Colin Kaepernick Earns First Round Bye, Right to Play

Andrew Bensch has stayed away from the 49ers Quarterback controversy. Until now.

Ever since Colin Kaepernick’s sparkling NFL debut against the Chicago Bears back in week 11, the greater San Francisco Bay Area sports landscape has been dominated by the biggest quarterback controversy since Joe Montana vs. Steve Young.

As for week 17′s highlights, the 49ers beat the NFC West bottom dwelling Arizona Cardinals 27-13. Michael Crabtree had a huge day catching eight passes for 172 yards and two touchdowns. Colin Kaepernick made great throws and some ill advised ones.

But, the game wasn’t the story here, even though San Francisco was able to secure their first round bye. With the playoffs on the horizon, it’s time someone gave Colin Kaepernick the defense he deserves, and by extension, head coach Jim Harbaugh.

While it is understandable to be upset that Alex Smith effectively lost his job due to injury — well, so did Drew Bledsoe, who lost it to Tom Brady.  How’d that work out for New England fans?

As for Kaepernick, the first year starting quarterback for the 49ers has made plenty of rookie mistakes. The bad pitch, safety, and running out of bounds in St. Louis, and the delay of game penalties in New Orleans and Seattle all reeked of a young gunslinger with green ears.

Jim Harbaugh knows football, and thinks Kaepernick gives his team the best chance to win. Who am I to argue?

When it comes to this season, you could make a compelling case that Alex Smith gives the 49ers a better chance to win. You could also make a compelling case that Kaepernick gives the 49ers the best chance.

I mean are you a chocolate guy or vanilla? Soup or salad?  It truly is that close.

However, there is one main issue that I believe swings the tide in Kaepernick’s direction. The NFL is a quarterback league and is only getting more and more a quarterback’s league.

Think of it this way, the following quarterbacks have accounted for the last 10 Super Bowl victories.

Tom Brady
Drew Brees
Peyton Manning
Eli Manning
Aaron Rodgers
Ben Roethlisberger
Brad Johnson

Yes, the Baltimore Ravens won the Super Bowl with Trent Dilfer and yes the Tampa Buccaneers won with Brad Johnson.

Those wins came in 2000 and 2002. This is not the same NFL.

Could the 49ers win the Super Bowl this season with Alex Smith at quarterback? Certainly.

But I would put the chances much higher that Kaepernick wins a Super Bowl at some point in his career with the 49ers than Smith winning it this season.

The 49ers are not a Super Bowl or bust team.  Let’s say that Smith kept his job and the 49ers didn’t win the Super Bowl this season. Then what happens next year? Does Kaepernick take over with just a game and change of regular season experience?

One way or another, Kaepernick was going to have to take his lumps as a first time starter. By playing seven regular season games plus playoffs this season, the 49ers will no question be better going into next season than they would have been had Kaepernick remained the back-up all season long.

As for Kaepernick’s play on the field this season, the guy beat Tom Brady in New England. He is a tremendous talent who should only get better. And there is not one play in the 49ers playbook that Smith can execute better than Kaepernick.

The entire argument in the Smith’s camp is that he’s safer with the football. That he makes fewer mistakes.
While that may be true, don’t you have to play to win the game? Didn’t Patriots head coach Bill Belichick famously go for a 4th and two conversion on his own 30 yard line with his team up one score late in the game?

You can go a long ways with a safe quarterback. But call me a glass half full kind of guy: I’ll put much more emphasis on what Kaepernick can do (electric big plays) than what Smith doesn’t do (turn the ball over).

All that said, if I still haven’t convinced you, let Frank Gore. He has been with the 49ers as long as Smith has and remains (along with Patrick Willis), the heart and sole of this football team.

During the post-game press conference after the season finale, I asked Frank about Kaepernick’s play going into the playoffs. Gore looked me straight in the eye and without hesitation told me “Kaep will be fine.”

Andrew Bensch writes for TheFanManifesto. Follow him on twitter at @AndyBensch

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