SAN FRANCISCO -- Alex Smith completed 25 of his past 27 passes over two games. But the 49ers now have another hot hand at quarterback.Colin Kaepernick made a convincing argument for unseating the NFL's third-rated passer with a sterling performance Monday night in the 49ers' 32-7 thrashing of the Chicago Bears at Candlestick Park.Kaepernick led the 49ers on scoring drives on the first four possessions of the game to open the debate on whether he will -- or should -- supplant Smith as the 49ers' starter on Sunday against the New Orleans Saints.Smith was declared inactive after experiencing concussion symptoms late in the week, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said. That provided an opening for Kaepernick to show why the 49ers traded up in the second round to select him in the 2011 draft."I wanted to come out and show what I'm capable of and show that I can be a starter," Kaepernick said. "That's what I've been trying to prove since I've been in the league."As for the impending quarterback controversy, Harbaugh said he believes in sticking with what's working."We'll see," Harbaugh said. "I usually tend to go with the guy who has the hot hand. We got two quarterbacks who have a hot hand."RATTO: For the 49ers, it's a full-blown QB controversy
But only one of those quarterbacks played Monday night. Kaepernick completed 16 of 23 passes for 243 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. His passer rating was 133.1."I don't think one game can be called a 'hot hand,'" Kaepernick said.With six games remaining in the regular season, the 49ers (7-2-1) take a half-game lead over the Bears and Green Bay Packers (both 7-3) for the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs behind the Atlanta Falcons (9-1).
The Bears played Monday without their starting quarterback, as Jay Cutler was also ruled out of action with a concussion. The Bears got considerably less production from their backup, Jason Campbell, as he completed 14 of 22 passes for 107 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. Campbell was also sacked six times -- five coming from the bull-rushing Aldon Smith.RELATED: Aldon Smith leads strong defensive showing
Meanwhile, Kaepernick was outstanding. He got into a rhythm early as he hit play-action passes of 8 and 22 yards within the first two plays of the game. The 49ers drove into range for David Akers' 32-yard field goal to open the scoring.
"I thought Colin did an outstanding job," Harbaugh said. "He did a great job, poise in the pocket, pushing the ball down the field, throwing with accuracy. He did a nice job running the game plan. Everything he did was exemplary."Tight end Vernon Davis, who had caught just nine passes for 101 yards and no touchdowns in the past four games, appeared to benefit the most from Kaepernick's first NFL start."I felt like somebody took the handcuffs off me," Davis said.Davis caught six passes for 83 yards and a touchdown. And he caught passes on plays in which the ball usually does not come his way, he said. Davis spoke in reverential terms about a Kaepernick fourth-quarter pass in which the ball was thrown despite tight coverage."The ball that he threw me, it was one of those balls that you see Tom Brady throw . . . second window . . . I didn't expect the ball to come because we run that play quite a few times and the tight end usually doesn't get the ball on that play," Davis said of the 11-yard gain. "But he saw it, and he put it there."It was a tight window. It was very, very tight. But he took a shot and he was very confident in himself, obviously, and he made it happen."Kaepernick made all of the throws on Monday, and he did not rely on his legs. He finished the game with just 12 yards on four rushes. He left the running up to Frank Gore, who finished with a game-high 78 yards on 17 attempts. Kendall Hunter added 27 yards and a touchdown on five attempts.On the second drive of the game, Kaepernick made a beautiful deep pass to Kyle Williams for 57 yards. On the next play, Gore picked up Lance Briggs on a blitz, and Kaepernick hit Davis for a 3-yard touchdown.
"We all know the talent he has and what he is capable of, but him just coming out there and just balling like that, making every throw, it's tough to say that you expected him to come in and make every single throw like he did," Williams said.Michael Crabtree caught three passes for 31 yards, including a 10-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter."I'm not worried about Kaep," Crabtree said. "Kaep's a baller. He's a gamer. He knows one speed and that's 'go.'"Of course, nobody in the 49ers' locker room was taking sides in the quarterback debate. But, certainly, Smith's situation is complicated by the fact that he was not cleared to play. And there is no guarantee he will be cleared to face the Saints, either.
"Not a big mystery here," Harbaugh said, "just felt that Alex still had some symptoms on Sunday and we were going to make the decision to go with Colin."Smith was required to be symptom-free in order to be cleared for practices Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Kaepernick got all of the practice time Saturday and Sunday, Harbaugh said."He (Smith) was having some symptoms later in the week and wanted to make sure that if he didn't get cleared that Colin at least got half the reps or more for the week," Harbaugh said.When asked about his situation after the game, Smith said, "They don't want me talking right now."Smith, 28, is having his best NFL season with a passer rating of 104.1, which ranks third behind Aaron Rodgers (107.3) and Peyton Manning (106.2). Smith has completed an NFL-best 70 percent of his passes. Smith is 31st in the league in attempts and his 1,731 yards is 29th.Kaepernick was impressive in every aspect of the game. But perhaps the most notable thing about Kaepernick's performance was that the 49ers' offense did not turn the ball over. The Bears came into the game with a league-leading 30 takeaways through nine games."We knew they had a lot of great players that try to strip the ball and try to make some plays on the ball," Kaepernick said. "That was one of the things we emphasized going through the week."