SAN FRANCISCO -- Don't let all the smoke and noise confuse you. Don't think just because Alex Smith suffered a concussion and had to leave the game early in the second quarter and Colin Kaepernick came in, don't think that's why the 49ers settled for a 24-24 tie with the rebuilding Rams, the inferior Rams, the not-so-hot Rams.
And please don't think the quarterback shuffle is why the Niners suffered an embarrassment. Be clear about this, they most definitely got embarrassed in their own stadium.
If you want to be dead honest, if you want to be a tiny bit provocative, you could say — with some justification — the 49ers' offense played better post-Smith, played better with the second-year guy who had to hustle to get ready, who got many fewer reps leading up to Sunday's 49ers' dud.
Smith led the 49ers to exactly zero points in the first quarter. We have seen this before, this early lack of scoring, this timidity, this quarterback being over-analytical to a fault. On Smith's first series, he led the Niners to their customary three and out. Forgive me if I focus on one play in particular. It was third-and-13. And that means the 49ers needed 13 yards for a first down. What did Alex Smith do? The usual. He completed a pass to Frank Gore for four yards. I mean why even bother?
I put that on Smith and I also put that on offensive coordinator Greg Roman who has glided under the radar much too long. Please keep your eye on Roman. Please evaluate this guy dispassionately. He may be a very good coordinator some day. He isn't one yet. Under him — Jim Harbaugh is at pains to say this is Roman's offense — well, under him the offense is barely good enough. Against the Rams, Vikings and Giants it certainly was not good enough. On the next series, the Niners had a third-and-2 and Roman called a Frank-Gore run which went minus-1 yard. Roman's instinct is to think run before pass, and that is just plain wrong.
Back to Smith's performance. He heated up in the second quarter and led a nice touchdown drive before leaving the game. Kaepernick came in and seemed stiff and daunted and unprepared. But he got cracking in the second half, kept a drive going when he hit Vernon Davis on third down for 17 yards and finished the drive dashing around right end for the score.
Smith almost never converts a third down by finding Davis, his best receiver. What's up with that? And he never in a million years can run like Kaepernick, who is a better athlete. Smith is often a dinker and dunker. Kaepernick can do that, but he also throws the hell out of the long pass. Don't you miss seeing that in the Niners' offense?
And don't forget Kaepernick forced the game to overtime by leading a lovely, smart, forceful drive at the end of the fourth quarter that resulted in the game-tying field goal.
I am not suggesting a quarterback controversy — not yet. But I am asserting the Niners did not settle for a tie, the most lukewarm result, because Smith left and Kaepernick entered.