Needless to say, we've got some issues with the guy.

Of course they start with where he was drafted; there's nothing worse than wasting a top pick. Then there's the fact that our SECOND choice--who was just a little too cocky for us--is now a perennial Pro Bowler, a Super Bowl MVP, and the game's top-rated passer. (Ever.) And then there's this kind of battered-wife syndrome, now in its seventh year, that seems to keep us from just moving on. Whether we choose to place the blame on bad coaches or defensive coaches or too many coaches or whatever else, we just can't seem to close the book on Alex Smith.

This most recent chapter was particularly tough to accept. After last year's finale, Smith mocked the very THOUGHT of coming back. Under normal circumstances, as soon as free agency opened, he would've agreed to sit on some other team's bench. But, then, with home in sight, the owners opened their bag of winds, and there we were, again together, lost at sea.

There was hope, though. Matt Hasselbeck clearly was on his last legs--his recent stats were worse than Smith's--but the playoffs showed he was still legit. A proven winner in the West Coast Offense, he would've kept Smith on OUR bench, if not someone else's. He would've built the perfect bridge for Colin Kaepernick. And, most of all, he would've stamped the Jim Harbaugh era as truly what it should've been: a fresh start, for all of us.

Harbaugh said that "we thought we had a guy there in free agency," obviously Hasselbeck, "and [it] didn't work out." (Oops; Harbaugh must've forgotten the company line, that our second-wave surge was the plan all along.) For his part, Hasselbeck said that we came awfully close. But, in the end, instead of landing the perfect bridge, we landed a guy with six passes in the last three NFL seasons. A guy who was coaching high school, for cryin' out loud. A guy whose only bridge would lead us back to Alex Smith.

All this backdrop led us to Saturday, and here's perhaps the WORST part.

As Smith drove the Niners up and down the field--with a big assist from an offensive line that was vastly improved, at least for now--I just couldn't sympathize with the cheering masses. Of course I savored our offensive might, though an early touchdown or two would've helped. But when I focused on Smith himself, processing his display of competence, all I felt was uneasiness, a disquieting here-we-go-again.

We've seen this SO many times already. Smith shows us a great drive, a great quarter, a great half. This time, most notably, he dropped back, he sensed the rush, and instead of running for the hills, he stood tall and fired a strike, just before taking a punishing hit. And just as you're about to think that maybe it'll be different now, he goes and shows you it won't. This time, like so many others, he locked onto his target, watched him all the way, and threw a pass into the gut of a defensive player he'd never seen.

"That's a correctable thing," Harbaugh insisted. "I know why it happened. We've got to do a little better job with our eyes. And [Smith] knew it. We'll get that corrected."

Coach, no one thinks more of you than I do. But for Alex Smith, it's just too late.

For me, this Smith dissonance has reached a critical mass. On the one hand, I've had enough. Enough of this will-he-or-won't-he charade. Sure, he seems like a decent guy. But I'm just exhausted, and thus I struggle to root for him, lest he somehow trick us again.

On the other hand, though, it's Harbaugh's team now. Last year, I had no trouble watching Smith contribute to a coach's failure. But I've thrown my emotional weight behind Harbaugh, and Harbaugh has thrown his own behind Smith. Like it or not, you can't root for one without rooting for the other.

And there's something else. For years we've looked at our offensive weapons and said, "If only we had a quarterback." But as Saturday showed, those offensive weapons are now very serious. With a properly motivated Braylon Edwards joining Vernon Davis and (a healthy?) Michael Crabtree, and with Kendall Hunter looking like a perfect complement to (a non-trade-demanding?) Frank Gore, we can't be worrying about whether Smith will once again avoid the hook. With the defense looking strong again, it all comes down to this: if Smith and the line play consistently well--though of course there's no reason to think that they will--this team will contend, immediately.

It seemed like a perfect dilemma. Do I root for Smith, when his middling success might induce us to give him ANOTHER "last chance"? Or do I root against him, when his failure will decimate Harbaugh's ambitions?

Then out of the blue it struck me. A way out.

After six years, we're conditioned to look at Smith as one thing, and one thing only: an abject bust of a franchise QB. That's a label he'll never escape, of course. But now, for the first time, we're not asking him to BE a franchise QB. There's a NEW franchise QB in town.

I keep hearing that Kaepernick's "raw," and I suppose he is. Certainly, in the long run, a redshirt year would serve him best. But experience aside, he's not much worse than Smith right now, if indeed he's worse at all. So Smith will beat out Kaepernick THIS year, if just so the rookie can watch and learn. But next year Smith won't stand a chance. Next year Kaepernick will win.

It's time for us to see Smith for what he is, not what he was supposed to be. He's just a bridge, and nothing more. He's not the PERFECT bridge, by any means; he's still young, and he's got more baggage than a family of five. (He's also, of course, not particularly good.) But a bridge indeed is all he is. It doesn't matter whether he wins. Next year, when Kaepernick's ready, Smith will be gone, no matter what.

So go ahead. Root for him.

If Alex Smith wins, we've got nothing to lose.