SAN FRANCISCO — Calm down. It was only one game.
It was not proof positive that Colin Kaepernick is the 49ers' long-term quarterbacking answer. But he is definitely no longer a question.
Kaepernick, who was drafted in 2011 and has sat behind Alex Smith for his first season and a half, started his first NFL game on Monday night because of Smith's concussion a week earlier.
You might say Kaepernick passed the audition as a prime-time player.
In a near-perfect first half, the second-round pick from Nevada threw a touchdown pass and led three other 49er scoring drives on the way to a 20-0 lead over a Chicago Bears defense that was statistically awesome and full of alleged blue meanies.
Then, in the second half, Kaepernick managed the team through two more scoring drives and threw another touchdown pass as the 49ers successfully completed their 32-7 squash job over the Bears.
Kaepernick's performance was impressive enough to legitimize a debate over whether he should be the 49ers' full-time starter. On this one night, Kaepernick's arm looked stronger than Smith's. Kaepernick's accuracy was probably more consistent than Smith's. Kaepernick's decision-making was as good as Smith's. Kaepernick's tattoos were certainly far more awesome than Smith's.
Jon Gruden, everyone's favorite Monday Night analyst, grew a little carried away himself, to the point of opining during the game telecast that if Kaepernick "keeps playing like this, I'm thinking the 49ers can go all the way." But just because a debate is legitimate does not mean that the debaters will have any effect. Knowing the way that 49er coach Jim Harbaugh operates, the last thing he would ever do is proclaim Kaepernick to be the team's new No. 1 quarterback. Smith will get the next start as soon as he's healthy.
Here's the dynamic that will likely change after Monday night, however: Smith will be on a much shorter leash if he gets off to a bad first half in an upcoming game.
And that leash will not be made of Freddie P. Soft fabric. It will be a Mighty-Man kind of leash. It will be capable of a sustaining a decisive, hard tug that Harbaugh surely won't be hesitant to make.
But he won't suddenly rip up the depth chart after just this one night. Monday's result, convincing as it was, has to be evaluated on several levels. For one thing, while the 49er defense played one of its best games and savaged Chicago quarterback Jason Campbell into a lump of painful flesh, it seemed that the Bears' defense was barely there mentally.
The first evidence arrived on the game's first scrimmage play, Chicago safety Chris Conte committed a stupid unnecessary roughness penalty against 49er receiver Mario Manningham. The rest of the night, the Bears were just as off-kilter, a step behind the 49ers and a notch below them in the intensity level.
None of this should diminish the many fine passes of Kaepernick, so numerous that it was hard to pinpoint the one you'd put on a list of extraordinary moments with a gold star beside them.
All of this must warm Harbaugh's now-regular heartbeat. He has options. Smith is the right quarterbacking call for now. Don't forget, he has shown that he can win games on the big stage. Smith's performance in the playoff victory over New Orleans last yeargives him some real capital in the starting-quarterback bank.
If Smith can play next Sunday against the Saints, then Kaepernick's next test must wait. But you'd have to say that the way Kaepernick handled the pop quiz against the Bears is a good sign.