With no ruling from a neurologist on Alex Smith, a head coach gone to see a cardiologist and a team-owner pathologist still seeking answers, the prognosis regarding the near future of the quarterback position for the San Francisco remained unclear Tuesday.
Coach Jim Harbaugh did little to stifle a quarterback controversy Monday night after Colin Kaepernick made his debut as a starting quarterback, ostensibly in place of concussed Smith. Kaepernick shocked a prime-time ESPN audience as he connected on 16 of 23 passes for 243 yards and two touchdowns while the 49ers dominated the Chicago Bears, 32-7.
Instead of his usual comment that Smith is his quarterback, Harbaugh said after the game something about going with the hot hand. Of course, both Smith and Kaepernick have hot hands. In his past two games, counting the one in which he was injured, Smith completed 25 of 27 passes for 304 yards, four touchdown and no interceptions.
As the Bay Area media waited for Harbaugh to clarify the heated issue at his day-after-game talk, the team announced that Harbaugh was not available because he was undergoing follow-up evaluation on the heart procedure he had last Thursday. That is when Harbaugh had a cardiovert procedure, in which two paddles are used to shock and reset the heart's rhythm.
The 49ers said Harbaugh would be available for a press conference at the team's Santa Clara facility on noon Wednesday. The team did issue its weekly press release that included a depth chart showing Smith as the starter.
However, there still was no word from neurologists or team doctor Dan Garza that Smith has been cleared for game action. He was given the OK last Thursday to take part in non-contact practices, which he did the rest of the week. But the team declared Kaepernick the starter for the Chicago game on Sunday, even before Smith was given an ImPACT test to determine whether he could play.
So as the media sought answers Tuesday, Kaepernick and other players did their best to avoid igniting a quarterback controversy, even if it were already too late.
"I don't want there to be a controversy," Kaepernick said in an ESPN Radio interview. "I just want to do whatever's best for the team, whatever is going to help us win games."
Smith, the No. 1 overall selection in the 2005 draft, has endured seven changes at offensive coordinator and was having an excellent season until being put out by the concussion. Harbaugh traded up to take Kaepernick in the second round, 36th overall, in the 2011 draft. Both are athletic, but Kaepernick is taller, stronger and faster. Until Monday night, it was assumed Smith was more accurate and reliable.
In an interview with CSNBayArea.com's Matt Maiocco, the 49ers' co-owner, John York, a pathologist, admitted he didn't know Smith's status because he didn't have all the details. That is what pathologists do, analyze details and interpret results. Even he needed more details.
Kaepernick sidestepped a question about Monday night's game plan including more long passes than usual, the implication being his stronger arm dictated a different approach than when Smith was playing.
"Our offense isn't really going to change, no matter who is in there," Kaepernick told Maiocco. "Our offense is our offense, and we're going to run it."
Tight end Vernon Davis, a long-time staunch supporter of Smith, had six catches for 83 yards and said it felt as if "somebody took the handcuffs off me."
Davis remembered one 32-yard pass in particular.
"The ball he threw to me, it was one of those balls Tom Brady throws," Davis said. "Second window, right on the money. ... He saw it and put it in there.
"It's tough. Alex, he's a genuine guy. I've been here with him since Day One and always supported him. But, Colin, he's the same way. Very humble heart, soft spoken, and he wants to be great. But I can't choose sides. I'm here to support either one of them."
Next up for the 49ers is a Sunday game against the Saints at New Orleans.