“Teams are going to be looking for both styles of quarterback,” Pro Football Hall of Fame cornerback Mike Haynes said. “The game is big enough to have both styles. ¶ “But you see it picking up in college and high school. You see more teams looking for that mobile quarterback and coaches getting educated by it. There will be a wave into this sport for sure, but not all
quarterbacks are going to be able to do that.”
Flacco has a tried-and-true style similar to Tom Brady's and Aaron Rodgers'. The Ravens have gone to the playoffs in each of Flacco's five seasons.
Kaepernick is in a group with Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson and Cam Newton — shifty youngsters with big-play potential on the ground or through the air.
The Niners changed starting quarterbacks in Week 11 despite a division-leading 6-2-1 record. Kaepernick was a gadget quarterback, rushing for three touchdowns but passing for zero before incumbent Alex Smith suffered a concussion in Week 10.
But once Niners coach Jim Harbaugh made the switch, he didn't go back. Kaepernick thrived in the pistol offense, a medium-range shotgun formation the Niners use for their zone-read rushing attack.
In nine games as a starter, including the playoffs, Kaepernick threw for 13 touchdowns and four interceptions and ran for five touchdowns. He was the Niners' second-leading rusher in the regular season and has only 7 fewer yards than Frank Gore in the postseason.
“You're going to start seeing those guys have an opportunity to be more successful early on in the NFL,” said ESPN analyst Trent Dilfer, the Ravens' quarterback when they won the Super Bowl 12 years ago. “It's really going to change the generation right after them.
“Five, 10 years from now, I think you'll see a split of zone-read-driven quarterbacks and their pedigree as opposed to the traditional pocket, second-reaction [quarterbacks] like Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees.”
The NFL is a league of copycats, and the stunning immediate success of quarterbacks such as Kaepernick, Griffin, Newton and Wilson will force personnel executives to look for quarterbacks who resemble them.
Prospects like Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel, Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater, Oregon's Marcus Mariota and Ohio State's Braxton Miller make scouts salivate.
Dilfer claimed classic pocket passers in college already are starting to suffer. He said that if North Carolina State quarterback Mike Glennon and Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones were in the 2008 draft class, then they would be rated just as high as Matt Ryan (the second overall pick) and Flacco (the 18th pick) were.
“But now they're looked at as, 'Eh, late first-round, second-round' because they don't do all this other stuff that we all love,” Dilfer said. “Drafting the Flaccos of the world, you'll see them slide a little more, and you'll see that this year.
“The standard guy, the Joe Flacco, the Peyton Manning, the Tom Brady — the isolated-to-the-pocket guy — you're going to see less of them, and you can tell by this year's draft grades coming out.”
Flacco, however, has been nothing short of sensational for Baltimore. He has been inconsistent at times throughout the season, but he has been incredible in the postseason.
In three playoff games, he has thrown for 853 yards and eight touchdowns with zero interceptions, going on the road to knock off Manning and Brady along the way.
“We need to stop Joe Flacco,” 49ers linebacker Ahmad Brooks said. “He's a good quarterback. He's tall. He's a gunslinger. He can sling the rock.
“It's imperative for us to get to him as soon as possible, cause pressure, get a hand in his face, hit him, get him rattled up [and] just get him thinking about the pass-rushers, so he just can't feel comfortable in the pocket and throw the ball wherever he wants to throw it.”
Flacco has reached the NFL's pinnacle game although the Ravens made a daring switch of their own during the regular season.
A month after the 49ers swapped starting quarterbacks, the Ravens fired offensive coordinator Cam Cameron and replaced him with quarterbacks coach Jim Caldwell.
Both quarterbacks began the season with cloudy futures.
While Kaepernick was a backup, Flacco was entering the final year of his contract. Ravens fans weren't too broken up about the possibility of getting a new quarterback for 2013. Now he'll almost certainly sign a lucrative contract to stay.
There clearly is room for both quarterbacks in the NFL, but their clashing styles will be a fascinating storyline tonight.
“I have no idea how these styles will play out,” Haynes said, “but it'll be a lot of fun to watch how it materializes. At some point in the future, we'll know which one works best.”
Tonight's winner, without a Pro Bowl honor on his resume, soon will get fitted for his Super Bowl ring.