Colin Kaepernick or Alex Smith? Yesterday coach Jim Harbaugh‘s decision to go with the second-year quarterback payed off as the San Francisco 49ers got a big road win over the New Orleans Saints 31-21. While the win can be attributed mostly to their defense, the question remains for next week.
Because of a concussion, the veteran quarterback Smith, had to sit out of their Week 11 matchup against the Chicago Bears on Monday Night Football. That night was a battle of the back-ups as the Bears had Jason Campbell in for Jay Cutler who also had a concussion. Kaepernick’s debut couldn’t have gone any better as the Niners destroyed the Bears 32-7. Kaepernick completed 16 of 23 passes for 243 yards and two touchdowns for a 133.1 rating. And this was against one of the best defenses in the league. Would Smith have had as good a game? Probably not. The fans know this and so does Harbaugh, even if he won’t publicly say so.
On Saturday night the head coach made the decision to start Kaepernick versus the Saints over the recovered Smith. Harbaugh claimed his reason to start Kaepernick this week had more to do with Smith’s long-term health than it did on performance.
“The fact he (Smith) had symptoms seven to eight days later, I’m not going to put a guy back out there,” said Harbaugh. “He eventually got cleared. The plan was to rotate him back into the action (in practice), but not all the way to the front line. … That would give him a chance to get cleared up completely.”
But Smith didn’t seem to agree.
“Obviously I want to play. I want to start. I think I should, but it’s not my decision,” said Smith. “I’m part of this team and it’s great to go out and get a win.”
In his second career start, Kaepernick completed 16 of 25 passes for 231 yards with a rushing and passing touchdown for a 90.6 rating. He played well but had his ups and downs as he also threw his first career interception. Most of the credit for the win, however, has to go to their defense as they stepped up big, sacking Saints’ quarterback Drew Brees five times. Linebacker Ahmad Brooks and safety Donte Witner each returned interceptions for touchdowns.
“We got a win, so that’s all that really matters,” Kaepernick said.
Two games is not a large sample size, but the 49ers do appear to be stronger with Kaepernick at the helm than they do with Smith. Since being drafted number one overall in 2005, Smith has not entirely lived up to his potential. Yeah the Niners were pretty bad in his first five seasons, but he hasn’t shown the skills and leadership of an elite quarterback. And since Harbaugh has turned things around, Smith continues to be an average, to above average, quarterback at best. Maybe time will even things out, but for right now Kaepernick gives them that fearless spark they need. After all Kaepernick was chosen by Harbaugh in the second round of the 2011 draft, while Smith was drafted by the old regime. As the saying goes, ‘if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it.’