Are 49ers Proving They Can Only Beat Themselves?

Is Jim Harbaugh creating a QB controversy or does he have the NFC just where he wants them?

Josh Helmuthby Josh Helmuth

The San Francisco 49ers easily handled the resurgent New Orleans 31-21. If we only looked at the box score, there wouldn’t be much to talk about. The 49ers were picked by many to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl this year. Looking deeper into the situation, there is a giant lynchpin question to answer.

Is Harbaugh knowingly rolling the dice by creating a quarterback controversy by shunning Alex Smith. Or, is Harbaugh a confident coach who is playing it safe?

It is easy to call Harbaugh a fool for benching Alex Smith and starting Colin Kaepernick for the second straight week.

This is the same Alex Smith who struggled with a revolving door of offensive coordinators and coaches during his first few years of the season. It is the same Alex Smith, who Harbaugh mentored from “project” to winner. And, it is the same Alex Smith who the 49ers re-signed when so many fans wrote him off.

So, it is head-scratching that at the first opportunity to replace him, Harbaugh went quickly to the drafted-to-be-the-replacement Kaepernick. Did Harbaugh just give Smith pillow talk to build him up? Afterall, he is the same man who courted Peyton Manning during the off-season.

Smith was never expected to be Aaron Rogers or Tom Brady. He was just supposed to be consistent and not lose games. Bearing in mind, in a town with Steve Young and Joe Montana’s numbers enshrined in memories, he was never going to be good enough. I can see how the fans and Harbaugh will want to gamble on the unproven Kaepernick.

However, Smith went beyond expectations. Smith broke records with his lack of turnovers. Harbaugh must be the fool.

And, Harbaugh’s egotistical reputation is quick to play in our minds. Maybe he is just trying handicap himself by giving Smith a serious case of the doubts, the press something to talk about and introducing uncertainity into the locker room. One only has to glance at the Jets to know that discord can bring a team down.

While the 49ers were giving the Saints their first real test, the rest of the NFC playoff contenders were having their own battles with shortcomings:

The Packers are too one-dimensional on offense.
The Seahawks can’t win on the road.
The Vikings rely too much on special teams.
The Bears are injured on all sides.
The Giants can win the big games and lose the small ones.

The 49ers have no visible weakness other than they haven’t shown the ability to come back. That small potatoes in a league filled with parity.

So, the only conclusion is that Harbaugh’s ego is to blame. Right?

Wrong. The Falcons have the No. 1 seed all but sewn up. There is no one that can truly challenge San Fran’s No. 2 seed projection. The Seahawks and Cardinals aren’t challenging enough for the 49ers to worry about the divisional lead. That means, they are safely in and will probably have a bye during the first week of the post-season to go with home-field advantage in week two of the playoffs.

Sure,  Smith was cleared to play. But, that doesn’t mean you take a chance. Kaepernick already had one solid week of workouts, so it wasn’t like he was going into the Saints game cold.

Harbaugh had the luxury of not pushing Smith too soon. He has the luxury of a good back-up (and trade bait). And that is exactly what he did – he made the right choice. Nobody should expect him to telegraph that to the rest of the league.

Call Harbaugh a fool come playoff time, he still is undecided. Until then, fans should have trust in the coach and the quarterback that got them this far.

As far as the rest of the league, be wary of the fox under the headset.

Brian Reddoch is a CraveOnline reporter and rabid fan of all teams Seattle. You can follow him on Twitter @ReddReddoch and at www.facebookcom/

Photo Credit: Getty

By: Stacy Revere
Collection: Getty Images Sport