Hot reads: Improved Alex Smith has 49ers surging

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Alex Smith passes the San Francisco 49ers quarterback Alex Smith passes the ball during their game against the Detroit Lions at Candlestick Park. (Sept. 16, 2012) Photo Credit: Getty

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Bob Glauber Newsday columnist Bob Glauber

Glauber has been Newsday's national football columnist since 1992. He was Newsday's football writer covering the Jets and ...

Let's not go there just yet with Alex Smith, OK?

We won't even begin to draw any comparisons between him and the quarterback royalty in San Francisco that begins and ends with Hall of Fame legends Joe Montana and Steve Young.

But at least we're finished with the discussion about lumping Smith into the group of NFL all-time busts. The No. 1 overall pick in the 2005 draft had failed to meet expectations in his first six seasons, but he's now in the midst of an astonishing rebirth. After helping the 49ers get to last season's NFC Championship Game, he has them off to another strong start with resounding wins over the Packers and his more celebrated draft classmate Aaron Rodgers and the Lions.

Smith may not be on a track to equal the accomplishments of his more celebrated 49ers' predecessors. But he is easily the most improved player in the entire league since the start of last season, and he's a major reason the 49ers are in the conversation once more for Super Bowl contenders.

The statistic that best illustrates Smith's resurgence: He has thrown 216 straight passes without an interception. And that beats even Montana and Young. Smith has won 16 of his last 19 starts, and ranks third in the NFL with a 115.9 passer rating.

"It's always a work in progress," he said. "You're always trying to get better. As a quarterback, No. 1, making good decisions, making the right decisions. And then throwing accurate footballs. So, always just trying to get better. It changes week-to-week. Something I try to take pride in."

 

Peyton's arm strength questioned

After throwing three interceptions in Monday night's loss to the Falcons, questions have emerged about Peyton Manning's arm strength.

He looked fine in The Broncos' Week 1 win over the Steelers. But at age 36 and coming off four neck surgeries, some of Manning's passes wobbled noticeably against the Falcons. But Manning is taking the second-guessing in stride. The other day at practice, Manning was near the end zone where the media watches from behind the end line. He warned reporters to watch out.

"Those wobblers still hurt if they hit you in the head," he cracked.

Broncos receiver Brandon Stokley took umbrage at suggestions that Manning has lost something off his passes.

"Y'all look for something negative after every loss," he said. "No one talked about that after the Pittsburgh game. In here, it's not even a topic of discussion. It's the last thing on our minds."

Manning channeled his inner Bill Belichick when asked about his arm strength. "I mean, I am what I am. It is what it is," said Manning, who faces another huge test Sunday, hosting the 2-0 Texans at Mile High in Denver. " Whatever expression is appropriate for that. I don't really know what to tell you."

 

What's up with Welker?

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Wes Welker came into the season as the Patriots' No. 1 wide receiver, but his curious deployment by offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels has plenty of folks in New England wondering what's going on. Last week against the Cardinals, Welker didn't even get the start; it was Julian Edelman.

Meanwhile, newly acquired Brandon Lloyd, a mercurial wide receiver playing with his sixth team since 2003, played all 82 offensive snaps. Welker did lead the Patriots with five catches for 95 yards, but didn't enter the game until after the Patriots lost tight end Aaron Hernandez to an ankle injury.

Welker couldn't come to terms on a multiyear deal with the Patriots during the offseason and is playing with a one-year, $9.5-million deal as the team's designated franchise player. Could his time be running out in New England?

Welker isn't sure, and is playing the good soldier.

"I just go out there, and whenever my number's called, I go out and play," he said. "Coaches coach, players play. That's all I can do."

Without Hernandez, who is out several more weeks, the Patriots may be forced to use Welker more, starting with Sunday's game at Baltimore against the Ravens in a rematch of last season's AFC Championship Game.

 

Quick hits

The Colts' Adam Vinatieri, who kicked a game-winning 53-yard field goal with 23 seconds remaining in last week's win over the Vikings, now has 23 field goals in the final minute of the fourth quarter or in overtime, tied for the most since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger (Matt Bahr and Jason Elam).

Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo is 3-0 against the Bucs, completing 70.9 percent of his passes for 908 yards, 11 touchdowns and no interceptions. That includes last year's 31-15 romp in Tampa.

Bears quarterback Jay Cutler makes his first start since bumping and screaming at left tackle J'Marcus Webb in a loss to the Packers in Green Bay, but if form holds true, Cutler will be celebrating a win over the Rams. Cutler has won six straight at home in Chicago.

NFL ON TV

Today:

Jets at Dolphins

Ch. 2, 1 p.m.

Eagles at Cardinals

Ch. 5, 4:05 p.m.

Texans at Broncos

Ch. 2, 4:25 p.m.

Patriots at Colts

Ch. 4, 8:20 p.m.

Tomorrow:

Packers at Seahawks

ESPN, 8:30 p.m.

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