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November 20, 2012
Deep thoughts: No QB controversy until Smith gets better

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The NFL Game Rewind for the 49ers-Bears game currently is unavailable (annoying), so the film review of the game will have to wait. Until then, here are a few thoughts that have been ratting around in my noggin since last night.

* There's no quarterback controversy in San Francisco until Alex Smith gets better. His post concussion symptoms were all but gone a couple of days after the Nov. 11 injury but returned over the weekend. That's a concern, and until he's entirely symptom-free and cleared by his physicians, Colin Kaepernick is the 49ers starter. That the 49ers are dealing with a shorter-than-usual work work only makes Harbaugh's decision that much easier for the time being, at least.

* Kaepernick can run. Kaepernick has a big arm. We knew that. What was the biggest surprise was Kaepernick's touch and finesse, which was on display all night, especially on over-the-shoulder, feather-soft passes to Vernon Davis and Kyle Williams in the first quarter. That seemed to be the missing element from the second-year quarterback all throughout training camp. When you combine it with his ability to keep plays alive and then take advantage of busted plays with his big arm -- well, now you know why the 49ers liked Kaepernick so much in the 2011 draft.

* The hot-hand theory is vintage Harbaugh. He wants constant competition and now he suddenly has that with Kaepernick playing well and Smith having the best season of his career. What's the downside? A divided locker room? That's certainly possible, but given the makeup of the locker room, and more important, the makeup of the quarterbacks involved, it's hard to see that happening.

* Some astute 49ers observers may be reminded of the 2010 game in London in which Troy Smith orchestrated a win in his first-ever start for the 49ers, which prompted talk of a long-term takeover from Alex Smith.

After all, Troy Smith took chances in that game, showed improvisational skills that Alex Smith hadn't shown and otherwise pumped some blood into San Francisco's lifeless 2010 offense. Troy Smith soon sputtered, and Kaepernick could as well. Every game he plays will not be as brilliant as the Bears game. Having said that, however, Kaepernick is far, far better than Troy Smith on every level -- athleticism, arm strength, competitive nature and most of all how seriously he takes the game. Kaepernick may have a stumble along the way. But he's not a flash in the pan.

* The Bears were prepared to stop the run, perhaps more so when they learned that Kaepernick was the quarterback. But then a funny thing happened. Kaepernick played out of the pocket throughout the evening and played well there. He only ran the ball four times and used the read-option once -- on Kendall Hunter's touchdown. That is, Kaepernick played a very traditional style of quarterback and beat the Bears doing it. That had to have been a surprise to Chicago's defense.

* A lot of the 49ers talked about the slow start they had last week against the Rams. The word of the day was "sluggish." Said Frank Gore: "We started off sluggish last week, but we told ourselves, 'We're going to start fast and keep our foot on the gas.' And that's what happened." Indeed, Kaepernick went for the jugular early and the 49ers scored on their first four possessions.

* In beating the Bears, the 49ers (7-2-1) leapfrogged Chicago into the No. 2 spot in the NFC with six games remaining. They have a half game on the Bears (7-3) and Packers (7-3). They have 1 1/2 games on the Buccaneers (6-4), Giants (6-4), Seahawks (6-4) and Vikings (6-4) and 2 1/2 games on the Cowboys (5-5) and surging Saints (5-5).

New Orleans is heating up, but the Saints finish out the season against some good opponents: vs. SF, @ATL, @NYG, vs. TB, @DAL and vs. CAR.

-- Matt Barrows



MATTHEW BARROWS

Matt was born in Blacksburg, Va., and attended the University of Virginia. He graduated in 1995, went to Northwestern for a journalism degree a year later, and got his first job at a South Carolina daily in 1997. He joined The Bee as a Metro reporter in 1999 and started covering the 49ers in 2003. His favorite player of all time is Darrell Green.

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