The Week 11 installment of Monday NIght Football was cleverly dubbed “The Backup Bowl” after it was announced that Alex Smith of the San Francisco 49ers had not passed his concussion testing. With Smith unable to go, the 49ers would have to go with their second-year backup, Colin Kaepernick, who would be starting in his first NFL game.
He would be starting across the field from Chicago Bears backup Jason Campbell, who was starting for the concussed Jay Cutler. This was Campbell’s 71st start in the NFL, and by those numbers alone, one would think the Bears would have the advantage during Monday night’s showdown of NFC Powerhouses.
Instead, it was Kaepernick who played like the veteran in his prime-time appearance. The 49ers backup played a near perfect game, throwing for 243 yards and two touchdowns with just one sack. He played with poise and skill, ending the game with a quarterback rating of an astounding 133.1. These are just amazing numbers for a young man experiencing the first start of his career.
What makes this start even more amazing, besides it being on the MNF stage, is who it was against. The Chicago Bears defense has been ferocious, giving up an average of just 14.8 points a game. Kaepernick led his team on 6 scoring drives, totaling 29 points.
Chicago leads the league with 19 interceptions, 7 of which have been returned for touchdowns. The takeaway is a huge part of their defensive domination. On Monday night, Kaepernick never even threw a pass a Bears defender had a chance at.
The Bears D has been so good this season it has been seriously compared to the famed Bears ’85 defense, a comparison Kaepernick likely put an end to. That is how good the guy played.
But is this enough to usurp Alex Smith as the starter in San Francisco? Head coach Jim Harbaugh hinted that this could be the case.
In his post game media appearance, Harbaugh told reporters “[I] usually go with the guy with the hot hand.” Harbaugh looked like he immediately regretted his words, and went straight into damage control, crediting both of his quarterbacks for having a “hot hand.”
Regardless of how you read into Harbaugh’s statement. Kaepernick made a strong statement of his own, and of the two, it is the young quarterback’s which rings the loudest.
True, this was just one start, but the defense he went up against, and the ease with which he picked them apart should count as three actual starts against a normal D.
The thing is, Harbaugh was right in saying he has two hot hands. It may not seem like it, but Alex Smith has been having a pretty good season. He has had 5 games with a QB rating of over 100, and after 11 weeks on NFL football is averaging a rating of 104.1, third best in the NFL among quarterbacks with a minimum of 300 pass attempts. Smith is averaging just 196.6 yards per game, which is a bit low, but the 49ers have the leagues best rushing attack, so the need for Smith to throw the ball all over the field is limited. What is more important is his touchdown to interception ratio, a respectable 2.6 to 1 (13-5).
This makes for a tough decision for the San Francisco coaching staff. On the one hand, you have the starter who has struggled through years of mediocrity in order to be the player who led his team to the NFC Championship game. On the other is the more mobile, more dynamic youngster, who has shown great potential whenever he has stepped on the field. Smith gives the Niners the experience, and has shown that he can win big games (New Orleans Saints in last season’s Divisional Round), while Kaepernick gives them an opportunity to open up the playbook with his speed and skill.
This week will be an interesting one around the 49er’s training facilities, as everyone waits to hear what direction the team will be going in next week. Smith will likely be ready to start, but Harbaugh may opt to give him another game rest, giving Kaepernick a chance to show what he can do in back-to-back starts.
Jeff Everette is a Featured Columnist for RantSports.com, covering the NFL and NBA. Follow Jeff on twitter @jeverettesports, like his page on FaceBook, or add his Google + to your circles for all of his latest articles, thoughts, and rants.