It's been more than a month since Colin Kaepernick became the man in San Francisco. The Niners were 6-2, and Alex Smith's numbers were sparkling—not just for his supposed game-manager image, but up there with anyone in the league. And then Smith took a couple of hard hits in the first half of a game against the Rams. After having done everything asked of him and more, those would be the last snaps he would take. "The only thing I did to lose my job," Smith said later, "was get a concussion."
No one's going to remember Smith's eight-game season as an accomplishment, but the statistics don't lie. Take his passer rating, the arcane, occasionally misleading metric that now seems authoritative after the introduction of ESPN's more arcane, more misleading Total QBR formula. It's a measure of efficiency, not volume. And as the New York Times points out, Smith's passer rating is 104.1, just behind Robert Griffin's 104.2 and Aaron Rodgers's 104.7. There's every chance that Rodgers and RG3 have a couple of slightly-less-than-great games, ceding the passing title to Smith—much like a suspended Melky Cabrera would have won the batting title, if not for MLB's dumb deus ex machina.
Even more historic, Smith has a completion percentage of 70. That's just off the all-time single-season record, 71.2 percent, set last year by Drew Brees.
There's one major obstacle standing between Alex Smith and an especially bizarre record-setting year: He simply doesn't have enough passes to qualify. NFL records and leaderboards require a QB to average 14 attempts per team game played, and Smith finds himself at 217, seven shy of the minimum. For Smith to even qualify as a league leader, he's going to need to play again.
He might get that chance. San Francisco finds itself 1.5 games back of Atlanta for homefield advantage through the playoffs, and a half-game ahead of Green Bay for the second first-round bye. If things go the right way—if the 49ers clinch the division by beating Seattle on Sunday, and if the Packers lose this week or next—the Niners will know before their Week 17 late game whether anything is at stake. And if not, they're not likely to play Colin Kaepernick a full game. It'll be garbage time, aka Alex Smith immortality time.
If Smith gets reps in Week 17 against a woeful Arizona team, and remains his preternaturally efficient self—the Times pitches 9-for-9, but a more realistic 17-for-20 or 21-for-25 would also get the job done—both the passer rating crown (pending Griffin's and Rodgers's final two games) and the all-time single-season completion percentage record would be his.
I, for one, am looking forward to a meaningless Cardinals game being flexed into primetime.
Alex Smith Can Still Win Passer Rating Crown [NY Times]