Alex Smith was wrong, but right

San Francisco quarterback Alex Smith caused a stir last week when he said that the statistics of Carolina quarterback Cam Newton were overblown in his record-setting rookie season.

"This is the honest truth: I could absolutely care less on yards per game," Smith said. "I think that's a totally overblown stat. Because if you're losing games in the second half, guess what? You're like the Carolina Panthers and you're going no-huddle the entire second half and, yeah, Cam Newton threw for a lot of 300-yard games, that's great. You're not winning, though."

Upon closer examination, Smith is wrong, but he also is right in some ways.

Let’s start with the wrong part. Newton didn’t throw for “a lot’’ of 300-yard games. In fact, he topped that barrier only three times and each came in his first four games. He threw for 422 yards in the opener against Arizona and followed that a week later with 432 against Green Bay. Newton threw for 374 yards in the fourth game of the season against Chicago. The Panthers lost all three of those games, so the spirit of what Smith was saying had more than a little validity.

Maybe Smith should have kept his mouth shut, but the point he was making was that you don’t need big statistics to win. He and the 49ers made it to the NFC Championship Game. Newton and the Panthers went 6-10.

Winning is what’s most important in the NFL. The Panthers showed signs they knew that late last season, winning four of their last six games. In those four wins, Newton never passed for more than 208 yards and he averaged 183 passing yards in the final four victories.

What Smith said wasn’t factually accurate. It also wasn’t what Carolina fans wanted to hear. But his basic message was that you don’t have to throw for 300 yards a game to win. Turns out, he’s right. But the Panthers already know that.