The Monday Night Football game between the Chicago Bears and San Francisco 49ers was supposed to feature two dominant defenses beating up helpless backup quarterbacks. Instead it turned into one of the greatest performances ever by a first-time starting quarterback.
Kaepernick finished with a #QBR of 97.5, the highest in a starting debut for any QB over the last five seasons.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) November 20, 2012
Not only did Colin Kaepernick shred a defense in his first NFL start, he shredded a defense that forces two turnovers a game and featured Charles Tillman, Brian Urlacher, Julius Peppers and Lance Briggs.
It may be a little unfair to incumbent quarterback Alex Smith, who has slowly turned himself into a fan favorite, but this game showed why Kaepernick was the missing piece in the 49ers offense.
Jim Harbaugh may have known this when he was putting in Kaepernick for selective plays earlier in the season, to the detriment of the offense. Then again, Harbaugh knows everything (not really, but it just seems like it).
It also appears that Kaepernick will have another chance to supplant Smith as the new 49ers starting quarterback this weekend.
Kaepernick's willingness to pass
Watch the video of Vernon Davis expressing his love for Kaepernick at the bottom and you'll begin to understand why the 49ers are so enamored with the second-year quarterback's ability to do it all Vernon Davis essentially compared a pass Kaepernick made as perfect, and only thrown because Alex Smith isn't in the game.
That isn't a slight to Smith, who rarely ever went deep. His job is to take care of the ball, even if it meant he check the pass down to Michael Crabtree for a five-yard gain than to risk a deep ball to Vernon Davis.
It's worked for the 49ers and even led them to the NFC Championship Game. But we can see why the coaching staff is ready to hand the reins over to Kaepernick, who is not only capable of making those throws, but fearless enough to try them.
Because of that, he will throw his share of interceptions, but the benefits of the consistent big-play offense will outweigh that.
Kaeperninck only had two rushes last night for a grand total of four yards, but there is no doubt that he is a special runner. And unlike Tim Tebow, Kaepernick actually has the threat of a passing game. It doesn't hurt that his offensive line played a flawless game last night, allowing one sack.
While he can certainly take off and run, he doesn't choose to, which is a very welcome sight. He scrambled out of the pocket several times but kept his eyes downfield.
On the touchdown to Crabtree, he sprinted out to his left but decided not to run towards the goal-line. Instead, he shifted his body and dropped a perfect touch pass to the back end of the end zone to a wide-open Crabtree.
That's not something a running quarterback does.
However, we also saw the threat of his legs in effect in the red zone. On the Kendall Hunter touchdown run, there was a little flashback to Kaep's Nevada days when he exclusively ran the Pistol formation. He chose to hand the ball off and Hunter scrambled into the end zone. The threat of his legs close to the goal line certainly is another weapon not possible with Alex Smith.
Trust by the coaching staff
The 49ers could have easily run the ball 40-plus times last night and still came away with the win, especially with the defense playing the way they were, and the Bears trying their best to board the plane mid-game. As a matter of fact, most people expected the Niners to run, run and run some more.
Apparently, so did Lovie Smith.
Instead, Harbaugh game-planned for Kaepernick to pass on over half of the plays in the first half. One of the best coaches in the NFL, he handed the keys over to Kaepernick and Kaep did the rest.
When Alex Smith threw several ill-advised interceptions against the New York Giants, we saw the coaching staff tighten the leash a little and have Smith take less risks.
It would be easy to keep Kaepernick on the sidelines again this weekend if they went with a very conservative game-plan, but they let him have a chance at a big game.
It appears that Kaepernick already has the trust of the coaching staff. This won't be a spread-them-out Oregon type of spread offense, but the extra level of dynamic passing should have the rest of the NFL very scared.