If life were fair, Pavement would have broken bigger than Stone Temple Pilots, the 1972 U.S. Men’s Basketball team wouldn’t just be gold medalists in our hearts and millions of American retail workers wouldn’t have to leave their Thanksgiving dinners early to sell deeply discounted Nintendo Wiis to crazed coupon clippers.
But life is not fair. Just ask Alex Smith. The No. 1 overall pick of the 2005 draft, Smith’s road should have been easy. Instead, it’s been littered with more offensive coordinators than winning seasons, and taken turns for the unfortunate, painful and downright bizarre.
That is, until Jim Harbaugh came to town. Aside from an ill-fated “evaluation” of Peyton Manning, Smith’s life has been positively peachy under Harbs.
19 wins in 26 starts. An NFC Championship Game appearance. A 64.0 completion percentage for a formerly 57.1 percent passer. A 30:10 TD:INT ratio. Friends won, people influenced.
Then Jo-Lonn Dunbar happened. Specifically, Dunbar’s hit at the end of a one-yard scramble where Smith failed to slide properly.
One concussion and seven quarters later, Smith’s career is again in turmoil. That’s because Colin Kaepernick’s is on the rise. After keeping his head above water in Week 10, Kaepernick kept the pedal to the metal in Monday night’s win, stinging the Bears with smarts, accuracy, escapability, and above all else, absolutely insane touch on his throws.
Kaepernick didn’t commit a turnover against a defense that had forced a league-leading 30 coming into Week 11. He took just one sack against a line anchored by Julius Peppers. He completed 69.6 percent of his passes versus a secondary featuring two potential All Pros. He averaged 10.6 yards per attempt during his first career start.
Although it’s true he had the element of surprise — Kaepernick wasn’t revealed as the starter until Monday morning — it was a revelatory, ruthlessly efficient performance against the league’s most feared defense in primetime.
Afterward, Harbaugh sounded like a man who had witnessed a sea change in his offense.
“Everything he did was just exemplary. Really acquitted himself great and was really proud of him for that,” Harbaugh said. “(I) usually tend to go with the guy who’s got the hot hand and we’ve got two quarterbacks that have got a hot hand.”
Did Harbaugh come out and say Colin Kaepernick was his new starter? No. Did he tacitly admit it by failing to endorse Smith? Almost certainly. Harbaugh is an emotional, unpredictable guy, but the smart money is on Kaepernick being under center against the Saints, and Smith’s career heading to where it once seemed destined: the bench.
It’s quite possible Kaepernick has already played his most efficient game. It’s also quite possible he’ll be good for much more than 12 rushing yards going forward, and won’t have to pack it in for over a quarter and a half because the other team isn’t playing competitive football. He profiles as an immediate QB2, with QB1 upside.
On the off chance he isn’t named the starter? You could always drop him for Charlie Batch.
Someone else who may want Kaepernick under center? Vernon Davis, who said he “felt like somebody took the handcuffs off me" after Kaepernick peppered him with eight targets.
Davis caught six of them, posting 83 yards and a touchdown. This, after he notched just five total catches over his past three games. One game is one game, but if Kaepernick gets the start against New Orleans, you better believe Davis is worth plugging back into your tight end spot if you’ve been benching him of late.
Monday Night Quick Slants: Back from a hand injury that had sidelined him since Week 5, Alshon Jeffery departed with a knee issue. A serious injury would be a massive blow for a passing attack with zero downfield threats outside of Brandon Marshall. … Jason Campbell: now with 20 percent more Caleb Hanie. … Thankfully for Bears fans, coach Lovie Smith disclosed afterward that Jay Cutler (concussion) is “feeling a lot better,” and “looking good” for Week 12. … Gabe Carimi may want to consider a new profession. Aldon Smith and Justin Smith aren’t your garden-variety defensive linemen, especially when a backup quarterback grants them license to blitz with impunity. But it was an embarrassing, bordering on shameful, night for the former No. 29 overall pick.
Titus Young would like to be known for catching passes. Instead, he’s known for causing trouble, and was at it again Sunday.
After lining up in the wrong spot at least twice, Young was benched for the final three plays of the Lions’ narrow loss to the Packers, and was at the center of some coach-on-coach crime on the sideline.
The result was being sent home from the Lions’ facility Monday, and being told not to bother showing up in Week 12.
“When you play a game like football it’s a team sport and players have obligations to the team and Titus hasn’t done a very good job of fulfilling those obligations this week and recently,” coach Jim Schwartz said. "It’s your job to make the team happy, it’s not the team’s job to make you happy.”
The one-week ban has Ryan Broyles in for a possible every-down role against the Texans, and makes him an attractive, cheap WR3 option.
As for Young, the temptation to drop him is understandable, but unless you’re absolutely dying for a roster spot, holding him for at least one more week could prove to be prudent.
Quarterback/Pass Catcher Quick Slants: Blaine Gabbert’s inevitable benching has finally arrived. Don’t be surprised if he never makes another start. … Plaxico Burress could be on the verge of signing with the Steelers. … If he does, it will be Charlie Batch throwing him the ball in Week 12. As suspected by literally everybody who watched Sunday Night Football, Byron Leftwich is dealing with rib and shoulder injuries. … Rob Gronkowski (broken arm) might be targeting a Week 14 return. … Hakeem Nicks (foot, knee) says he’s “pretty close” to 100 percent. … Eli Manning rediscovered the “pop” in his arm over the Giants’ bye week.
Running Back Jump Cuts: Willis McGahee is done for the regular season. Ronnie Hillman is the Broncos’ new best bet for carries, though Lance Ball figures to see plenty of passing down snaps. Even Knowshon Moreno could get in on the action. … DeMarco Murray (foot) will miss yet another game in Week 12. … Maurice Jones-Drew (foot) is “very questionable.” He won’t suit up against the Titans. … Jalen Parmele will remain the Jaguars’ starter after easily out-producing Rashad Jennings in Week 11. … Raiders coach Dennis Allen is "hopeful" Darren McFadden (ankle) will return for Week 12. Believe it when you see it. … Beanie Wells (turf toe) will be activated for Week 12, and will likely start against the Rams. … LeSean McCoy (concussion) is uncertain for Week 12.