The San Francisco 49ers QB situation has somehow become even more convoluted after a rough outing from newly appointed starter Colin Kaepernick in Week 13.
The 49ers lost 16-13 in overtime, and the mistakes of Kaepernick were undoubtedly a reason for San Francisco's struggles. The rookie had his first poor showing of the season, throwing a pass that resulted in an intentional grounding penalty and a safety.
He followed that blunder up with an ill-advised option pitch over the head of receiver Ted Ginn that flew over his head and ended up in Janoris Jenkins' hands in the end zone.
These types of errors have obviously been the exception and not the rule since Kaepernick took over three weeks ago, but the fact remains that they are the types of mistakes that rarely occur in an Alex Smith-led offense.
Now, head coach Jim Harbaugh has changed his "hot hand" argument in favor of a new one. He had this to say following Sunday's game, per USA Today:
Just a winning quarterback performance in tough circumstances. In the evaluation, I thought Colin played well, did a lot of really good things, made some good decisions. ... I thought some real positives to take away from his performance.
Is this the right outlook to take? Harbaugh certainly knows his team better than anyone and clearly thinks Kaepernick gives San Francisco the best chance at a Lombardi Trophy. However, the production of Smith before going down with a concussion was nothing short of exceptional.
Smith ranks first in the NFL with a 70.0 completion percentage and fifth with a passer rating of 104.1. In his last two outings he was a combined 25-of-27 passing for 304 yards, with four touchdowns and zero interceptions.
Smith was doing everything necessary to assert himself as the leader of the 49ers offense and an upper echelon NFL QB.
What he was not doing, and could not possibly do, was exhibit the athletic versatility that Kaepernick brings to the field. The former Nevada signal-caller spent his entire collegiate career in the pistol formation. He knows how to run option plays, designed QB runs, move the pocket laterally and has a strong enough arm to make any throw.
There are few things that Kaepernick is not capable of, but therein lies the problem with the young QB. He is capable of anything, but has not already experienced the trials and tribulations of Smith.
One cannot simply pull experience out of thin air. Smith has been in the NFL for eight years and has gone through more offensive coordinators than most players see in a lifetime.
What all this means is that the 49ers have two unique options at quarterback, both of which give San Francisco an opportunity to win in different ways.
For now, Harbaugh has put his stock in Kaepernick, but if his hand gets too cold there would be little shock in turning back to the reliable, but unspectacular Smith.