Center Jonathan Goodwin knows what it's like snapping to a top-notch quarterback during a breakout season.
Two seasons ago, he hiked a myriad of balls to Drew Brees in the New Orleans Saints' magical Super Bowl run. Now, three months into his 49ers tenure, Goodwin quickly has developed a vital rapport with Alex Smith during an improbable 8-1 start.
"In these couple months I've been here, I've been impressed with Alex," Goodwin said Monday. "It's hard for me to imagine there is a bad Alex."
Smith further distanced himself from the previous six seasons of pains and losses with Sunday's effort in a 27-20 win over the New York Giants. He played so well he'll be rewarded with a ceremonial game ball, according to coach Jim Harbaugh.
The 49ers' seventh straight win came while Smith executed a pass-oriented scheme that ran contrary to his 2011 reputation as a "game manager." Smith's postgame retort to that moniker: "I managed myself into a victory. That's all I care about."
Smith won over more than merely his center and coach.
"Alex has been my quarterback for six years," linebacker Parys Haralson said, "and I'm going to ride with Alex whichever way it goes."
Added cornerback Carlos Rogers: "I think Alex is always playing good. People talk about him as just a game manager. But what does that mean? Is it negative? Is it good? Whatever he's got to do to win games, that's all we need."
With former 49ers center David Baas
Harbaugh, a 15-year quarterback in the NFL, called any center-quarterback connection "critical" and said that Goodwin has not only helped his fellow linemen develop but also coaches in terms of strategy.
"He does a good job communicating to the sideline, telling coaches exactly what is going on, just clear and concise," Harbaugh said. "We're able to make adjustments a lot based on what he's seeing and saying."
Goodwin said he and Smith have been on the "same page" most of the season. Smith has fumbled only two snaps, and he recovered both.
Smith's newfound escapability from the pocket has enhanced his relationship with his appreciative linemen. Smith has been sacked 10 times in the past six games combined.
Harbaugh said of Smith's ability Sunday to extend plays: "He was bailing us out with the throw or using his legs to get us into field goal range or pick up first downs."
"He's shifty," Goodwin said. "He can run well for a quarterback, so credit to him. Anytime you're an offensive lineman, you love when a quarterback can make a guy miss."
Goodwin laughed when asked the inevitable question to compare the 49ers' hot start to that of the 2009 Saints' championship team, which started 13-0 before losing its final three regular-season games.
"In this league, you can't get ahead of yourself," Goodwin said. "You just have to focus one week at a time and get as many wins as you can and get to the postseason."
"I read Justin's comments that he was tired and just lucky to be there to put his hand up. That wasn't the case," Harbaugh said. "He was thinking it through. Just as he had foreseen, the ball came his way and he was there to knock it down. He's the consummate team player, and he's doing a great job leading this football team."
"Of course I'm happy about it, I'm proud about it, I'm humble about it," Rogers said. "I'm going to continue to work to reach higher goals. We've still got a long way to go."
For more on the 49ers, see Cam Inman's Hot Read blog at blogs.mercurynews.com/49ers.