The San Francisco 49ers are lucky in that they have two quarterbacks capable of starting and winning an NFL game. San Francisco head coach Jim Harbaugh can call on Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick knowing that both can get the job done.
Smith was the starting quarterback throughout the 2011 season and had the best season of his seven year career. He led the 49ers to a 13-3 record and an NFC West championship. San Francisco won a playoff game for the first time since 2002 and fell one game short of making it to the Super Bowl.
With Smith as their starter in 2012, the 49ers began the season 6-2-1. In game nine, he suffered a concussion against the St. Louis Rams and Kaepernick took over. The next week, Smith was not cleared to play against the Chicago Bears and Kaepernick started. San Francisco played, arguably, their best offensive game of the season and defeated Chicago. Kaepernick was almost flawless and threw two touchdown passes.
Going into Sunday’s contest with the New Orleans Saints, Smith was cleared by doctors to play. Harbaugh made a gutsy decision and decided to stick with Kaepernick. It paid off as the 49ers defeated New Orleans 31-21. Kaepernick did not play great. San Francisco’s defense scored twice on interceptions. But Kaepernick made plays when he needed to and did not make mistakes.
With his play against the Bears and Saints, Kaepernick may have won the starting quarterbacks job for good. It is doubtful that anyone saw this coming when the season started. Though Smith is not thought of as a great quarterback, he was coming off of his best season and had the 49ers in first place. The quarterback position seemed to be his to lose.
The Bears game changed all of that. Kaepernick played so well that Harbaugh thought he should remain the starter. Not too many coaches of a team in first place would have made the switch. On most teams, Smith would have returned to the lineup as soon as he was deemed healthy. However, Harbaugh is not your typical coach. He believes in playing the best players, regardless of position.
With Kaepernick starting and Smith as the backup, San Francisco is in better shape at quarterback than most teams in the NFL. The 49ers know that if either gets injured, the other is capable of playing and winning. Teams such as the Bears, Pittsburgh Steelers and Philadelphia Eagles wish they could say the same. Each has lost their quarterbacks during the season and suffered disastrous results from it.
In a league where the quarterback is everything, San Francisco is lucky to have two good ones.