smith could make the throws. In other words, the mismatch of Davis against a safety, which favors the Niners clearly, that mismatch would not be exploited by Alex Smith. He lost and he’s not with the Saints anymore, but the point is he did not believe Alex Smith could make those throws.

And by the way, he knows more than I do and watches even more tape than I do. He chose to go that route.

Q: Trent Dilfer used the phrase ‘perception changer.’ Do you agree that game was a perception changer for Alex Smith?

COSELL: I don’t think there’s any question that there’s a confidence element here, because when you make stick throws into tight windows, which is part of being a quality NFL quarterback, when you do that in the crucible of a big game, then you believe you can do it. If he’s in a tight game Sunday and it’s 21-20 in the fourth quarter and it’s third and nine and he’s got to make a stick throw, he knows he can make that throw. There’s no question now in his mind. So, perception? I think it’s in Alex’s head. He now knows he can make that throw.

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