By Jesse Ferguson
It’s NFL sentiment– if not moral law– that an injury should not cost a player his starting job when he is eligible to return to the field. But that’s exactly what San Francisco head coach Jim Harbaugh did after the team’s starter, Alex Smith, went down on November 11th with a concussion (a Remembrance Day in the sense for 49ers’ fans).
During Smith’s absence, the 49ers went to a relatively unknown second-year player Colin Kaepernick, who the 49ers traded up nine spots to snag in the second round of the draft, after quarterbacks such as Cam Newton, Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert, Andy Dalton, and Christian Ponder. Going to the backup was standard practice during an injury, but when Smith was eligible to return to the field, his job was gone.
Smith, who boasted a record of 6-2 before the injury, which included a win at Green Bay, as well as going 13-3 last season, publicly commented: “All I did to lose my job was get a concussion.”
Harbaugh told reporters that he was “just going with the hot hand,” but to further complicate and question the decision not to return to Smith for the job he just held, Kaepernick showed flashes, but altogether was not much more impressive than Smith in his time as the starter. His numbers were good, but he had a questionable loss versus the lowly Rams. His win-loss total was also good, but not better than Smith’s.
So when Kaepernick bootlegged on their first series of their playoff game versus Green Bay only to throw in ugly interception across his body’s momentum, the heat was on Harbaugh. He stuck with Kaepernick though, as he steadily did during the latter half of the season. He really didn’t have a choice though as his eggs were already all in Kaepernick’s basket and reverting back to Smith would admit the naysayers were right and Harbaugh was wrong for his decision to stick with Kaepernick.
Kaepernick persevered though, to say the least. His final stat line for the game included 261 pass yards, but the money-stat was that he threw for four touchdowns. The benefit of Kaepernick to Smith, though? Mobility. Crazy mobility. The previous week’s stat of the game was his 181 rushing yards, which is an NFL record for a QB. This total was greater than both the starting running backs, combined.
To all the doubters of Jim Harbaugh to stick with Kaepernick (myself included), Jim is laughing now. Obviously, he was right.
Super Bowl Preview
This match pins similar coaches together. What makes them so similar? Their mother. Yes, for the first time in NFL history, brothers collide as opposing coaches in the Super Bowl.
Earlier this season, Baltimore beat San Francisco on Thanksgiving, but Kaepernick did not play.
Baltimore had nine sacks that game. You can bet with the super-elusive Kaepernick at the helm, they’ll be lucky to get half that total… even with Ray Lewis in the lineup (he missed the first meeting).
Lewis called this season his last and many believe it catapulted Baltimore and their spirits to where they are today after beating the heavily favored #1 seed Denver Broncos and then the #2 New England Patriots. Before his statement, Baltimore looked like they were digressing to a hole to die in, losing four of five, limping into the playoffs.
Last year, everybody scoffed when Eli Manning said he believed he was an elite quarterback– even NFL analysts– and what’d he do? He got the last laugh when he and his Giants pulled things together to win Super Bowl XLVI over New England. This past offseason everybody laughed (harder) when Joe Flacco said the same thing about himself. Everybody simply wrote– actually laughed– it off.
Now it’s Joe Flacco laughing as he’s gotten farther than anyone thought possible (myself included).
Both teams are laughing as they are the last ones standing, especially Jim and Joe. We shall find out Sunday, in the biggest game of the year, who laughs last.
Because he who laughs last, laughs best.