SANTA CLARA -- Jim Harbaugh plans to announce his quarterback decision Wednesday. Until then, the 49ers coach took the diplomatic approach and handed both players the job.
"Alex Smith is our starting quarterback. He has not done anything to lose that job. In fact, he's playing at a very high level," Harbaugh said Monday. "Also Colin Kaepernick, you can't categorize him as a backup quarterback because he's started games and played very well in those games."
Harbaugh's public wavering aside, other signs point toward Kaepernick making a third consecutive start, on the road this Sunday against the St. Louis Rams.
Kaepernick completed 16 of 25 passes for 231 yards and showed flashes of his running ability in leading a 31-21 victory over the New Orleans Saints on Sunday.
The second-year player from Nevada threw a 6-yard touchdown pass to Frank Gore, scored on a 7-yard touchdown run and earned praise for his handling of the raucous Superdome crowd.
When Harbaugh was asked Monday whether he will eventually have to settle on a guy -- Kaepernick or Smith -- the coach responded: "Well, they're both our guys."
A week ago, the coach delayed his announcement because Smith was not medically cleared from a concussion. Now, with Smith getting the green light Saturday, the holdup might have more to do with handling the situation respectfully inside the locker room.
Smith, an eighth-year veteran, had been enjoying a solid season until sustaining a concussion against the Rams on Nov. 11. Smith still leads the NFL with 70.0 percent completion percentage and ranks fifth with a 104.1 passer rating. The players ahead of him: Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Robert Griffin III.
"He's a class act all the way -- team player," Harbaugh said Monday. "That's why he has been voted captain by our players."
Harbaugh said he wanted to review the Saints game with his coaching staff and then discuss his decision with the players Tuesday before announcing his QB choice to the media.
But, unlike last week, he will make this ruling public. "And the biggest reason is so our players aren't all pressured into answering, ''Who is it?' Everybody hammering them for the information," Harbaugh said.
The quarterback debate has divided former players, with some arguing that the 49ers should show more loyalty to Smith, who has persevered through every hurdle that has come his way. Kurt Warner, the former Super Bowl quarterback, said on the NFL Network that this is no time to be disrupting team chemistry by rolling the dice on an unproven player.
"Week 12 of a season is not the time that you start playing with 'potential.' Potential is for training camp, preseason. You figure out during that period of time, 'Does he allow us the opportunity to win?' " Warner said. "Alex Smith, what he's done over the last two years for this football team ... needs to be the guy."
But Michael Irvin, on the same network a day later, argued in favor of Kaepernick.
"The 49ers have reached their ceiling with Alex Smith," the former Super Bowl receiver said. "They are at their floor with Colin Kaepernick."
Kaepernick has a 102.1 passer rating, a tick behind Smith. But he averages 9.19 yards per attempt while Smith averages 7.98.
Kaepernick is also an elusive runner whose four rushing touchdowns are already the most by a 49ers QB since Jeff Garcia had seven in 2003.
"This is what he brings that Alex Smith doesn't," former coach Tony Dungy said in picking Kaepernick on NBC's "Football Night in America." "(Kaepernick) throws the ball well from the pocket, but this dimension of the quarterback running is really going to make San Francisco tough."
So which player will be the starting quarterback for these first-place 49ers?
"At the end of the season, you look back on it and say that the job was shared," Harbaugh said. "We've got two good guys."