Have it will’s way

The San Francisco 49ers lost 16-13 in overtime to the St. Louis Rams Sunday for many reasons, but you can pin this loss mainly on head coach Jim Harbaugh.

When Harbaugh made the decision to start the athletically-gifted second year quarterback out of Nevada, Colin Kaepernick, over the steady veteran Alex Smith last week, he was met with minimal opposition in the media.

After Sunday’s loss, in which two costly mistakes were made by the young quarterback, the tune has changed a bit, but Harbaugh is sticking with his guy next week against the Miami Dolphins.

The 49ers’ defense allowed only five points on a field goal and a safety, while holding the Rams’ beastly running back Steven Jackson to 49 yards on 21 carries.

However, Kaepernick alone cost his team the win and 10 points by way of two poor decisions: An intentional grounding in the end zone and a terribly inaccurate option pitch that was returned by Rams rookie Janoris Jenkins for a touchdown.

Kaepernick again showed flashes of brilliance Sunday, including a 50-yard sprint down the sideline and some pretty deep throws. But Kaepernick couldn’t lead his team to victory for the second time in three weeks against the marginally improved yet still hapless Rams. While there is no denying his physical tools, Kaepernick’s shaky decision making will make him a liability in the postseason.

Those are the types of mistakes that Smith hasn’t made in his twoyear run under offensive coordinator Greg Roman. They’re the types of mistakes that you simply can’t afford in the postseason. You need to know what to expect from your starting quarterback in the playoffs, and with Smith you know what you’re going to get.

Smith leads the NFL in completion percentage at 70 percent, is fifth in quarterback rating, is in the top five in wins over the last two years and rarely turns the ball over. Before he was benched, Smith was 27 of his last 29 passes with three touchdowns and no interceptions.

Smith has proven his mental toughness. After being drafted No. 1 and labeled a bust, surviving poor rosters led by seven different offensive coordinators in seven years, and becoming a winner under Harbaugh.

Kaepernick has proven nothing, except that he is a great runner with a big arm who will make poor decisions that may cost the team the game from time to time. While there is no denying that Kaepernick has the bigger arm and more physical tools, Smith has quite a bit of talent of his own. More importantly, there is no doubt Smith is the better overall quarterback at this time.

Taking risks with your on-field leadership in the regular season while having a somewhat cushy lead in your division is one thing, but doing so while approaching the postseason is another. I understand that Harbaugh wants to see what he has in the young quarterback he drafted, but I believe the risk will outweigh the curiosity and hope before we enter the playoffs.

Fans in San Francisco are expecting to win for the first time since the 1990s. This quarterback decision may end defining Harbaugh’s lasting legacy in San Francisco.

 

Will Reeve
Staff Writer
Published Dec. 5, 2012