San Francisco 49ers violating long-held NFL maxims

PHIL HAMILTON
Last updated 05:00 04/12/2012

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OPINION: So who is the quarterback with the best passing completion stats in the NFL this season? He's the man on the bench for the San Francisco 49ers, Alex Smith.

The experts reckon one thing every team needs to avoid is a quarterback controversy. But 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh clearly doesn't care what they think because he has embraced one while violating another long-held NFL maxim - a player should never lose his spot due to injury.

Smith missed one game for a concussion, that he reported himself, and gave youngster Colin Kaepernick his chance and the youngster didn't miss.

He threw for 246 yards with two touchdowns in a 32-7 win over the highly regarded Chicago Bears defence.

Harbaugh elected to start Kaepernick in the next two games and has been under fire ever since. He has even been accused of encouraging players to hide concussions in the future for fear of similarly losing their positions.

It appears even worse because Smith was having a career-best season.

As well as leading the passing completion with 70 per cent, he was ranked fifth in passing in the league.

Since Harbaugh took over as coach, Smith's starting record is 21 wins for six losses and a draw. That's pretty handy. So it's a big gamble Harbaugh is taking in benching Smith.

The major risk is that Kaepernick falls to pieces (and he made his share of mistakes in an overtime loss to the Rams yesterday) and Harbaugh has to turn back to the quarterback he jilted, Smith, to save him.

It has happened before. Hall of Famer Drew Bledsoe was the Patriots quarterback when he was injured, opening the door for Tom Brady.

That was controversial at the time but in hindsight a great call as Brady has become one of the all-time greats. Bill Belichick was also forced to turn back to Bledsoe in the AFC championship game.

In the end it should be a simple decision for the coach. Which player gives me the best chance of winning?

While it is unfortunate for Smith, it is the way of the sporting world. Sometimes a player has done nothing wrong, as is the case with Smith, but another simply has more to offer.

It's not just in sport either. If that pretty girl you're seeing finds someone she likes better then you're gone.

Part of the reason Smith has the highest passing completion is that he doesn't take many risks.

That's fine when they're leading, but once the 49ers are well behind it becomes a liability.

That's where Harbaugh clearly believes Kaepernick, with his bullet arm and speed, offers a far greater upside.

Last season the 49ers were within a couple of fumbles of making the Super Bowl. But that's not enough for Harbaugh. He wants to win one.

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If Kaepernick continues to develop, they may find an attack that is as good as their defence.

How must it feel for St Louis Rams fans watching Robert Griffin III torch teams in his first season? The Rams had the No 2 pick in this year's draft but traded it to the Redskins.

This could one day be remembered as a mistake in the same league as the Blazers picking Sam Bowie ahead of Michael Jordan.

- Canterbury

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