Aaron Rodgers said this about another team’s passer, “He’s a great quarterback. He just needs to go somewhere he gets appreciated for the skills he has….” Was he talking about his upcoming playoff opponent Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49ers? No, Rodgers was talking about Alex Smith, the QB who beat the Packers 30-22 at Lambeau Field in the first weekend of the 2012 season. Yes, the very Alex Smith whose 125.6 passer rating bested Rodgers’s 93.3 rating in that game.
Kaepernick has obvious physical talent, but it’s a wonder that coach Jim Harbaugh will elect to play a less-experienced QB against the Packers and Rodgers, a passer who has already been to the NFL’s mountain top. If you had an on-field leader like Smith who had already outplayed and outsmarted your opponent, wouldn’t you think you’d rely on him to do so again?
Smith was a cautious and perhaps sometimes unexciting thrower, but he avoided the type of mistakes that can cost a team a victory or two. While Kaepernick was initially energizing, he’s gone through what seems to be the script for new pro QBs – he began by playing fearlessly, went on to get a bit banged up, and then started rushing his throws once he realized how much weight was on his shoulders. Unlike Smith, “Kap” does not seem to have the patience to go through the full progression of receivers on each play. Steve Young warned, “[Y]ou can’t put [Kaepernick] in a situation where he’s in a hole and he has to pass his way out of it.”
In choosing to stay with Kaepernick, the Niners are relying on a high-risk, high-reward strategy. Yes, I’ve heard the justification from Bay Area fans, “I’d rather take the risk and try to get to the Super Bowl now.” But with Smith the team was only one win away from the beloved Super Bowl last season. The same cannot be said, so far, with Kaepernick. (He may fail to take the team as far as the stable, reliable Smith did.)
An irony about the upcoming Niners-Packers matchup in the NFC Divisional Round this weekend is that it’s a bit of a homecoming for Rodgers, a northern California (Chico and CAL) product – one known to have worn a Joe Montana t-shirt under his college uniform. What might have happened if the Niners’ brain trust had selected Rodgers in the draft some years ago? Would they now be looking at a repeat trip to the Super Bowl (part of another Niners dynasty)?
The San Francisco Chronicle recently ran a funny note about something a person overheard in a shopping mall east of the city. A young boy asked his mother for a Niners t-shirt that bore the image of “Kap.” His mother angrily replied, “No, you can’t have a shirt with whatever his name is. We are an Alex Smith family.”
If whatever his name is beats Aaron Rodgers this Saturday, it may be the end of the era of Alex Smith households in the greater San Francisco area. But going with “Kap” is still a gamble. A big, big gamble.
Take the points and Rodgers for the win, even if the heart holds out for the Niners to move on.
Aaron Rodgers (college) photo credit: Donald Miralle/Getty Images