Nationals

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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Everything you need to know about the new and improved MLB Trade Deadline

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Everything you need to know about the new and improved MLB Trade Deadline

For a long time, Major League Baseball had the best, most exciting trade deadline among the four major sports. In recent seasons, that excitement has been eclipsed by the popularity of the NBA, but baseball still stands ahead of football and hockey in terms of in-season movement.

In an effort to shake things up a bit, baseball’s trade deadline underwent some changes in the offseason.

Notably, while July 31 has always been deadline day, in past years it was a bit of a misnomer. July 31 was technically just the Non-Waiver Trade Deadline in years past. The month of August has always allowed trades to be made as long as players pass through waivers. If a player is claimed off waivers, his team can either pull him back, let him go for nothing, or negotiate a deal with his claiming team only.

This obviously made for much more limited movement in August, but it was always an option. 

Not anymore. Now? July 31 the *only* deadline.

The August revocable waivers trade deadline was always a bit convoluted, and it never made much sense to have more than one deadline. So it’s logical to think the powers that be would want to simplify things for the league.

Reportedly, Major League Baseball is hoping the change will not only help simplify in-season moves, but also help jumpstart offseason activity. The thinking is if teams have even just one fewer option to improve their roster midseason, then contenders will be forced to get aggressive in the offseason.

It remains to be seen if that will come to fruition, but one forthcoming change does seem pretty obvious. The singular trade deadline should make for a much more active July.

Both buyers and sellers have to commit to a direction earlier in the season now. Last year, for example, the Nationals executed their mini-firesale in mid-August, once it had become clear they were not going to compete for the postseason. At the end of the July they were still undecided, which is why they held onto Bryce Harper.

Considering how long it can take major deals to come together, teams have to essentially decide by the All-Star break if they are in or out on competing for October. It will be especially difficult for teams to read the writing on the wall when they are hovering around .500.

As of this writing, there are 10 teams within six games of .500 in either direction, and that doesn’t include organizations like the Red Sox, Nationals and Athletics who have quality records but are way behind runaway division leaders. Will they want to trade away controllable assets for a shot at a one-game Wild Card berth?

General Managers who can forecast their team’s likelihood of competing, and respond accordingly, will be rewarded under the new system. Orioles GM Mike Elias already began his team’s sell-off, trading Andrew Cashner away weeks before the end of July. By contrast, in 2018 both Jonathan Schoop and Kevin Gausman were moved by the Orioles with under an hour to go on deadline day.

It’s hard to perfectly predict all the ways rule changes can affect a sport, but in the case of the singular trade deadline, it’s obvious that teams are now required to commit earlier, with fewer games of information from which to work.

That’s exciting for a sport that could use some more player movement-related excitement.

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Summer Guide: The top restaurants and bars for before and after Baltimore Orioles games

Summer Guide: The top restaurants and bars for before and after Baltimore Orioles games

Last summer, NBC Sports Washington put together guides that detailed the best bars and restaurants to watch the Capitals' Stanley Cup run and FIFA World Cup. Earlier this summer we gave you some spots around Nationals Park too.

With summer 2019 halfway through and baseball in full swing, it's time to highlight the go-to spots to eat and drink around the ballpark that forever changed baseball. 

In no particular order, consider these: 

Pickles Pub, 520 Washington Blvd, Baltimore, MD 21230

  • Across the street from Oriole Park at Camden Yards
  • Always packed, it's the number one go-to bar for Orioles fans before and after the games 
  • A dozen beers on tap, both local and national brands
  • Great deals throughout baseball season

Sliders Bar and Grille, 504 Washington Blvd, Baltimore, MD 21230

  • Another bar adjacent to Camden Yards
  • Less crowded than Pickles, but just as good when it comes to snacks and drinks
  • Bottle, canned, and draft beer options
  • Gameday specials built around the Orioles season

Abbey Burger Bistro, 1041 Marshall St, Baltimore, MD 21230

  • A bit further (about a mile walk) but well worth it
  • Famous for, you guessed it, their wide selection of crafted hamburgers
  • Endorsed by Oriole legend Adam Jones, who even created a burger for their menu
  • Also make spiked milkshakes for adults looking to cool off with a tasty treat

The Yard, 110 S Eutaw St, Baltimore, MD 21201

  • Inside the Marriott Inner Harbor 
  • Quieter, less-crowded option compared to more popular pregame locations
  • Crab-based breakfast options for fans looking for an early start

Camden Pub, 647 W. Pratt St, Baltimore, MD 21201

  • Two blocks from Camden Yards
  • Special discounts with game tickets
  • Variety of food options, including well-known wings

Quigley's Half Irish Pub, 633 Portland St, Baltimore, MD 21230

  • Federal Hill location, a block away from the stadium
  • Another less-crowded option, with standard bar fare
  • Just as likely to host baseball fans and neighborhood regulars alike

Pratt Street Ale House, 206 W Pratt St, Baltimore, MD 21201

  • Three blocks from Oriole Park at Camden Yards 
  • Dozens of beer options, plus signature cocktails and wine choices aplenty
  • Well-known nightlife spot for postgame celebrations

Seafood Options:

L.P. Steamers, 1100 E Fort Ave, Baltimore, MD 21230

  • Have to drive instead of walk (9 minutes by car)
  • Considered a go-to spot for Maryland-style seafood 
  • Mentioned specifically by Manny Machado upon his return to Baltimore

Phillips Seafood, 601 E. Pratt Street, Baltimore, MD 21202

  • 20-minute walk to Camden Yards, right in the heart of the Inner Harbor
  • Huge letters outside the building a part of the local skyline
  • Famous for their crabcakes, but serve all kinds of seafood and non-seafood options

Rusty Scupper, 402 Key Highway, Inner Harbor Marina, Baltimore, MD 21230

  • Another slightly further, pricier option for local seafood
  • Beautiful view right on the water
  • Live patio entertainment
  • Happy hour from 11:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. every Monday through Friday

Postgame Dessert Options:

Insomnia Cookies, Federal Hill, 1059 S Charles St, Baltimore, MD 21230

  • 20-minute walk from the stadium
  • Wide variety of deluxe cookie options, plus brownies, ice cream, cake and dessert sandwiches
  • Open until 3 a.m. every night

Polar Roll Creamery, 600 E Pratt St Suite 105, Baltimore, MD 21202

  • 20-minutes from Camden Yards, on the Inner Harbor 
  • Rolled ice cream
  • Watch yourserver roll the ice cream in front of you

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