Continued from page 1

He also doesn’t have nearly the talent to throw to, with the exception of running back Ray Rice, who led the NFL with 2,068 total yards. His offensive line is spotty.

For Baltimore to reach its first Super Bowl since 2001 _ oh, yeah, the QB then was Trent Dilfer, and Flacco is a far better player than Dilfer was _ some of Brady has to rub off on Flacco.

Smith finally has become comfortable in San Francisco thanks to new coach Jim Harbaugh’s guidance and confidence in the seven-year veteran. The 49ers are efficient on offense with a strong running game behind Frank Gore, and a tight end, Vernon Davis, who displayed all his skills in a sensational playoff debut against New Orleans.

To expect Smith to trade throws with Saints star Drew Brees was unthinkable, yet there he was, making clutch pass after clutch pass in the late stages of Saturday’s thrilling win. If he’s capable of a similar performance against the Giants, it would enhance San Francisco’s chances immeasurably.

“He deserves all this,” Gore said of Smith’s revival. “He’s had some tough times. But I always believed he could play at this level. We have the right people leading us. And he’s got the right people leading him.”

Leading the 49ers to the Super Bowl means beating Manning and the Giants. The Niners did it in November when Smith made just enough key plays. That’s been his style this season, a style Manning once adhered to.

Now, Manning is as much a playmaker as his older brother, Peyton, has been. Or as Brady is.

Indeed, another title will give him the championship lead in his family, adding yet another shiny achievement to Eli’s resume. But he’d still be behind Brady.

For now, Smith and Flacco can only wonder if they have what it takes to grab the ring.