After being labeled a bust early in his tenure with the San Francisco 49ers, Alex Smith appeared to turn things around before losing his job for the final time in 2012.
Since then, the embattled quarterback has made the most of a fresh start with the Kansas City Chiefs.
Smith returns to the city where his career began Sunday looking to help the Chiefs to a third straight win and their first in San Francisco in 43 years.
The No. 1 overall draft pick out of Utah in 2005, Smith seemed to be fighting an uphill battle in the Bay Area after throwing one touchdown and 11 interceptions during his rookie season.
In the years that followed, he worked his way back from injury and regained the starting job after getting benched. Smith, however, finally lost his hold on the position for good in 2012 when he sustained a concussion in Week 10.
Colin Kaepernick replaced his mentor and never relinquished the job even once Smith was healthy, guiding the 49ers (2-2) to their first Super Bowl appearance in 18 years.
"One of the classiest people I've ever been around, just an all-around great guy. I don't think anyone could have handled it any better than he did," Kaepernick recalled this week. "He definitely made things go a lot smoother."
With Kaepernick entrenched under center, the 49ers traded Smith to the Chiefs in February 2013. He took over a leadership role on a team that had gone 2-14 in 2012, leading Kansas City to an 11-5 record and a playoff appearance last season.
Smith and the Chiefs (2-2) head to Levi's Stadium coming off an impressive 41-14 home win over New England on Monday night. Smith completed 20 of 26 passes for 248 yards and three touchdowns, giving him six scores in his last two games and no picks since Week 1.
Kansas City has dropped four straight road meetings dating to its only win in San Francisco, a 26-17 victory Dec. 6, 1971.
"No bitterness at all," Smith said of his return. "What happened there the end of the (2012) year, losing my job, you get to that point and I say this a lot, worrying about anything that was outside your control and dwelling on any of that stuff is only going to have a negative impact."
Kaepernick has been the target of criticism this season for missing his receivers and failing to protect the ball. He ranks 19th with a 91.2 passer rating after going 17 of 30 for 218 yards with two touchdowns and one interception in Sunday's 26-21 home win over previously unbeaten Philadelphia that snapped a two-game losing streak.
The fourth-year pro could be without one of his top targets after Vernon Davis left the contest with a back injury. The veteran tight end is day to day after he had missed the previous game with a left ankle injury.
It's also uncertain whether right tackle Anthony Davis will play after sustaining a left knee injury in his season debut.
San Francisco is likely to rely on Frank Gore again after he had a career-best 55-yard touchdown reception and rushed for a season-high 119 yards against the Eagles.
Coach Jim Harbaugh would like to quiet his critics with a win after reports surfaced last weekend that the fourth-year coach has lost the faith of his players.
"Personally I think that's a bunch of crap," he responded. "People say what they say."
Even without All-Pro linebackers NaVorro Bowman (knee) and Aldon Smith (suspended), San Francisco held LeSean McCoy and the Eagles to just 22 yards rushing on 12 attempts.
The 49ers lead the NFC in rushing defense (69.8 yards per game) and rank second in total defense (287.3). Since giving up 127 yards rushing to Dallas in the opener, they've allowed a combined 152 in the past three games.
San Francisco faces a stiff test against the Chiefs, who rank fourth with 145.3 rushing yards per game. Jamaal Charles ran for 92 yards and a touchdown in his return from an ankle injury Monday, while Knile Davis added 107 on the ground.
Joe McKnight, however, has been placed on injured reserve after suffering a torn Achilles tendon against the Patriots.
The Chiefs won the previous two meetings in 2006 and '10 by a combined score of 72-10, though both games were in Kansas City.