Harbaugh’s Gutsy Decision Could Lead To A Super Bowl Berth
Jeremiah Short, The Current Voice
In the days leading up to the San Francisco 49ers week 13 match-up against the St. Louis Rams, Jim Harbaugh, the 49ers’ second-year coach, had an important decision to make.
Would he name Alex Smith or Colin Kaepernick the 49ers’ starting quarterback?
The Smith-Kaepernick debate was a hot topic on sports talk radio–with commentators making cases for both.
Smith Supporters: Harbaugh is an idiot. Alex led the team to an NFC Championship and was 6-2 this season before getting hurt. Lets not forget he was completing 70 percent of his passes. I don’t trust Smith, but he has earned the spot.
Kaepernick Supporters: Harbaugh has to the go with Kap. He’s 6’4, can run like a deer and has a cannon for an arm. Yes, he is unproven. But he can do things that Alex just can’t.
Vernon Davis, the 49ers’ starting tight end, knew which side of the debate he stood on. “When I look at Colin I see a great playmaker,” Davis said. “I think Alex is still the man. In my heart I strongly believe that. You’ll know next week. I’m sure Harbaugh will make a nice decision, who he wants to go with.
Smith wasn’t diplomatic about who he thought Harbaugh should choose, saying, “I think I should [be the starting quarterback] but it’s not my decision,” Smith said. “Also, I’m part of this team and it was great to go out and get a win.”
Kaepernick, who had played well in relief of Smith, was more politically correct. “That would be coach’s decision,” Kaepernick said. “I’m just trying to take a similar approach that I’ve been taking, just keep my head down, keep working and see where it takes me.”
On Wednesday, Harbaugh made his choice. And it was… Kaepernick(or was it).
“Well, the rationale is you got two quarterbacks that we feel great about as the starting quarterback. Both have earned it. Both deserve it, and, uh, Alex over a long period of time, Colin by virtue of the last two games. What tips the scales is Colin we believe has the hot hand, and we’ll go with Colin. . . And we’ll go with Alex. Both are our guys.
I’m sure you are just as confused after reading that quote as I was. So, I will translate it for you.
Translation: I really want to name Colin the starter, but I know he could get hurt and I would need Alex. And we all know Alex is a little fragile. So, I need to make sure he don’t check out on me.
Why would Harbaugh take such a risk? Brian Billick, a Fox Sports NFL analyst and former NFL head coach, understood why he gambled on Kaepernick.
“Because it’s not a risk,” said Billick. “There’s something truly special about Kaepernick. His physical skills shocked me. His throwing action, the fluidity with the way the ball comes out of his hands and, obviously, the athleticism … Not since Warren Moon, who I had in Minnesota [Billick was the offensive coordinator there], have I seen a guy throw so effortlessly, with the tightness of the spiral and the accuracy in any position.
After Kaepernick struggled in a 16-13 overtime loss to the Rams, Harbaugh’s “hot hand” theory would be tested. When asked in the post-game press conference who would start the next week, he responded: “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. “I’m proud of Kap, proud of the way he played.”
But Coach, you said you would play the hot hand. Kaepernick gave up a key safety and made several other mistakes.
Kaepernick rewarded Harbaugh’s patience over the next two games–defeating the Miami Dolphins and New England Patriots–totaling 487 rushing and passing yards–to go along with five touchdowns. Kaepernick’s Patriots performance earned him NFC Player of the Week honors.
No turning back. Kap was the guy now.
The 49ers split their two final games and concluded the regular season 10-4-1–receiving a first-round bye.
Even with the resiliency Kaepernick had displayed, one question remained: How would he perform when the marbles dropped?
In the first round, the Green Bay Packers disposed of the Minnesota Vikings. And Kaepernick faced a tough prospect: beating the reigning league MVP–Aaron Rodgers–in the playoffs.
He wasn’t fazed by the showdown, simply stating, “It’s another game. There’s just more at stake.”
Early in the Packers’ game, everyone would get to find out if Kaepernick was a “flash in the pan” or the “real deal.” On the 49ers first offensive drive, the second-year quarterback threw a pick-six to Packers cornerback Sam Shields.
Would Kaepernick fold and make Harbaugh look like an arrogant fool?
Kaepernick rebounded the way he had all season. He led the 49ers on a scoring drive the very next series. That was only the beginning.
En route to a 45-31 victory over the Packers, Kaepernick rushed for 181 yards(An NFL record for a quarterback in a single game.) and passed for 263–with four touchdowns combined.
Following the beat down of the Packers, Harbaugh could have easily told the media “I told you so.” But he took the high road and praised Kaepernick.
“He does a great job of responding,” Harbaugh said. “He has done that any time there has been an interception he has thrown, a safety or a turnover, he’s responded with a scoring drive. That’s rare. I think that’s a rare quality. So far he’s shown that he’s got that ability to come back.”
Kaepernick, who had endured criticism for two months, knew he proved a lot with the performance. “It feels good. We’re one step closer to where we want to be,” Kaepernick said. “I feel like I had a lot to prove. A lot of people doubted my ability to lead this team.”
There are no longer any doubts Colin. Your coach made the “right choice.”
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