- Chris Sprow, ESPN Insider
It's probably fair to say Alex Smith has earned the right to hang onto the starting job for the 49ers. It's probably fair to say that given his 20-6-1 record in the past two seasons, he's proven capable, and an injury shouldn't disqualify him. You might think it's fair that a QB currently third in the NFL in passer rating, ninth in Total QBR (just ahead of Matt Schaub and Aaron Rodgers), has completed a league-high 70 percent of passes and has a 13-to-5 TD-to-INT ratio should hang onto his job. If going with the "hot hand" matters, then it's fair to say a QB who completed 18 of 19 passes in his previous full game, and 7 of 8 in his previous start before being injured, qualifies.
It's fair to say all of those things. But it's also fair to look at the idea of a quarterback switch through the prism of the true "hot hand" on the 49ers -- Jim Harbaugh's.
Consider the stretch this man is on:
• He arrived at the University of San Diego to take over a team that had gone 19-10 the previous two seasons. Harbaugh went 29-6 in the next three.
• He arrived at Stanford to take over a team that had gone 1-11 in the previous season. Harbaugh went 29-21 in the next four seasons, including 12-1 in his final year, with an Orange Bowl win.
• He arrived at San Francisco to take over a Niners team that had gone 6-10 the previous season. He's 20-5-1 since.
You can disagree with Harbaugh's decisions, or his occasionally brash antics, but if he released a book titled "Staring at the Moon: My Secret to Football" tomorrow, the sport would be filled with sore-necked insomniacs by next week. Given his track record, it's hard to question almost any decision Harbaugh makes right now.
But there are other good reasons why now isn't a bad time to make Smith compete for the starting job -- I didn't say "bench" -- based on both the past and the future Let's consider them.
Sure, Alex Smith was having a great season, but if you view the long game for the Niners instead of the weekend's immediate matchup, giving Colin Kaepernick a go makes perfect sense. And Jim Harbaugh has earned the benefit of the doubt.