Many pundits and fans rightfully attribute Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith's success during his last two years with the 49ers to the arrival of Jim Harbaugh before the 2011 season. At the same time, Harbaugh was not the one kneeling under center and throwing the passes.
With a similar skill position arsenal in Kansas City and another elite tutor in Andy Reid, Smith is off to a humble 2-0 start with Kansas City in 2013. This begs us to consider a truly staggering statistic. In his last 29 starts since the beginning of the 2011 season, including playoffs, Smith is a sterling 22-6-1. Smith's .759 winning percentage is higher than Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Matt Ryan during their last 29 starts. He has one less victory than the incomparable Tom Brady, who has gone 23-6 in his last 29 starts for the best mark of any quarterback in the NFL given the sample size.
So yes, you can attribute Smith's success to the 49ers top-ranked defense or its elite running game just like you can attribute the Giants two Super Bowl wins to the defensive line instead of Eli Manning. But in the modern NFL, where you cannot be an elite team without an elite passing game, the quarterback's impact on his team's success is similar to oil's impact on a nation's GDP: It keeps going up and pushing other factors into the background.
Based on this dynamic, win total is the most under-appreciated statistic for the modern quarterback. Since the beginning of the 2011 season, no quarterback besides Brady has won more frequently in games he has started than Smith.
By comparison, Michael Vick is 13-16 in his last 29 starts and has a .529 winning percentage since the start of the 2011 season. Vick is unquestionably a better talent than Smith. But in the last two plus seasons, Smith loses about as frequently as a first ballot Hall-of-Famer. As the 2013 season progresses, this winning trend may regress to Smith's career mean as Kansas City's competition gets tougher. It will be an interesting but under the radar development to watch, beginning with Thursday's primetime showdown against Vick and the Eagles.