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QB Alex Smith has been a key to 49ers' success

QB Alex Smith has been a key to 49ers' success

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) When Alex Smith is good he can be very good. When Smith is very good, the San Francisco 49ers are practically unbeatable.

While the staples of San Francisco's success this season remain a rock-solid defense and the NFL's top-ranked rushing game, Smith's play at quarterback has been a key variable that's put the 49ers over the top in a string of lopsided victories.

The first-place 49ers, coming off a bye week, begin the second half of the season Sunday against the St. Louis Rams at 6-2 with a 1 1/2-game lead in the NFC West. The six victories have come by an average margin of 20 points, and Smith has a 120.0 quarterback rating in those games.

The eighth-year veteran knows his strong season to this point will ultimately be judged by what he and the 49ers do the remainder of the year.

Smith says he's ``not really reflecting'' on a first half that has established him as one of the league's top performers so far. Smith ranks fourth among NFL quarterbacks with a passer rating of 102.1. He's second in the league with a completion percentage of 69.4.

``You hope you're playing your best football come November and December,'' Smith said. ``As you move into the back half of the season, these are huge games, so you hope you're playing better and better as the season goes on.''

Smith is playing some of the best football of his career. He has steadily emerged beyond the ``game-manager'' label some tagged him with last season when he guided the 49ers to a 13-3 record and berth in the NFC Championship game in coach Jim Harbaugh's first year with the team.

Smith has developed more as a playmaker and is averaging 7.9 yards per pass attempt, which ranks fourth in the NFL. And he enters the second half on a roll, having produced two of the best statistical games of his career in the past month.

Smith threw for a season-high 303 yards with a passer rating of 156.3 while leading the 49ers to a franchise-record 621 yards during a 45-3 blowout of the Buffalo Bills on Oct. 7. He topped that with a career-high 157.1 passer rating in San Francisco's last game, a 24-3 victory at Arizona on Oct. 29.

Smith completed 18 of 19 passes for 232 yards and three touchdowns against the Cardinals, setting an NFL record with a 94.7 completion percentage for a quarterback with a minimum of 15 attempts. He was named NFC Offensive Player of the Week for the first time two days later.

The 49ers will complete a run of three consecutive games against their West rivals when they face the Rams, who are well aware of Smith's progress: He had two of his best games last season in wins over St. Louis.

``You have a quarterback that is playing great football,'' Rams linebacker James Laurinaitis said. ``When you look at the Niners, they definitely have a guy who can carry them when needed. I think Alex Smith has proved that.''

The 49ers have diversified their offense this season, adding veteran receivers Randy Moss and Mario Manningham to the mix. Smith's versatility allows offensive coordinator Greg Roman a lot of flexibility when determining how to come at opponents.

San Francisco has been striving for balance against opponents that key on three-time Pro Bowl running back Frank Gore and the power rushing attack the offense revolves around.

``We present a lot,'' said Smith, who has completions to 11 different players this season and also has rushed for 129 yards. ``I love getting everybody involved, that's for sure. I feel like we're not predictable. I don't feel like (opponents) are out there knowing what we're doing. We do a lot. We run all the schemes that are there, and it's fun.''

Smith's consistency and efficiency also have helped in San Francisco's climb to 13th in the NFL rankings for total offense this week after finishing 26th in that category last season.

And now, his name is being mentioned next to Joe Montana and Steve Young, the Hall of Famers who preceded Smith as San Francisco's quarterback.

If Smith's midseason numbers hold until the end of the year, his completion percentage would rank third in team history behind only Young (70.3 in 1994) and Montana (70.2 in 1989). Smith also could join Young and Montana as the only 49ers to post a quarterback rating of 100.0 or better in a season.

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Capitals Extra Podcast: Trade deadline story time with Alan May

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Capitals Extra Podcast: Trade deadline story time with Alan May

Alan May knows a thing or two about the trade deadline.

Over the course of his NHL career, May was traded five total times, four at the trade deadline. He sits down with Rob Carlin on a special edition of the Capitals Extra Podcast to tell stories from his playing days about what it was like getting traded.

This one's a can't miss for hockey fans. You can listen to the episode here on the Capitals Extra page or with the player below.

Report: Former Terp Diamond Stone included in federal documents detailing NCAA violations

Report: Former Terp Diamond Stone included in federal documents detailing NCAA violations

A bombshell article published Friday morning by Pat Forde and Pete Thamel of Yahoo! Sports details potential NCAA violations involving more than 20 schools and 25 players.

Several of the biggest names and programs in college basketball were referenced in the Yahoo! report, including former Maryland Terrapin, Diamond Stone.

According to documents and bank records that are part of an FBI investigation, Stone received $14,303 while a freshman at Maryland, a clear violation of NCAA rules. 

Former NBA agent Andy Miller of ASM Sports was the primary handler dishing out incentives, which included cash advances, entertainment expenses and travel expenses for high school and college prospects.

Other players referenced in the documents include Dennis Smith who played at North Carolina State, Isaiah Whitehead from Seton Hall, DeMatha star Markelle Fultz who played at Washington and Edrice "Bam" Adebayo who went on to play at Kentucky. 

Player's and their families from Duke, Michigan State, USC, North Carolina, Texas and Alabama were also included.

Stone played for the Terps during the 2015-16 season before declaring for the 2016 NBA Draft. He was selected 40th overall by the New Orleans Pelicans and traded to the Los Angeles Clippers. 

RELATED: DIAMOND STONE ADMITS TO 'MISTAKES' DURING FRESHMAN YEAR AT MARYLAND

Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon postponed Friday morning's media availability, but he did release the following statement through the school.

"Late last night we were alerted of a report associating one of our former student-athletes with an agent. We are extremely disappointed, and we will fully cooperate with any investigation. I do not have a relationship with Andy Miller or anyone from his agency, and at no time have I ever had a conversation with Andy Miller or his agency regarding any Maryland basketball player. We remain steadfast in upholding a program of integrity that reflects the values of our University community."

Stone did end up signing with a different agency.

While this is still under investigation, large consequences for the NCAA can be expected.

The NCAA also released a statement following the news. 

These allegations, if true, point to systematic failures that must be fixed and fixed now if we want college sports in America. Simply put, people who engage in this kind of behavior have no place in college sports. They are an affront to all those who play by the rules. Following the Southern District of New York's indictments last year, the NCAA Board of Governors and I formed the independent Commission on College Basketball, chaired by Condoleezza Rice, to provide recommendations on how to clean up the sport. With these latest allegations, it's clear this work is more important now than ever. The Board and I are completely committed to making transformational changes to the game and ensuring all involved in college basketball do so with integrity. We also will continue to cooperate with the efforts of federal prosecutors to identify and punish the unscrupulous parties seeking to exploit the system through criminal acts.