Whether it’s a small conundrum or a full-blown controversy, San Francisco 49ers Coach Jim Harbaugh finds himself in a bit of a pickle after Colin Kaepernick’s stellar performance in place of Alex Smith in the Niners’ 32-7 victory over the Chicago Bears on Monday night.
It’s not exactly Montana-Young all over again in the Bay Area, at least not yet. Harbaugh’s call is simplified at the moment because Smith still has issues from the concussion he suffered Nov. 11.
“We’ll see,” Harbaugh said. “I usually tend to go with the guy who’s got the hot hand. And we’ve got two quarterbacks that have a hot hand.”
It’s a nice problem to have; just ask the Pittsburgh Steelers. Kaepernick, a 2011 second-round draft pick who was making his first NFL start, completed 16 of 23 passes for 243 yards, two touchdowns and a 133.1 passer rating. Against the Bears’ vaunted defense, those are the kind of stats that would seem to merit a start next weekend against New Orleans.
But Smith, who was scratched Monday after failing to pass the last of his neurological tests, led the 49ers to a 6-2-1 record. He’s the NFL leader in completion percentage (70) and is third in passer rating (104.1). Harbaugh was right about a “hot hand” — Smith has completed 26 of his last 28 passes — but Smith isn’t ready to play…which takes his coach off the hook a bit. Monday night, Smith said he was still recovering from his concussion, still feeling the effects. “I feel better,” he said (via the San Francisco Chronicle). “I’m kind of in the middle of it [recovery-wise].”
Kaepernick tied Jeff Garcia for most passing yards by a 49ers player in his first NFL start, according to Elias Sports Bureau. (Garcia passed for 243 yards in a 24-22 victory over the Tennessee Titans on Oct. 3, 1999.) Kaepernick admitted he was motivated. “I wanted to come out and show what I was capable of, show that I could be a starter,” he said. “That’s what I’ve been trying to prove since I’ve been here.”
That may be a powerful argument for starting, but Kaepernick wasn’t going there Monday night.
“We’ll just continue to work,” he said, “like we always do.”