Posted December 03, 2012

Colin Kaepernick’s mistake-filled day might re-open battle with Alex Smith

San Francisco 49ers
Colin Kaepernick's day against the Rams was the worst he's had as a starter. (Seth Perlman/AP)

Colin Kaepernick’s day against the Rams was the worst he’s had as a starter. (Seth Perlman/AP)

Colin Kaepernick’s turn as the 49ers’ starting quarterback had been fairly smooth through two weeks — he barely broke a sweat in a rout of Chicago, then bounced back from an early interception to pull away from Drew Brees and the Saints.

The young QB found the going a little rockier Sunday in St. Louis, mostly because of his own doing.

Now, after a 16-13 overtime loss to the Rams, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh may have to spend a little more time weighing the Kaepernick-Alex Smith conundrum again.

“I’ll let you know if there’s a change, but right now, I think it’ll be the same as it was this week,” Harbaugh said following the game. “I’m proud of Kap, proud of the way he played. He handled himself well, gave our team a chance to win.”

It would be tough for Harbaugh to go back to Smith, and he certainly does not want to play musical chairs at quarterback. The 49ers will need Kaepernick to keep his mistakes to a minimum, though — something he did not do Sunday.

The 49ers held a 7-0 lead midway through the third quarter of a defensive struggle, when Kaepernick took a snap inside his own 10 and unadvisedly scrambled back into the end zone. He then attempted to throw a pass away for an imcompletion, but he failed to get the ball back to the line of scrimmage — that drew a flag for intentional grounding and cost San Francisco a safety.

Kaepernick’s team still had the lead in the closing moments of regulation, when he made his second huge error. Attempting to run a triple-option out of the pistol from deep in his own territory, Kaepernick launched a pitch over Ted Ginn’s head. St. Louis’ Janoris Jenkins recovered and rolled into the end zone for a touchdown; the Rams converted a two-pointer to tie the game.

Following his two costly mistakes, Kaepernick reminded everyone why he’s starting right now: With the game knotted at 10, the athletic Kaepernick broke loose for a 50-yard run that set up a late field goal. That wasn’t enough in the end — the Rams sent the game to overtime with a long Greg Zuerlein field goal, then won it after San Francisco failed on a pair of OT possessions.

Kaepernick inherited the 49ers’ QB job during a Week 10 battle with these same Rams. He helped spark San Francisco to 17 fourth-quarter points to erase a 17-7 deficit. That game ended in a 24-all tie.

Since that time, Kaepernick has been one of the stories of the NFL, his run-pass ability adding another dimension to an often stagnant San Francisco offense. The results spoke for themselves in his first two starts, with the 49ers looking more than dangerous enough to be considered a Super Bowl favorite.

Sunday’s loss may not drastically change that, but it ought to give Harbaugh pause. If nothing else, with Seattle’s dramatic win in Chicago, it increases the pressure on San Francisco to continue winning. Seattle now sits just 1.5 games back in the NFC West (that tie skewing the standings a bit), with the two teams set for a Week 16 matchup in Seattle.

How will Kaepernick respond to his first big piece of adversity? That’s the question facing Harbaugh over the coming week.

25 comments
S712399
S712399

If I were the niners general manager I would go after Cam Newton 

stabmasterarson21
stabmasterarson21

Kaep will be aight, let him make a few mistakes before the important games begin.  They are a better team w/ him at QB than Smith who's had a lot of years to prove he could be more than a game manager - he can't!

GD94134
GD94134

The Remix has begun Smith out! Kaepernick is the Future! Alex in Wonderland is finished in San Francisco.Seven years of trying to turn a Pinto into a Shelby Mustang are over.Too many moving violations in the playoffs and no Super Bowls means time for "Overhauling" Harbaugh style with CK7 and the 49ers!!!

RobertDurocher
RobertDurocher

Sounds of  Kaepernick echo from coast to coast, well enjoy it kid because the Rams loss is on you, it's always the QB that loses. You have your followers and others are waiting for you to fall flat on your face. It will happen kid, it's not your time, and if the coach H goes with you, well he may as well give up on the NFC west title.

If I'm wrong ! well darn.

BigBears
BigBears

All of you coming to the rescue of Alex Smith are probably the same people that 2 years ago were yelling and screaming that the Niners wouldn't go anywhere with him. Kaepernick did not loose that game yesterday. How about the pass to Crabtree and the run he made to bring the team back in scoring position. Why not blame Akers for the loss and the tie in San Francisco. He had a chance to win both games, but failed. That' s what is paid for, yet nobody blames him.

Scott29
Scott29

We're all Alex Smith fans but we have no chance of winning the SuperBowl with him.  Defenses have learned to put everyone up front because we can't throw the ball deep with him at QB.  Watch the last two Giants games if you need to understand this point.  If you watched the Rams game this week you would know that the safety call was incorrect because the ball DID make it back to the line of scrimmage.  The lateral was a bad mistake but the play call was worse.  In fact, the 49ers play calling was the real reason that we lost.  There was no way that we should have not scored 21+ points by the end of the 3rd quarter.  Teams have figured out that we run the ball into the middle and we keep doing it time and time again.  We had several play action passes against Chicago and it worked great!  More screen passes, reverses, and sweeps until teams stop stacking the middle.  The great 49er teams have always been pass first, run second.  I understand that we're a running team no but we can't be so predictable. 

help4mac1
help4mac1

LOLOLOLOLOL. Read it and weep Colon boys and girls. Now Horribowl is in a Rexy situation. Will SF be 2-time championship game losers a la Jets? LOL. Karma killing coach.

pljaye
pljaye

Too late--I think the 49ers are toast. Harbaugh will likely go down in 49ers infamy for benching Smith, disrupting his team's chemistry and unnecessarily creating a quarterback controversy. The 49ers were already playing well, while being in first place in their division and poised to contend for a championship. Smith was also playing the best football of his career. Smith's reward was to be benched through no fault of his own. Kaepernick did what a backup is supposed to do and led the 49ers to a victory while Smith was recovering from a concussion. There would have been no harm in simply reinserting Smith back into the starting lineup--if Smith had faltered badly (unlikely) Harbaugh could have always replaced him with Kaepernick at that time. Now, Harbaugh has likely irreparably damaged his relationship with Smith and has probably created division among the rest of the team, with some players believing that Smith should start while others will support Kaepernick. If he reinserts Smith into the starting lineup, Kaepernick will likely be unhappy after having been handed the starter's job and then having it taken away from him. Moreover, my guess is that Smith has probably lost some of his rhythm and confidence and won't be as effective if does regain the starter's job. After experiencing Ditka's quarterback's merry-go-round in Chicago (Tomczak, Harbaugh, Flutie), you would think that Harbaugh would have known better.

ziggyff
ziggyff

Who proof reads these? Article states Smith has to keep his mistakes down Sunday and yet he did not play??

olansuddeth
olansuddeth

Kap is clearly the future of the franchise, and that future is very bright.  But those are two terrible decicions that Alex simply does not make.  That pitch especially... why, oh why, would ANYONE make that choice?  You have an eight point lead, and the Rams can't do anything against your defense.  The call was boneheaded, and the decision was worse.  Run it up the middle and punt.  Or eat that ball, then punt.  That awkward pitch well over Ginn's head was just baffling.

 

The lone touchdown of the offense came largely on Gore's legs, in case you forgot. 

 

Right now, the Niners are poised to make a legitimate Super Bowl run.  Alex was having the best season of his life.  Why rock the boat?  Take your championship, thank Alex for his service, and start Kap next year.  Please.

srkeegan
srkeegan

LOL! Calling it a "mistake-filled day" is a bit of a stretch.

 

The guy completed over 65% off his passes. NO INTS, and he rushed for 84 yards.

 

He had one bad play where he lateraled the ball over the back's head. That was the only major mistake he really made. The play calling was pretty horrible. That wasn't Kap's fault.

BigBears
BigBears

 @pljaye They are still in first place and contending for the championship. In case Smith is put in as the starting QB, tell me why a second year man would be unhappy about losing the starting job that was his for only 3 games. Harbaugh will not change at this time. Better quarterbacks than Kaep had a bad day in their career, only to grow stronger with the experience.

help4mac1
help4mac1

 @pljaye Lather rinse repeat, please... 

BTW, the only thing crazier than the 49ers was the Rams. What the hell kind of offensive game plan was that? Obviously it was no offense no mistakes and wait for the other guy to screw up, but the Ram coach took that idea to an extreme I've never seen. On 3rd a 8 they threw for 2 yes. What the hell?

dchojd
dchojd

Right, also says "He then attempted to throw a pass away for an imcompletion"

olansuddeth
olansuddeth

 @srkeegan Terrible decision (and worse execution) to lateral the ball, resulted in a touchdown by a punchless Rams team.  On an earlier play from the ***17 YARD LINE***, Kap gets flagged for intentional grounding three yards deep in the end zone, which gives the Rams two more points.

 

Don't forget that Kap elected to go out of bounds and stop the clock late in the game, thus saving a timeout for the Rams (and giving them another 20-30 seconds to work with on their drive to send the game to overtime). 

 

"Mistake-filled" might be a small stretch, but bottom line, Kap scored more points for the Rams than he did for the Niners.  Had Alex done that, the fanbase would be howling for Harbaugh to hire some guy off the street to take his job. 

 

Kap was brilliant in Chicago, solid in New Orleans, and borderline putrid in St. Louis.  I firmly believe that he is the future of the franchise, and feel like he'll be an excellent player for his career... but right now is not the time for the growing pains.

seanneves
seanneves

 @srkeegan You understand the grave, terrible mistakes he made right? Right? They cost the game AND HOME FIELD IN THE PLAYOFFS. Read that again.

nick12
nick12

 @srkeegan You are forgetting the safety, and ignoring that Keap scored 9 of the Rams 16 points for them.

AnthonyNolls
AnthonyNolls

@srkeegan Alex has played very well for a seaon and half. We have a defense that can win a Super Bowl and now we are willing to gamble on a new QB. Alex held practice without a contract last season based on the coach trusting him to hold his playbook (13 and 3 can be heavily based on "Camp Alex"). Now that Kyle fumbles away our Super Bowl we are forgetting what Alex has done. That is weak and to save money (2nd round pick...stretch at 2nd round) we are now gabling on what I believe is a Super Bowl team.

BigBears
BigBears

 @sleeptastic He still does any time there is any kind of pressure. Look how many sacks he takes. Harbaugh made a good QB out of him, but he's not the guy he really wants, and since he's the one in charge, why not let him do his job the best way he knows how. After all, he's done pretty good until now. I think it might  be a little too early to throw Kaepernick under the bus. Sure he made some big mistakes, but he brought the team back with a chance to win. Thanks to Walker and Akers that did not happened, yet we are all too busy blaming Kaepernick.

pljaye
pljaye

Exactly--the Rams were practically begging the 49ers to beat them. And this is the same Rams team that was soundly defeated by the Jets a couple of weeks ago--at HOME! Any team that allows Mark Sanchez to complete 75% of his passes should be easy pickin's for most championship-calber teams.

ziggyff
ziggyff

 @dchojd GEE, I MISSED  THAT BOOBOO MYSELF, NO WONDER THERE'S NO AUTHOR TACKED ONTO THE ARTICLE, YOU SEE THESE  OBVIOUS ERROR RIDDEN ARTICLES TOO OFTEN  ON THE WEB THESE DAYS

Adub35
Adub35

 @olansuddeth  @srkeegan So he makes 3 mistakes, one was a bad call by refs should not have been a safety, ball clearly passed the line of scrimmage that extends out of bounds, so not really his fault.  The pitch was a mistake but play should not have been called in that situation and Ginn should have fell on fumble instead of trying to pick it up.  Running out of bounds was a mistake that he hopefully learned from and probably won't make again, Learn from mistakes.  Kap makes a 50 yard run play that Smith wouldn't make.  Then throws a perfect TD pass that was dropped by the same receiver who on the next play gets a holding penalty that takes the 49ers out of position to score a touchdown and settle for a field goal. Then in OT drives team down field to set up a easily make-able field goal that Akers misses just like in the tie during their last meeting.  I don't know about you but I have not spent countless hours every week watching the two quarterbacks compete, but I know Harbaugh has.  He has one responsibility to put the best 11 players on the field.  His job is on the line if he doesn't.  Alex and Harbaugh have had a great relationship, Smith caddied for Harbaugh during the summer at the Pebble beach Pro-Am, so I think Harbaugh is making the moves that he feels is best for the team.  Kaepernick has had a QBR rating over 70 for the past three games he has started, Smith has never had a 3 game stretch in his pat 7 years as a starting quarterback posting the same numbers.  Smith is a game manager Kap is a game changer. GO 9ERS!!!! 

AdamCsor
AdamCsor

 @AnthonyNolls  @srkeegan While I do think Harbaugh has made the correct long-term decision with respect to Kaepernick, I think the short-term risk has been underestimated.  This is a Super Bowl ready team.  This defense can currently put a veteran game-manager plus quarterback on its back and carry that man to victory in new Orleans in February.  But what if the defense has peaked?  What if they don't agree to terms with Goldson, for example?

 

Remember that the Jets defense was #1 in total points allowed in 2009 and conventional wisdom was that the defense would only get better.  Instead, in 2010, that same defense slipped to #6 in total points allowed.  And finally, in 2011, the bottom fell out entirely and they ranked #20.  This season is an even bigger disaster.

 

We were #2 in this same category last year and are #1 currently, but there's nowhere to go but down, and things can change rapidly with free agency. (Though I do trust Harbaugh more than Ryan as a coach and York more than Woody Johnson as an owner.)

 

I trust that Harbaugh sees in Kaepernick the kind of upside that is at least remotely akin to what the Packers saw in Rodgers leading up to the 2008 season.  But the Packers had the sense to give Rodgers the keys to the kingdom at the start of the season, so when he lead them to a worse than expected 6-10 record in 2008, no one was bemoaning that he ruined a season that was past the midway point and laden with championship expectations.  

 

Kaepernick will have games much worse than today in the immediate future. Things will get tougher for him as teams can prepare for him with more tape of him.  It would be a shame if he has one of those really bad games in January.  It would be that much worse if he has several of them next season and hits his stride in 2014 when the 49er defense may not be what it is today.