There has been controversy about the 49ers' quarterback situation ever since Alex Smith was benched, but Colin Kaepernick silenced a few of those critics with a good game against the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday.
But is it a sign of things to come?
Kaepernick has been on and off, as he dominated the Bears, Patriots and Cardinals while struggling against the Seahawks, Rams and Saints. He also had one balanced performance against the Dolphins (performing just like Alex Smith), which resulted in a 27-13 win.
He was clearly upset by the rambunctious environment that is CenturyLink Field in Seattle, as he threw one interception while almost throwing many more. He struggled immensely there, showing that he can be rattled on the road. That is a concern against the Atlanta Falcons, as Atlanta's domed stadium will be loud if the two meet in the NFC Championship Game.
However, a bigger concern is Kaepernick's tendency to force passes. He has gotten away with some mistakes in his seven starts, but my hunch is that if he is careless, the 49ers will lose. So he will need to be careful—perhaps even conservative—with the ball. His decision making hasn't been perfect, but turning it down a notch is a big thing to ask of a guy with seven starts under his belt, especially in the playoffs.
I still think Alex Smith deserves to start, because he was the perfect complement to a great defense and running game. While I don't expect the pressure to get to Kaepernick, I do think he will try and do too much.
There likely won't be many dropped interceptions in the playoffs, which is why Kaepernick's decision making must be sensible. Kaepernick will basically control how the 49ers do with his decision making, not his performance.
Assuming the 49ers play the Packers, Aaron Rodgers shouldn't put up 40 points. When they last met at Lambeau Field, San Francisco allowed just 22 points,—and seven of those were on a punt return.
The 49ers defense should pummel the Packers offensive line if the two meet, so Kaepernick won't have to be Superman to get a win. He will just have to control his emotions and play like he played in the Cardinals game.
Kaepernick is a very talented quarterback with the impact to change a game, but he hasn't been better than Smith in my opinion. He was clearly rattled against the Seahawks and Greg Roman's play-calling made him less effective (abandoning the run when playing from behind). Kaepernick almost seems to panic and take too many shots downfield when that happens.
This is concerning, especially with the tough opponents coming up.
Sometimes, Kaepernick's deep throws work out. Other times, they don't. In the playoffs, they won't.
If Kaepernick tries to do too much, opponents will take advantage. It's exceptionally difficult for the strong-armed quarterback, but he has to take the "whatever I can do to help my team win" approach. It will make him even more dangerous if he isn't taking an abundance of shots downfield, because he is a downfield threat.
He has Randy Moss, Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis, three playmakers.
San Francisco is a very talented team. They don't need a heroic effort from the inconsistent Kaepernick. The Arizona game is not a sign of things to come, especially because Kaepernick has been so on and off all season.
The fate of the team lies in his decision making.
So how much does Kaepernick's actual performance matter? Not very much.