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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Kaufman: 49ers QB controversy not as clear cut

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Published:   |   Updated: March 14, 2013 at 02:53 AM
TAMPA -

Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano says his weekly focus doesn't extend beyond Tampa Bay's upcoming opponent.

Jim Harbaugh is a little different.

The head coach of the San Francisco 49ers has been preparing his team for today's matchup at St. Louis, but it's clear Harbaugh is already looking downfield.

He's looking at the New York Giants.

Why else would Harbaugh go with inexperienced Colin Kaepernick as his quarterback instead of Alex Smith, who has been cleared by doctors to resume play after suffering a concussion Nov. 11 against the Rams?

It's a bold move, considering Smith led the 49ers to a 13-3 mark last year as San Francisco turned the ball over only 10 times. After a first-round bye, Smith rallied the 49ers past the Saints 36-32 in an epic playoff shootout before the Giants arrived at rain-soaked Candlestick Park for the NFC title game.

That's the day Smith really lost his starting job.

When Smith played poorly in crunch time and the Giants emerged with a 20-17 overtime victory, his name atop the quarterback depth chart was written in pencil.

"You've got two quarterbacks that we feel great about as the starting quarterback," Harbaugh said this week in announcing he was sticking with Kaepernick, a second-round draft pick in 2011. "What tips the scale is Colin, we believe, has the hot hand and we'll go with Colin. And we'll go with Alex … they're both our guys."

In going with his gut, Harbaugh is trying to avoid alienating Smith.

Nice try, Jimbo.

"I think it stinks," Smith said of his demotion. "You state your case with your play, and I feel like I've done that. I feel like the only thing I did to lose my job was get a concussion."

Before the concussion, Smith had completed 25 of his past 27 pass attempts, with four touchdowns and no interceptions.

And Kaepernick has the hot hand?

Smith lost his job because Harbaugh believes his second-year QB gives the 49ers a better chance against the Giants in the postseason. Anyone who saw New York dismantle Green Bay last Sunday knows the Giants' pass rush is back, the one that hounded Smith into a 12-for-26 effort with a Super Bowl berth on the line.

San Francisco converted only one of 13 third downs against the Giants that afternoon and the 49ers went three-and-out on their final two possessions of regulation and only possession of overtime.

Those failed drives are driving this decision because Kaepernick's exceptional mobility might allow him to escape the pocket against Jason Pierre-Paul and his marauding friends, extending plays in the postseason.

"He's got very good athletic instincts," Harbaugh said of the former Nevada standout. "He's a very good athlete. You see it in practices and you see it in games."

Smith's 70 percent completion rate leads all quarterbacks and his average gain per pass attempt (7.98) is exceptional, yet Kaepernick will be under center for a third consecutive week as an 8-2-1 power fights for the No. 1 NFC playoff seed.

Meanwhile, the first overall pick in the 2005 draft is stewing as he awaits his next opportunity. Smith might play elsewhere in 2013, which could ultimately affect the future of a former Buccaneers head coach.

Jon Gruden loves Alex Smith. Jim Harbaugh does not.

 

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