Take a deep breath, go for a walk around the block or just pour yourself a stiff drink. As I type these words, local sports radio is getting overwhelmed with calls pleading for Colin Kaepernick to be named as the 49ers’ starting quarterback.
Kaepernick looked like a grizzled veteran in his first NFL start as he led the Niners to a 32-7 victory against the NFL’s No. 2 defense, the Chicago Bears, at Candlestick Park on Monday. But shouldn’t we let him play another four quarters before we turn this into the Joe Montana vs. Steve Young debate?
Until Harbaugh arrived on the scene last season, Alex Smith had been the whipping boy for angry Bay Area sports fans for the better part of five years. And although he’s the consummate team player, it wouldn’t be entirely shocking if a little sweat leaked out of his pores as Kaepernick completed 12-of-15 passes for 184 yards and a touchdown in the first half against the Bears.
No one knew what to expect when Kaepernick lined up against the vaunted Bears’ defense on Monday. But worries were mollified once Kaepernick hit Mario Manningham for an eight-yard completion on the first play of the game and then followed it up with 22- and 12-yard strikes to Vernon Davis, setting up a David Akers 32-yard field goal.
Kaepernick would lead the Niners to scores on their first four possessions, making it look as though the Raiders’ defense had dressed up in Bears uniforms for the evening.
It was a great performance, but oh how quickly we can forget.
Kaepernick’s final stat line is impressive — 16-of-23, 243 yards, two touchdowns — right? But compare it to Smith’s last two games against Arizona and St. Louis. Before he left last week’s game with a concussion, Smith had completed 26 of his last 28 passes for 307 yards, including four touchdown passes.
Smith is currently leading the NFL in completion percentage (70.4) and he’s third in the league in passer efficiency (104.1), trailing a couple of guys named Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers.
The 49ers win by running the ball, playing solid defense and limiting turnovers, which is why the gig should still belong to Smith. He set a franchise record earlier in the year by throwing 249 consecutive passes without an interception and last season he threw the fewest number of picks (five) ever by a Niners signal caller. And no one needs to be reminded that Montana and Young also took snaps for this franchise.
The clincher in this debate should be Smith’s performance in the NFC divisional playoffs last year. Smith is often called a game manager, but when Harbaugh needed him to win a shootout against Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints, he passed for 299 yards and made all the big throws with the game on the line.
Harbaugh didn’t toss any water on the debate when he said he would go with the “hot hand” in his postgame news conference Monday. But even Kaepernick acknowledged that one good game doesn’t qualify as a hot hand, so we should all just settle down until he repeats the performance against New Orleans next week. If that happens, you might want to turn down that radio.
Paul Gackle is a freelance writer and regular contributor to The San Francisco Examiner. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @PGackle.