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What Does the “Hot Hand” Mean for the San Francisco 49ers?

San Francisco 49ers backup quarterback Colin Kaepernick may not be a backup anymore. At least not after his team’s 32-7 annihilation of the Bears on Monday night. When it was announced that starter Alex Smith would be sitting in favor of Kaepernick, the line dropped all the way to -3.5 for the Niners. Turns out, Smith’s backup should have accounting for a bump in the points, not a reduction. After the game, head coach Jim Harbaugh was cagey about Kaepernick’s role with the team going forward.

“I usually tend to go with the guy that has the hot hand and we have two quarterbacks that have a hot hand,” Harbaugh said after Monday’s 32-7 victory. “So I thought Colin did an outstanding job. I thought he did a great job, poised in the pocket pushing the ball throwing with accuracy, did a nice job running the game plan. Everything he did was exemplary and really acquitted himself great, very proud of him for that.”

It’s easy to see why Harbaugh would be somewhat hesitant to turn the keys back over to Smith when he gets healthy. Kaepernick had a sensational game, completing 16 of 23 passes for 243 yards and two touchdowns against a ferocious Bears defense. He completed 69.6 percent of his passes for a ten yard per attempt average while finishing with a 97.5 QBR, the highest in a first time NFL start in the past five seasons. Smith isn’t having a bad season by any stretch of the imagination; in fact, he’s ranked third in the NFL in passer rating. Still, it’s hard to discount what Kapernick did on Monday night.

“I think after the first drive I felt really comfortable with what they were doing and what we had in our game plan,” Kaepernick said. “I really wasn’t too nervous. I’ve had a lot of time in this offense. My teammates were really supportive.”

Kaepernick drew some seriously high praise from tight end Vernon Davis, though Davis usually isn’t shy about sharing his opinion.

“I’m just so proud of him in that moment because the ball that he threw me, it was just one of those balls that you see Tom Brady throw,” Davis said. “Second window, right on the money. Surprise. I didn’t expect the ball to come because we ran that play quite a few times and the tight end usually don’t get the ball on that play.”

So how does this affect the 49ers going forward? Well, it’s tough to say. It was an extremely interesting decision on Harbaugh’s part to publicly waffle on his starting quarterback; he has been an adamant supporter of Alex Smith from the moment he took the job with the 49ers. It could have been the immediate postgame love of Kaepernick’s play that was talking, but either way, he has severely undermined Alex Smith. Remember, the 49ers were seriously in the hunt for Peyton Manning last offseason, and Alex Smith was flirting with Miami during that time period. Both sides say they love each other here, but they have dallied with other parties in the past.

I’ve never liked the two quarterback offensive system, particularly in the pros. It is always going to rattle one quarterback badly; if Smith throws one bad pick this year, he’ll know that his leash is about to get yanked. It’s no good to have two quarterbacks walking on eggshells, and it hurts the team’s gambling prospects, too. Vegas clearly isn’t sure what to make of Kaepernick; they may adjust the line higher next week, but right now there’s just no telling if Monday was a one-game wonder or if he’s actually here to stay.The only thing now clear about the 49ers is that their defense rocks, they can pound the ball, and it might not matter much who’s taking snaps. It looks like they’re good enough to win with Smith or Kaepernick.

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