What If 49ers, Kaepernick Play Well? LIKE REALLY WELL?

He was selected in the 2nd round (36th overall) by the San Francisco 49ers just a year ago, thought to be the next starting quarterback for the Niners coming off a 6-10 season with a new Head Coach in place who wanted his own guy.  But then something happened – Jim Harbaugh, Alex Smith and the 49ers kept winning.  They were the surprise team in 2011, going 13-3 and were an overtime away from advancing to the Super Bowl.  There was always the question creeping around the corner though, when will it be Colin Kaepernick’s time?  Well that time is now.

Kaepernick has been getting increasing playing time this year, seeing his most extensive time in games against the New York Jets, Buffalo Bills, and last week against the St. Louis Rams, when he took over for concussed Alex Smith, and Kaepernick looked good.  He brought his team back from a deficit to take the lead and eventually tie.  But the question is, what if Kaepernick looks good? Like REALLY GOOD, in his first start?

Alex Smith is currently having his best season ever.  He ranks third in the NFL in passer rating and yard per pass, but (as designed by the offense) he is only 29th in passing yards.  The 49ers are a grind it out, run the ball, let the defense win you games kind of offense and Smith isn’t asked to do too much.  But an offense ran by a player like Colin Kaepernick could potentially take this offense to a whole new level.  He’s got a Laser Rocket Arm, and runs in the 4.4′s.  We’ve seen glimpses while he’s in.

Now tonight, Kaepernick gets his first start of his career, and it’s against arguably the best defense in the NFL, who cause turnovers at an alarming rate.  No doubt that Charles Tillman, Tim Jennings, Brian Urlacher and company are licking their chops to force Kaepernick into uncomfortable situations where they can take advantage of his lack of experience and cause turnovers to win this game.

But what if he wins? If Kaepernick goes for 300 yards, 3 TDs, and say 70 yards rushing (highly doubtful)?  What happens when Alex Smith is healthy?  It could be a full on quarterback controversy with a team that is leading their division, and could potentially own the #2 spot in the highly competitive NFC.

My thinking is that Jim Harbaugh is linked to Alex Smith at least until the end of the year.  Smith newly signed a 3-year deal with the 49ers, but they can cut their losses at the end of the year.  Alex Smith gives the 49ers their best chance of winning now.  He’s safe, efficient, trusts his defense, and Harbaugh believes that can win this team a Championship.  But if Kaepernick absolutely kills it then he may have no choice but to go with the ‘hot hand’ and the potential.

This is the biggest game of the year for the 49ers that will no doubt have huge implications on the NFC playoff picture.  With a win the 49ers own the #2 spot in the NFC, with a loss they fall back to #4 and the Seattle Seahawks lurking right behind them, and they Niners still have to travel to Seattle in a couple weeks.  A huge game for the 49ers that could potentially mean a first-round bye or a lot harder road in the NFC.  Will Colin Kaepernick reach his potential and grab the starting job away from Alex Smith tonight?  We will see on Monday Night Football.

- Lance Cartelli

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