NEW ORLEANS Anyone who focuses on Aldon Smith's five-game sack-less streak is merely plucking "low-hanging" statistical fruit, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh will tell anyone who asks.
Smith played so well against Atlanta in the NFC Championship Game, Harbaugh noted, he received a game ball. And his stellar play led Smith to win the team's Bill Walsh Award, which is given to the 49ers' season MVP and voted on by players and coaches.
"That speaks volumes for the kind of impact he had on our team," Harbaugh said Monday.
The team's highest honor, the Len Eshmont Award for inspirational and courageous play, went to another Smith, defensive end Justin, who is battling a partially torn triceps tendon in the playoffs. The two Smiths play next to each other, and Aldon Smith's franchise-record 19 1/2 sacks this season are partly attributed to the fact that defenses must allocate so many resources to stop Justin Smith.
Aldon Smith said Harbaugh surprised him with the award during a team meeting.
"You've got guys on this team that are all-stars, that have made the Pro Bowl in consecutive years," Smith said. "The Patrick Willises, the Vernon Davises, the Frank Gores. I could go on. Then I come in my second year, and I get the MVP. It means a lot."
So who received Aldon Smith's vote? Wide receiver Randy Moss.
"I was a Randy fan growing up," he said. "I had a (No. 84) jersey."
Advocate for Alex Running back Frank Gore said he thinks Alex Smith should be an NFL starter even if that means he has to go elsewhere to land the job.
"I know Alex can play," said Gore, who entered the league with Smith in 2005. "And I know he wants to be 'The Man.' If he can't be 'The Man' here, I want him to go somewhere else and have a successful career. Because when he started off, things were tough on him."
Smith was in the midst of his best season when he suffered a concussion Nov. 11. Colin Kaepernick replaced him and played so well that Harbaugh never returned to Smith.
Harbaugh on Monday said Kaepernick's success was due largely to Smith's selflessness.
"Because Alex has really helped coach Colin and has been right there by his side," Harbaugh said. "Sitting there in meetings every single day. He coaches Colin now more than I do, and that speaks highly of the kind of person and teammate that Alex Smith is."
Linebacker love When a New Orleans-based reporter asked linebacker NaVorro Bowman about the "Dome Patrol," the famed group of Saints linebackers 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio coached beginning in the late 1980s, Bowman said he'd never heard of the group.
"No, I grew up in Washington, D.C.," he said, "so I'm a Ray Lewis guy."