With the Miami Dolphins traveling cross-country in Week 14, Alex Smith would most certainly game-manage this week to victory. Colin Kaepernick needs to do the same in his place.
Everyone knows the story by now; San Francisco had been riding high with Smith at the control of their Super Bowl aspirations. A concussion and masterful performance by their backup has turned the tables on the one team that had the look of a steady juggernaut.
Kaepernick has the look of an NFL starter and certainly gives the 49ers a downfield dynamic missing with Smith at the helm. The field suddenly looks longer in the Bay Area as they can finally stretch the field.
Let’s not forget the second-year QB’s dual-threat ability either. His running-back speed combined with his rocket arm has Jim Harbaugh feeling anything but regretful for the switch.
Two straight mediocre games from Kaepernick, though, will turn the 49ers locker room as tight as a broom closet. Gaudy stats (such as 284 total yards in a loss to the Rams) merely add glitter to his case, but Smith has made his reputation simply by a 70% completion rate and moving the chains.
That’s all that the Niners truly need from the QB spot.
If the situation didn't already seem dire, NFL Network's Rich Eisen noted the Niners' dilemma immediately after losing to St. Louis:
No tie in St Louis. Rams win in OT with Young GZ crushing it. Now Harbaugh must answer question if Kaepernick and his cold hand is the QB.— Rich Eisen (@richeisen) December 2, 2012
The locker room has been behind “Kaep” for now, but that can could change in a matter of four quarters. Knowing that Smith has and can win games with this squad leaves no room for error for the second-year QB.
“No room for error” and “second-year QB” are two terms that don’t get associated very often. Considering that Harbaugh has given Kaepernick a relatively short leash to air it out in this offense, that could become a problem if last week’s mishandled pitch spearheads more untimely mistakes.
The Dolphins don’t have a knack for takeaways, but their run defense ranks among the league’s best, which should give the 49ers game plan fits. Harbaugh will want to pound the ball to victory, but Miami knows they’d rather have Kaepernick try to beat them downfield over anything else.
If Kaepernick can’t close the deal against a double-digit underdog, the Niners’ outlook for playoff time will look like the Mayan interpretation.
Their fall from grace will have nothing to blame for except a change at the most important position on the field.
Harbaugh has both of his QB’s confidences in his hands if he makes yet another switch. He has to be delicate and cautious above all else, as he has already turned the Bay Area into a media circus already.
Ultimately, Harbaugh has only so much influence on the QB conundrum. It all comes down to Kaepernick’s play to see where this story turns next.
Little did Colin know, his fourth start would hold the hopes of an entire city.