“I wouldn’t expect an announcement today or any timeline on that,” Jim Harbaugh said this afternoon in response to the first of many questions about the 49ers’ quarterback situation. Harbaugh may not have expected an announcement today, but we got one:
As Matt Barrows pointed out, even if the entirety of Trotter’s report is correct, Alex Smith hasn’t been medically cleared. But at this point it hardly matters. Harbaugh could’ve used Smith’s concussion symptoms as an excuse, but it was obvious after Monday night’s walloping of the Bears that Harbaugh was enamored with Colin Kaepernick. During the game he cheered with as much vigor as 90% of the fans at Candlestick Park when Kaepernick connected with Kyle Williams on a 57-yard bomb. After the game, Harbaugh made it clear — nothing in the rules, unwritten or otherwise, says a player can’t lose his job while injured.
Has Smith improved under Harbaugh? Without a doubt. Is it foolish for the fans to think Kaepernick is suddenly a quarterback on the level of Tom Brady, Peyton Manning or Aaron Rodgers after the equivalent of two full NFL games? Perhaps. But the reason why I became a firm believer that Kaepernick could and should be the starter on Monday night is because Kaepernick has been auditioning all season and now Harbaugh believes he can handle the job. After watching Harbaugh coach in our backyard for almost six years, I completely trust his instincts.
So why do Harbaugh’s instincts say the prudent choice is to replace a quarterback who has gone 20-6 on his watch, a quarterback who is currently the third-rated passer in the NFL? Since we’re not privy to the discussions Harbaugh has with his players or his inner monologue (the latter might be a good thing), I can only go with my best guess.
Smith is a better player than he has ever been. However, everything Smith accomplishes seems like such a struggle, every passing touchdown a happy accident. When Vernon Davis went off in last year’s playoffs, it was almost impossible to believe what we were seeing. When Davis went off on Monday, it looked … I don’t know, normal. One phenomenally athletic playmaker throwing to another phenomenally athletic playmaker. When Kaepernick sprinted into the end zone and celebrated after throwing TD passes to Davis and Michael Crabtree, it seemed like the New World Order was upon us.
Smith is a nice guy. Niceness is not the first trait that comes to mind when thinking of Harbaugh.
If you look at the third down conversion rate during Kaepernick’s first start, it looks a lot like a standard Smith game: 4-for-12. But it sure didn’t feel like 33%. Kaepernick’s first series ended in a field goal, but the pace was that of a touchdown drive. Things look different when Kaepernick effortlessly completes sideline passes to back shoulders and puts that ball right on Williams’ hands — especially after Smith has overthrown Williams so many times before from long range.
How many times has Harbaugh had to pump Smith up, either directly or through the media? Kaepernick is already as cocky as Randy Moss; no need to smack his shoulder pads, petition the league office to award him a 20th completion or talk him up during press conferences.
But Trent Dilfer says “WAIT!!!”
“He has proven in past postgame press conferences that he doesnt understand the gravity of the moment…he just fumbled.” — Dilfer on Harbaugh after Monday’s game.
Yes, we’re reduced to citing someone who goes by the name of “@tunaweasel.” He’s listed as “Senior Producer ESPN-NFL,” Pro Football Talk cited him, and @TDESPN is Dilfer’s Twitter account, so people are going with it. Going with it where? Who knows.
So we are left with two choices: believe the Godfather of Game Managers or the Sports Illustrated writer who may very well be included in Harbaugh’s “Jive Turkey Gobblers” club for writing this after the Seahawks game:
The 49ers won an important game but may have lost a starting quarterback Thursday night. Not physically. Mentally.
You can’t help but wonder about Alex Smith’s psyche after the coaching staff left him on the field but took the ball out of his hands down the stretch in a 13-6 victory over the Seahawks in Candlestick Park.
Since I already figured Harbaugh would name Kaepernick the starter against the Saints and perhaps beyond, I’m going with Trotter (it helps that Trotter is one of the top NFL reporters in the game, while Dilfer is, well, Dilfer). When it comes to this QB controversy, Kaepernick may run like Steve Young … but his status is closer to Joe Montana’s when he rose to power and knocked off Steve DeBerg.