Kaepernick over Smith: The Defining Moment in 49ers, Harbaugh's Super Bowl Run

Seph AndersonCorrespondent IIIJanuary 23, 2013

Harbaugh reaping rewards of risky QB decision
Harbaugh reaping rewards of risky QB decisionStephen Dunn/Getty Images

Halfway through the season, San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh decided to bench QB Alex Smith in favor of the less experienced backup QB, Colin Kaepernick. The move proved to be the defining moment in Harbaugh's run to Super Bowl XLVII.

While Harbaugh's decision to start Kaepernick in Week 11 against the Chicago Bears appeared to be questionable at the time, it was a decision that ultimately helped San Francisco earn a trip to the Super Bowl for the first time since Super Bowl XXIX in 1994.

Why was Harbaugh's decision to start Kaepernick deemed questionable at the time?

The 49ers had seen considerable success both in 2011 (losing to eventual Super Bowl champion New York Giants in the NFC Championship game) and 2012 under the direction of Smith at QB.

After posting a 6-2-1 record prior to sustaining an injury against the St. Louis St. Louis Rams in Week 10, most NFL experts assumed a healthy Smith would be a lock to regain his job from Kaepernick. However, that didn't exactly turn out to be the case in San Francisco.

Why did Harbaugh make the surprising decision to start QB Colin Kaepernick the rest of the year?

Kaepernick, the No. 36 overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, performed admirably when filling in against the Rams after Smith's injury.

As a rookie NFL head coach last year, Harbaugh watched Smith guide his team to an NFC Championship game showdown against the New York Giants. Unfortunately, the 49ers could not get past the Giants, falling 20-17 in overtime.

Harbaugh, a man used to winning on all levels of football, simply felt that utilizing Kaepernick's legs and feet, in addition to his passing skills, gave his squad a better chance to actually get to the Super Bowl in 2012 than sticking with the pedestrian, veteran Smith.

Did benching Smith, a former No. 1 draft pick, with a base 2012 salary of $4.5 million pay dividends?

You had better believe it!

Now looking like one of the greatest mid-season coaching decisions in NFL history, Kaepernick has earned Harbaugh and the 49ers a trip to Super Bowl XLVII against the Baltimore Ravens. Further, since his initial start of 2012 against the Chicago Bears, Kaepernick boasts a 7-2 record (including two playoff wins).

Harbaugh's decision to hand the reigns to Kaepernick may very well go on to define Harbaugh's career in the NFL.

Harbaugh, Kaepernick and the 49ers are one win away from reaching their goal: bringing home the first Lombardi Trophy to San Francisco since 1994.

As for QB Alex Smith, he's certainly earned his red and gold stripes since becoming a 49er.

Now, Smith has a chance to claim a Super Bowl victory himself. However, there is little reason to believe the front office in San Francisco will retain Smith's services and lofty 2013 contract long after the clock strikes all zeroes in New Orleans on February 3.