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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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Caps announce preseason schedule to kick off a busy week

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USA TODAY Sports

Caps announce preseason schedule to kick off a busy week

The Stanley Cup champion Caps will open their seven-game exhibition schedule on Sept. 16 season against the Bruins at TD Garden, the team announced.  

Washington will face Boston, Carolina and St. Louis twice apiece—once on the road, once at home—and the 

Canadiens one time. The game against the Habs will be played at Videotron Arena in Quebec City.

NBC Sports Washington’s preseason broadcast schedule will be announced at a later date.

Here’s the preseason entire slate:

Date                    Opponent           Location                      Time
Sun., Sept. 16      at Boston          TD Garden                  1 p.m.
Tues., Sept. 18    vs. Boston         Capital One Arena     7 p.m.
Thurs., Sept. 20  at Montreal      Quebec City, Que.      7 p.m.
Fri., Sept. 21        at Carolina        PNC Arena                  7:30 p.m.
Tues., Sept. 25    at St. Louis        Enterprise Center      7 p.m.
Fri., Sept. 28        vs. Carolina       Capital One Arena    7 p.m.
Sun., Sept. 30      vs. St. Louis      Capital One Arena     3 p.m.

Monday's announcement kicked off a busy week for the Caps.

On Wednesday, Alex Ovechkin will pick up his seventh Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas. Nicklas Backstrom will also be on hand for media interviews; key members of the Cup-winning team are typically in attendance.

On Friday and Saturday in Dallas, Washington will make selections in the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 6th and 7th rounds of the 2018 Entry Draft at American Airlines Center. (Their fifth-round pick was dealt to Minnesota in the Tyler Graovac deal.)

Next Monday, many of the organization’s prospects, including this year’s picks, will report to Kettler Capitals Iceplex for the start of development camp. The schedule and roster will be announced this week.

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Bryce Harper, Trea Turner and Matt Adams drop slightly but still near top in MLB All-Star Game votes

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Bryce Harper, Trea Turner and Matt Adams drop slightly but still near top in MLB All-Star Game votes

The MLB All-Star Game is at Nationals Park and is now less than a month away, so let's check in on how D.C.'s top players and fan favorites are doing in the voting. 

After the first National League All-Star Game ballot update last week, Bryce Harper, Trea Turner and Matt Adams were the three Nationals among the top players receiving votes. And while that's still the case, they've all dropped one position since last week. Perhaps because of the Nats' recent slump?

Opening as the No. 1 outfielder, Harper is now No. 2 in the voting with 1,002,696 tallies, behind Atlanta Braves right fielder Nick Markakis with 1,173,653 votes. They are, however, the only two outfielders with more than a million votes and 2-of-5 overall in the voting. 

Adams — who was 14th among outfielders last week — slid one spot to No. 15 with 237,165 votes.

Last week, Turner was the No. 4 shortstop on the ballot, but he has since dropped to No. 4 with 279,071 votes. He's behind San Francisco Giants' Brandon Crawford, Braves' Dansby Swanson, Chicago Cubs' Addison Russell and Colorado Rockies' Trevor Story — who was the one to jump Turner this time around. 

If you're a Nats fan who doesn't like these results, don't worry. You can keep voting until July 5 at 11:59 p.m. ET and you can vote up to five times every 24 hours. Read more about how to vote for your favorite players in the MLB All-Star Game HERE

The 2018 NL-AL matchup is in Washington, D.C. on July 17.

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