Colin Kaepernick vs. Alex Smith: What Did We Think Then, What Do We Think Now?

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Colin Kaepernick vs. Alex Smith: What Did We Think Then, What Do We Think Now?
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

It has been roughly a month since the tides shifted in the San Francisco Bay Area. 

Late into the NFL season, eight-year veteran quarterback Alex Smith was replaced by the younger guy with the higher ceiling. The 49ers boldly made the move into the Colin Kaepernick era midway through the year, which is risky considering they are competing for a title. 

Throughout the chronicle, there have been plenty of mixed feelings and emotions. A lot of supporters didn’t want to see Smith ride the bench, arguing that now is not the time to develop Kaepernick. 

However, Kaepernick has competed in four games as the starting QB, having gone 3-1 in that time. San Francisco has maintained a winning percentage of .750 with him behind center and has shown incredible potential for the future. 

I took the liberty of examining social media over the past four weeks as it pertains to the Colin Kaepernick-Alex Smith saga in San Francisco. After rounding up some reactions, I’ve opened a forum for fans and pundits alike to review the timeline and integrate an opinion.

Checkout the timeline of events in San Francisco:

Jim Harbaugh QB Decision Press Conference

“The rationale is, you got two quarterbacks that we feel great about as the starting quarterback. Both have earned it, both deserve it; Alex over a long period of time, Colin by virtue of the last three games...and tips the scales. Colin, we believe, has the hot hand. And we’ll go with Colin…and we’ll go with Alex, they’re both our guys.”

The reigning NFL Coach of the Year had an extremely delicate situation on his hands with a midseason stir at the quarterback position. There were many that did not appreciate the way Harbaugh dealt with the situation, but nevertheless, it was his decision to make. 

Following the Week 11 win over the visiting Bears (11/19) 

Kaepernick had his first career start on Monday Night Football versus the Chicago Bears and their dominant defense. The Bears are still one of the top-ranked teams in the NFC, but in Week 11, they looked completely out of their league.

Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Sports Illustrated’s Jim Trotter reviewed Kaepernick’s first career start, calling it a “sublime performance.” In this piece, entitled "Colin Kaepernick shines against Bears, gives 49ers quarterback dilemma," Trotter details the situation that led to Kaepernick getting a shot, then taking advantage of it on a national stage.

After Alex Smith was sidelined with a concussion, Kaepernick exploded in his debut, outright earning more playing time.

“Facing a defense that was first in takeaways, fifth against the pass and 10th overall, the second-year pro completed 16-of-23 passes for 243 yards, two touchdowns, no turnovers and a 133.1 rating in a 32-7 rout in Candlestick Park.”

With a road game against New Orleans next on the schedule, there was uncertainty as to whether or not Kaepernick would get a second straight start.

Trotter, who initially broke the news of the changeover at QB, believed the job was Kaepernick’s from here on out.


Following the Week 13 road loss to the Rams (12/02)

49ers vs. Rams: Colin Kaepernick Post-Game Presser

After big wins versus Chicago and New Orleans, Kaepernick was set to receive his third consecutive start against St. Louis. 

The game wound up being Kaepernick's first loss as a starter, hence its importance in this chronological breakdown. In a performance that highlighted his overall inexperience, Kaepernick's miscues led to points for the Rams on two separate occasions.

However, it was in fact a team loss. The Niners as a whole were beat by a fearless division opponent. And it would be unfair to place the blame solely on the shoulders of a player who only had two career starts prior to the matchup.  

Following the Week 14 win over the visiting Dolphins (12/09)

After Sunday’s close bounce-back win over the Dolphins, Paul Gackle at the San Francisco Examiner provided us with "Is Colin Kaepernick’s hot hand beginning to cool?"

Gackle brings up one of the more relevant points in this QB discussion, which is that, statistically, Kaepernick is not wowing folks. During his time as a starter, he has put up similar passing numbers to Alex Smith.

In four games, Kaepernick has thrown three touchdowns to one interception. Though, he has also run for three more scores since Smith was concussed in Week 10 against the Rams. 

Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

However, he also considers the bar was raised for the second-year player, but in limited time he has shown flashes of brilliance. Kaepernick stretched the field with his arm and executed new wrinkles in the 49ers offense. 

But Gackle's bottom line is that the offense has not been explosive since game versus Chicago, and many would be inclined to agree with him. 

This week, Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle also posted a follow-up, "The Five Flawed: A look at Colin Kaepernick’s incompletions."

Branch opens by stating that Kaepernick replaced an accurate passer in Smith, who went 18-of-19 in his last full game as a starter. 

On Sunday, only five balls hit the ground as Kaepernick went 18-of-23 against the Miami defense. Branch highlights Kaepernick’s accuracy as a passer, revealing how far advanced he is this early in his career.


For the San Francisco 49ers, this decision was more about the long term than it was the short term. While some are expecting explosiveness and perfection from Kaepernick right now, what he has done thus far is considerably impressive. 

He took over for Alex Smith with limited game experience and has played as well, if not better. The X-factor is that Kaepernick is still improving, while Smith may have already hit his ceiling. The second-year QB from Nevada has much greater potential and gives the 49ers a chance to win right now.

This was positively the boldest decision made by any organization in the 2012-13 NFL season. 

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