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Week 13 Judgements: 49ers swapping starting quarterbacks is risky business

by | Senior NFL Columnist

1. So Jim Harbaugh is sticking with Colin Kaepernick. Well, of course he is. He's his guy, and Alex Smith is not. Plus, Harbaugh likes to be proven right. He wants to be known as the coach who discovered Colin Kaepernick, just as he wanted to be known as the guy who saved Alex Smith's career.

OK, fine. But be careful what you wish for, Jim. Because what Harbaugh has now is a quarterback controversy that not only won't go away but could become toxic -- exactly the kind of distraction the 49ers don't need. One problem: It's Harbaugh who created it. He benched Smith for Kaepernick, and that was OK as long as Kaepernick was beating Chicago and New Orleans. Only he lost to St. Louis, and now it's not.

And now Harbaugh and his team will be quizzed daily, weekly, about the competition at that position, and while Harbaugh might not like it, he's the one who provoked it by benching a quarterback who was 20-6-1 and took the 49ers to the 2011 conference championship game for someone who hadn't started until three games ago. Maybe it works out; maybe it doesn't. All I know is that unless Kaepernick takes the 49ers to the NFC title game -- as Smith did a year ago -- it's a failed move.

2. People who want to blame the loss on David Akers, go ahead. He blew the kick he should've made ... just like he blew the kick he should've made in overtime when the 49ers tied St. Louis last month. But remember this: There never would've been an overtime if Kaepernick hadn't made critical mistakes. In fact, the Rams' first two scores ... yep, it was Kaepernick who was responsible for them. If the Rams polled spectators for their most valuable offensive player, he'd get votes.

3. Now, back to Akers. The 49ers have to make a move there. He's 7 for 15 on field goals of 40 or more yards this year, and, sorry, but that's going to get you beaten. In fact, it just did. Nate Kaeding, please stand by.

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4. Remember when Harbaugh chastised reporters for saying he "flirted" with Peyton Manning in the offseason? I do. In fact, he called the reports "silly" and "untrue" and "phony," adding that "I've said all along that Alex Smith has been our quarterback." Yeah, sure, Jim. Let's just say you no longer get the benefit of the doubt.

5. Rex Ryan has no choice. He must start Greg McElroy next week because ... well, because, as Harbaugh would say, he has the hot hand.

6. Now you know why there wasn't going to be a quarterback controversy with the Jets: Because Rex Ryan was never going to sub Tim Tebow for Sanchez for more than a handful of plays in any game. So he makes Tebow inactive Sunday, benches Sanchez in the same game, and tell me the two aren't related. Because they are. If Tebow were active, Sanchez would still be playing catch with Kerry Rhodes.

7. With Sanchez's immediate future in limbo, it's time to ask why in the world the Jets gave him a three-year extension before the season. Ah, when you wonder why GM Mike Tannenbaum doesn't have his job next season, start there.

8. No, there is no truth to the rumor that the Jets contacted Brett Favre.

9. With that victory, Seattle's a playoff lock. It's not merely that the Seahawks are 7-5 or that they finally won a road game; it's that they have three left at home where they haven't lost this season. The way I see it, 9-7 gets you in as a wild card, which means the Seahawks merely have to win two of those at home, and they're in. Sign them up.

10. It's time to include Russell Wilson in the Offensive Rookie of the Year conversation. He's not only 7-5, he just beat the Bears with drives of 97, 94 and 80 yards -- more impressive when you consider that two of them were Seattle's last two of the game. Teammate Richard Sherman says Wilson is better than Andrew Luck and RG3. Nice try, Richard -- Wilson has the league's fifth-ranked defense to save him; Luck and RG3 don't.

11. The more I see Ryan Lindley, the more I long for Kevin Kolb.

12. Arizona scored 91 points in its first four games with Kolb. It has 95 in its past eight, all losses, and hasn't scored more than 19 in any game since Sept. 30.

13. I feel for Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald. The guy's one of the best receivers in the game, but not with what Arizona is wheeling out for quarterbacks now. He had one catch vs. the Jets and has one touchdown his past six games ... yet you don't hear the guy complain.

14. It took Andrew Luck 12 games to win eight games for Indianapolis. It took Peyton Manning 23. Just saying.

15. Looks like the firing of Chris Palmer really straightened out Jake Locker and the Tennessee offense.

16. I'm not sure why people wonder what's going on with Michael Vick and the Philadelphia Eagles. I don't care if physicians clear Vick to play the rest of the season, the Eagles stay with Nick Foles. They're not going anywhere. We all know that. Vick isn't going to be with them next season, either. We know that, too. So why not find out now if you can count on Foles as your next starter? I would.

17. The biggest winner of that Pittsburgh-Baltimore game? Houston. The Ravens' loss puts the Texans in perfect position to gain home-field advantage for the playoffs. I know, none of their four remaining opponents has a losing record, and one of them is New England ... in New England, no less. But the Texans have a two-game cushion, with four to go. Let's just say I like their chances.

18. With three 200-yard performances, Adrian Peterson deserves to be in the MVP mix ... but he won't be. Reason: The Vikings almost surely miss the playoffs. The last player to win the MVP award who was not on a playoff team? O.J. Simpson in 1973, when he rushed for 2,003 yards.

19. Believe it or not, the San Diego Chargers have as many victories in October and November as the San Diego Padres ... one.

20. I'm sorry, but there's no way Ray Rice should touch the ball only 13 times. Every so often, Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron seems to forget he has Rice in the lineup, and that happened again Sunday -- with Rice carrying 12 times for 78 yards, including a 34-yard touchdown, and snagging a 5-yard catch. Rice is the Ravens' best playmaker. So put the ball in his hands, for crying out loud.


1. Sam Bradford vs. the NFC West. In case you missed it, he and the Rams are 4-0-1 within the division, with Bradford 1-0-1 vs. the defending champion San Francisco 49ers. In four career starts vs. San Francisco, Bradford's completed 70 percent of his passes, with four touchdowns and no interceptions.

2. Tom Jackson nailing it. The ESPN analyst was first up after persons extolled Jovan Belcher, talking about what a great guy, teammate and person he was. It was Jackson who had the guts to point out that Belcher was also "a murderer," someone who took the life of someone's daughter and left a 3-month-old girl without parents. I didn't know Belcher, but I know what he did. Thanks to Jackson, so does everyone.

3. Kansas City's response to a difficult situation. I'm not sure how the Chiefs played a day after Belcher killed himself, and I'm not sure how Romeo Crennel coached his players. But the Chiefs did what they couldn’t before ... which was win at home, and the timing was right. Moreover, before the game, the Chiefs recognized the victims of domestic violence in a moment of silence, and afterward Crennel mentioned Belcher's girlfriend and daughter. Classy.

4. Bruce Arians as Interim Coach of the Year. He's a dead-bolt lock. He's also a candidate for Coach of the Year, with a 7-2 record and the Colts on the brink of an unexpected playoff spot.

5. Pittsburgh tight end Heath Miller. He can catch. He can block. He can make big plays. He's not only the Steelers' leading receiver; he leads the team in touchdowns, too. "He's been that guy all year," coach Mike Tomlin said. "He's a really, really good football player."


1. Todd Bowles' future as anyone's defensive coordinator. Since he took over for Juan Castillo, the Eagles not only haven't won; they allowed at least 28 or more points in each of their seven starts and 30 or more in six of them, including their last four. So what? So they never allowed 28 in any game under Castillo this season.

2. Chicago's chances of winning the NFC North. Talk about a tough setback. The Bears somehow get the game to overtime, then blow it when they can't stop Russell Wilson. Now they're tied with Green Bay for first in the division, setting up a Dec. 16 showdown in Chicago. The good news is that Chicago's destiny is in its hands; the bad news is that it hasn't beaten Green Bay eight of the last nine times they played.

3. Baltimore's chances to gain a first-round bye. The Ravens are tied with New England (whom they beat) and Denver at 9-3, but just damaged their chances of getting the first weekend of the playoffs off. The Ravens still must play (in order) Washington, Denver, the Giants and Cincinnati. New England still must get through Houston and San Francisco, but the Patriots play them at home where they rarely lose. Then there's Denver. The Broncos have one remaining opponent (Baltimore) with a winning record and finish with Cleveland and Kansas City at home. Make Houston and Denver the favorites to gain first-round byes.

4. Anything about the Oakland Raiders. They're home against an opponent that lost its previous 12 road games and runs a dial-up offense and has a head coach on the griddle. Still, the Raiders couldn't do diddly poo, and why should anyone be surprised? Just lose, baby.

5. San Diego in the fourth quarter. That's the fourth time this year the Chargers blew a fourth-quarter lead, and when Norv Turner wonders why he's not living in Del Mar next year he can look back at losses to Denver, New Orleans, Baltimore and Cincinnati. Appropriately, the latest defeat ended with a Philip Rivers interception, the latest in a litany of mistakes for the beleaguered quarterback.


1. Anyone on the Chicago defense. Defense is what the Bears are all about, right? I mean, the Monsters of the Midway, Butkus, Singletary and all that. So how do they surrender drives of 97 and 80 yards on Seattle's last two possessions? They had a fourth-quarter lead they couldn't protect. Then, given a reprieve by last-minute Jay Cutler magic, they failed again. Consider that a warning, Bears fans.

2. Pittsburgh's Emmanuel Sanders. He's the guy who dropped a sure touchdown pass that would've put Pittsburgh up by seven in the third quarter. Oh, he caught the ball all right; he just dropped it, with the Ravens recovering -- a turnover that led to a Baltimore touchdown. "That was a really tough one," said quarterback Charlie Batch, "because Emmanuel took it really hard. He felt that if he didn't drop that ball it's probably a 70-yard touchdown." Well, he's right.

3. San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh or offensive coordinator Greg Roman. I don't care who it is. I want to hear from the guy who called that read/option with Kaepernick when the 49ers had third-and-3 at the 49ers' 17. The 49rs were up by eight, 10-2, and had no business taking an unnecessary risk ... yet they did, with Kaepernick pitching the ball over the head of Ted Ginn, and Janoris Jenkins recovering it for the Rams' only touchdown. It was Jenkins' third touchdown in two weeks.

4. Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman. Chicago has the ball at its 14, there are 20 seconds left and the Bears' only hope is a bomb to Brandon Marshall. And that's where Sherman comes in. He has the coverage, but lets Marshall get in front of him for a 56-yard catch, a completion that helps Chicago tie the game on a last-second Robbie Gould field goal. So the Seahawks won; this game never should have gone to OT.

5. Baltimore linebacker Paul Kruger. He's the guy who hammered Charlie Batch from behind after Batch hit Mike Wallace at the Baltimore 34 with just under two minutes left. That's a no can-do, and Kruger drew a 15-yard penalty that set up Pittsburgh for a game-winning field goal. "There's not much to say," Kruger said. "It was a big mistake, and we have to make up for it ... I'm just disappointed in myself. I can't put my teammates in that situation."


 Where does Monte Kiffin wind up?

 Whose jersey does Fireman Ed wear now?

 Who makes it as the AFC's sixth seed for the playoffs?

 Chicago or Green Bay?

 Is Peyton Manning a cinch for his fifth MVP?


3 -- Bryce Brown fumbles in two weeks
4 -- Consecutive games with at least 140 yards in catches by Calvin Johnson
4-0-1 -- Rams' record within the NFC West
5 -- Jake Locker turnovers
10 -- Division titles for Tom Brady
17.5 -- Aldon Smith sacks
21.4 -- Sanchez's passer rating
17 -- Wes Welker games with at least 10 catches
115 -- Consecutive Russell Wilson passes without an interception
118.5 -- Greg McElroy's passer rating


1. Atlanta
2. Houston
3. Denver
4. New England
5. San Francisco


32. Jacksonville
31. Oakland
30. Kansas City
29. Philadelphia
28. Carolina


Baltimore at Washington ... The GW Parkway Bowl.

New Orleans at N.Y. Giants ... Saints' playoff hopes on life support.

Houston at New England ... Texans haven't lost on the road.


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