The San Francisco 49ers officially have a quarterback controversy. After Sunday’s performance by Colin Kaepernick in a 13-10 loss to the St. Louis Rams, head coach Jim Harbaugh will fall under more scrutiny for benching Alex Smith.
When Smith suffered a concussion in the ninth game of the season against the Rams, Kaepernick took over. The 49ers tied that game and it was not certain if Smith would be cleared to play the next week against the Chicago Bears. He was not, and Kaepernick played so well in a 32-7 victory that Harbaugh decided to start him against the New Orleans Saints. Though Smith had won 16 of his last 21 regular season starts, he was benched.
This immediately led to Harbaugh being second guessed. There were some who thought that Smith should have remained the starting quarterback based on his recent success. Others felt that Smith benefited more from the team around him than his own play and Kaepernick deserved to start. Harbaugh did not help matters by saying that he had two starting quarterbacks.
Though he did not play as well against the Saints as he did against Chicago, Kaepernick led San Francisco to a 31-21 victory. He scored the game clinching touchdown on a short run in the fourth quarter. For one week, the move to start Kaepernick was a success.
Then Kaepernick went up against the Rams.
On Sunday, the 49ers offense all but disappeared. San Francisco scored seven points in the first three quarters and was just trying to hold on for a victory. The 49ers defense did its part, as they shut down the Rams. It was Kaepernick who made the mistakes that let St. Louis back into the game.
With the 49ers up 7-0 in the third quarter, he retreated into his own end zone and tried to get rid of a pass in order to avoid a loss. The ball did not get past the line of scrimmage and Kaepernick was called for intentional grounding. Since the penalty occurred in the end zone, it led to a safety and the Rams first points.
Kaepernick proceeded to lead San Francisco to a field goal and what seemed like a safe eight point, fourth quarter lead. Then, with the ball at the San Francisco 17, Kaepernick tossed a lateral over the head of Ted Ginn. The Rams fell on the ball at the two yard line. St. Louis scored a touchdown and converted the two point conversion to tie the game at 10. For the second time this season, the 49ers and Rams went to overtime.
Just as in the first game, Kaepernick led San Francisco into field goal range. Like the first game, David Akers missed. Sam Bradford led the Rams to a game winning field goal and the 49ers knew they had let one slip away.
Now, Harbaugh has a decision to make. Does he stick with Kaepernick with the Seattle Seahawks breathing down San Francisco’s neck or does he go back to Smith? Neither is a great quarterback, but Smith has playoff experience. As the games become more important the 49ers can not afford performances like the one Kaepernick gave them Sunday.
Whenever a starting quarterback is benched it creates controversy. With the benching of Smith and Kaepernicks’s subsequent poor play, Harbaugh has one on his hands now.