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That hand wasn’t so hot Sunday in St. Louis against a defense that seemed to confuse Kaepernick at times. His numbers were decent enough _ 208 yards passing and another 84 rushing _ but he got the 49ers into the end zone only once and made two critical second-half mistakes that allowed the Rams back in the game.

The first gave St. Louis its first points when Kaepernick was called for grounding while trying to scramble from the end zone. The second hurt far worse, when Kaepernick pitched the ball over Ted Ginn Jr. deep in 49ers territory and the Rams recovered for a tying touchdown.

“I was just trying to make a play instead of playing it safe,” Kaepernick said. “I should have kept it and let the clock run. Let your punter get on the field and let our defense play.”

Mistakes of a young quarterback, part of the growing process in the NFL. Kaepernick will make more of them, but his upside is so tantalizing to Harbaugh that he’s willing to risk a loss here or there to have him under center.

But is he willing to risk a Super Bowl run for a team already primed for one behind Smith? Will he keep a quarterback on the sidelines who was fifth in the NFL with a passer rating of 104.1 and had a 70 percent completion percentage when he suffered the concussion that benched him?

Is he so confident in his ability to analyze the quarterback position that he will stubbornly push ahead with Kaepernick no matter what?

“I’ll let you know if there’s a change but right now I think it’ll be the same as it was this week,” Harbaugh said. “I’m proud of Kap, proud of the way he played. He did some really good things under a lot of heat and duress and handled himself well, gave our team a chance to win.”

Tough to second guess Harbaugh, who took over a hapless 49er team last year and nearly made the Super Bowl with them. He understands talent and he knows the quarterback position better than anyone in the NFL after spending 14 seasons taking snaps on Sundays himself.

But you can’t help wondering if he’s taking a chance he doesn’t need to take.


Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at) or