Colin Kaepernick stepped up in place of an injured Alex Smith and immediately did what all starting QBs fear once they get hurt: He played well enough to warrant a QB controversy.
Kaepernick was great through the entire game, completing 16 of his 23 passes for 243 yards and two touchdowns. He threw zero interceptions against a Bears defense that entered the game leading the league with 30 takeaways.
Twitter, in particular, was abuzz about Kaepernick's performance and its potential ramifications:
Colin Kaepernick is straight dump trucking Chicago .. Alex Smith... Careful...could be a QB controversy in San Fran
— Stuart Scott (@StuartScott) November 20, 2012
Alex Smith must be thinking, "Uh-oh."— Skip Bayless (@RealSkipBayless) November 20, 2012
Kaepernick has got IT! Alex Smith doesn't.— Bill Romanowski (@billromanowski) November 20, 2012
Last week's game against the St. Louis Rams was like a trial run for the former Nevada Wolf Pack signal-caller. Kaepernick started the game slow, making poor decisions and making fans wish for the return of Smith. However, he turned it on late in that contest, leading fourth-quarter drives and helping to force overtime.
Kaepernick adds a dual-threat ability that expands the scope of the 49ers offense in a unique way—spread option plays, moving pockets, designed runs, etc.
This ability would be unimportant if Kaepernick was not adept at passing the football, but that does not seem to be an issue. On MNF he stood confidently in the pocket against the No. 2-ranked defense in the NFL and tore them apart.
However, it is not as if the 49ers were in desperate need of a competent QB.
Smith was excelling before his concussion. He had gone 7-of-8 for 72 yards and a touchdown against the Rams. The week prior against the Arizona Cardinals, he went 18-of-19 for 232 yards and three touchdowns.
Which means San Francisco has a problem that most teams would love to have: two quarterbacks worthy of the starting job. How can they handle this properly?
Two-QB systems rarely work at the pro level, but this situation is such that head coach Jim Harbaugh has to find ways to get Kaepernick involved.
He has proven to be too versatile of a playmaker not too see the field on a consistent basis. Brian Urlacher, Charles Tillman and the rest of the Bears defense had no answer for Kaepernick when he dropped back to pass.
San Francisco is a Super Bowl-contending team that can win in multiple ways, and that is a trait that cannot be overstated. Smith has become superb at leading the ground-and-pound, play-action offense that perfectly complements the defense. Kaepernick can handle those same duties while also bringing in the option game and quick-strike style for which defenses have to make on-the-fly adjustments.
It is this type of versatility that warrants a potential controversy. Kaepernick can perform the same tasks as Smith while also adding elements that diversify the offensive game plan.
The drawback? His body of work is extremely small.
Starting such a green signal-caller on the road to the Super Bowl is risky, but if Kaepernick continues to impress, it will be hard to completely turn the reins back over to the solid, but less exciting Smith.