49ers Quarterback Controversy: How Did We Get Here?


November 25, 2012; New Orleans, LA, USA; San Francisco 49ers quarterback Alex Smith (11) watches from the sidelines during first quarter of their game against the New Orleans Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7) started the game instead of Smith. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-US PRESSWIRE

Jim Harbaugh announced today that second year quarterback Colin Kaepernick, not Alex Smith, will start for the 49ers Sunday in St. Louis. In all the controversy and confusion, the prevailing question is, how did we get here?

Alex Smith had a breakout year in 2011, leading the 49ers to a 13-3 record, a division title, and an appearance in the NFC Championship game. He again came out swinging in 2012 with a tremendous week one victory over the Green Bay Packers and Aaron Rodgers.

That is where things got cloudy, as Smith became slightly less consistent than fans had become accustomed to. There were even whispers that he might be returning to his 2010 self after dismal performances against Minnesota and the New York Giants. However, he again showed flashes of brilliance in all six of his wins this season.

In fact, Smith was having a great run in terms of completion percentage, being 25 of his last 27 until he came out of the game against the Rams. He even led a long drive, which resulted in a touchdown, after taking the hit that ultimately took him out of the game.

Colin Kaepernick was rather unimpressive in his preseason play, and most people assumed he needed more time to mature. However, when he came in to relieve Alex Smith after Smith suffered a concussion against the Rams, Kaepernick was explosive and brought the team back from a huge deficit.

On Monday Night Football, possibly the biggest stage Colin has ever played on, he was electric against a Cutler-less Bears team. He picked apart the Bears defense, one of the best in the league, and led the 49ers to a huge victory in a game no one thought would be as high scoring as it was.

He played solidly against New Orleans last week as well, although their defense was not as much of a challenge as Chicago’s. Unsettlingly however, Colin also showed, on several occasions last week, that he is young and inexperienced, throwing an interception that was simply a bad decision and trying to do too much on his own.

If there is one thing that continually proves out in the NFL, it’s that overly-mobile quarterbacks are only successful as long as they have the element of surprise, see Tebow and Vick for more proof of this phenomenon. How long will it be before teams are expecting Colin to keep the ball and not throw, and are prepared to shut him down?

Jim Harbaugh says that Colin Kaepernick has the “hot hand” with his two recent wins. The numbers however, would seem to disagree. Alex has been having a good season, 6 wins, 70 percent completion rating, 13 TD’s, 5 picks, and a passer rating of 104 through 8 games, including his 2 losses. Colin Kaepernick has 2 wins, a 64.9 percent completion rating, 3 TD’s, 1 pick, and a passer rating of 102.3, but only 2 ½ games in his body of work.

Kaepernick is on a two-game win streak, but on the other hand, so was Alex Smith before his injury. The “hot hand” argument just doesn’t seem to pass muster, and leaves Harbaugh’s real intentions open to interpretation. Exactly what did Alex Smith do to lose his job? Exactly what did Colin Kaepernick do to win his job? The argument could be made that Harbaugh never believed that Alex Smith was his quarterback. Remember, he inherited him, as opposed to Colin, who Harbaugh drafted. Was Alex Smith’s injury an excuse for Jim Harbaugh to put in “his guy”? Doubtful, however it must be heartbreaking to Alex, who has won six games for Harbaugh this season, and put up some good numbers.

Hopefully Colin Kaepernick will perform as well against the Rams this Sunday, as he did last time these two teams met. And hopefully, this time, it won’t end in a tie.