- Last Updated: 11:34 AM, January 14, 2013
- Posted: 12:48 AM, January 14, 2013
SAN FRANCISCO — If Alex Smith is the new Drew Bledsoe, will the Jets copy the Buffalo Bills?
As if there was any question about Smith’s future with the 49ers beyond this season, Colin Kaepernick erased them with an exclamation point Saturday night with an epic, record-smashing performance in San Francisco’s 45-31 demolition of the Packers in the NFC Divisional playoffs.
Much like Tom Brady with Bledsoe in New England 12 years ago, Kaepernick took Smith’s starting job after a midseason injury and won’t be giving it back — to Smith, at least — after Kaepernick’s stunning display against Green Bay.
With Smith watching with what seemed like a forlorn face from the sidelines, Kaepernick ran through and around the Packers for 181 yards (the most ever by an NFL quarterback in any game, regular season or postseason), passed for 263 more and accounted for two rushing touchdowns and two passing touchdowns while putting the Niners back in the NFC title game for a second consecutive year.
Kaepernick’s masterful performance seemed to put the final nail in Smith’s San Francisco career and already is prompting speculation about his next stop when the former No. 1 overall pick hits unrestricted free agency in March.
Just don’t expect Smith to talk about it anytime soon. He declined comment to reporters all last week and skipped out of the Niners’ postgame locker room without talking late Saturday night.
“This is Colin’s night,” Smith told The Post.
It might have been Kaepernick’s night, but it figures to be Smith’s offseason considering the dearth of even mediocre quarterbacks expected to hit the open market.
Will the Jets be players in that market?
The Bills traded for Bledsoe under similar circumstances in 2002, something the Jets wouldn’t have to do with Smith. But even without a replacement yet for fired general manager Mike Tannenbaum, league sources say they would be surprised if Gang Green doesn’t at least make a call to Smith’s agent in the offseason.
It would certainly make sense: With Mark Sanchez’s contract making him likely to return despite an awful season, the Jets are expected to be in the market for a veteran passer — even in the short term — to compete with Sanchez and Greg McElroy.
And despite Smith’s well-chronicled struggles before Jim Harbaugh took over as the Niners’ coach, the Jets could do worse — much worse — in the veteran market than the former Utah standout.
Smith, in fact, was playing some of the best football of his NFL career at the time of the November concussion that resulted in Kaepernick’s elevation from gimmick, read-option backup to starter.
After guiding San Francisco to a 13-3 record and a divisional win over the Saints last year, Smith was 6-2 and virtually mistake-free this season. At the time of the injury, he was completing 70.2 percent of his passes for 1,737 yards and 13 TDs against just five interceptions, and his 104.1 rating was by far the highest of his career.
But as attractive as Smith might look to the Jets, plenty of obstacles — many of them seemingly insurmountable — will be in their way.
The biggest one, of course, is money. The Jets are already well over the 2013 salary cap and will have to cut a host of starters from last season just to have some operating room to sign their draft picks, much less a marquee free agent.
The Jets also figure to have serious competition, considering how many teams need a starting quarterback. The Cardinals, Chiefs, Bills, Titans and Raiders are just a few of the clubs with glaring, gaping holes at that spot.Follow @NYPostsports