by Ken Hurst, December 27, 2012
The 49er Faithful could see the two big games up ahead — the New England Patriots and the Seattle Seahawks. The Niners knocked off the Patriots 41-34 two weeks ago, exploding in the first two and a half quarters for 31 points. Then New England quarterback Tom Brady and coach Belichick and their team responded for 31 unanswered points to tie the game. The confident 49ers isolated their go-to receiver Michael Crabtree against a Patriot defensive back and quarterback Colin Kaepernick rifled a fine pass to Crabtree who made a quick cutback curl and carried the pigskin into the house. Later 49er kicker David Akers kicked a field goal to offset a Patriot field goal to make the final score golden. It was easily the most exciting 49er game of the season.
Then came the letdown, a huge letdown, a shocking letdown, as the 49ers lost to the Seattle Seahawks in a near blowout 42-13. I had a sour feeling before the game started because 49er defensive end Justin ‘The Cowboy’ Smith was out of the game with an elbow injury. Smith's absence would diminish defensive end Aldon Smith's effectiveness and weaken the 49er defense. The Cowboy usually does the heavy lifting by occupying two defenders to allow Aldon Smith to sprint to the quarterback for his record breaking sacks this season. Aldon Smith, as a solo act, was not a factor against the Seahawks.
49er placekicker Akers kicked two field goals and Kaepernick threw a short pass to tight end Delanie Walker for the Niners only scores.
Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson threw for four touchdowns and scrambled for almost 100 yards running up the Seahawks offensive output. I wrote in an earlier Sports Notes that in practice camp the 49ers would regret not drafting Wilson in the third round. I was surprised that Wilson was still available. Wilson is fairly short for an NFL quarterback at 5 feet 11. But so is Wayne Dalton of Cincinnati and Drew Breese of New Orleans. But Wilson has very big hands, and many talent scouts value hand size for quarterbacks the same way basketball scouts treasure height.
49er backup quarterback Alex Smith has small hands; maybe coach Harbaugh considered hand size in giving Kaepernick Smith's first-string quarterback position when Smith suffered a concussion early in the year. There is no NFL history for that move — giving a job to a backup due to a one-game injury. I didn't think the 49ers should have chosen Wilson in the third round of the draft because I thought he would beat out Alex Smith or Kaepernick as starting quarterback. I thought Wilson would be third string. Just think about having Alex Smith, Kaepernick and Wilson on the same team. It would be like the Bill Walsh era with Montana and Young.
Some reporters have mentioned that Tom Brady got his New England Patriot quarterback position because of an injury to the starter. And yes, that's true. The difference is that Brady was the starting quarterback for more than two months before the starter was ready to return. In those two months it was clear that Brady was a superior quarterback. He was always good but he was also very cool and effective in the clutch.
Kaepernick was given the starting position after Smith was off for only one week. I think at some point in the season Alex Smith would have been injured or he would have gone through a bad spell and Coach Harbaugh could have legitimately made Kaepernick the starter over Smith. If that situation didn't occur then it would still have been a very good year for the Niners and the changeover could've happened in next year's training camp. Kaepernick certainly has a bigger up-side than Smith has to be great quarterback in the National Football League.
Was George Halas wrong in the 1940s? Was Paul Brown wrong than the 50s? Was Vince Lombardi wrong in the 60s? Was Bill Walsh wrong in the 80s? — for thinking that you don't lose a job in the NFL because of injury? They didn't want their players to become cautious in fearing injury. Karma can be a bitch.
Have a great holiday season!