The dust has settled, the lights are back on at the Superdome (we hope) and the booze on Bourbon Street won’t flow at the same pace until Mardi Gras kicks into full gear.
Now, we are left to assess the 49ers’ season. As aggravating and heartbreaking as the Super Bowl loss was for San Francisco, one development from the season should provide the Niners and their fans with solace.
The 49ers have found their franchise quarterback. No more Tim Rattay. No more J.T. O’Sullivan. No more Shaun Hill. And no more Alex Smith.
This is Colin Kaepernick’s team, and it couldn’t be in more capable hands.
As good as Smith was in 2011 and the beginning of 2012, there was always a hint of doubt that lingered after seeing the first six years of his career, even under Jim Harbaugh’s tutelage. That’s not an issue with Kaepernick.
Assuming he can stay healthy — and that’s always a genuine concern with a QB who runs as much as he does — Kaepernick has shown the ability to grow into one of the elite quarterbacks in the NFL.
Is he there yet? No. But he’s not far off. The run Kaepernick went on this season is almost unfathomable. In only 10 career starts, he already owns regular-season victories over Drew Brees and Tom Brady, and he led his team to its first Super Bowl in 18 seasons.
Now, was Kaepernick perfect in the Super Bowl? Far from it. The interception he threw may have been one of his worst passes of the season. But Kaepernick, as was the case multiple times this season, found a way to get his team back in it. And that’s what makes him special.
With his dynamic playmaking ability on the ground or through the air, and his knack for not turning the ball over, there is no margin that is insurmountable when Kaepernick is calling the shots.
Sure, there are a few offseason decisions that need to be addressed — chiefly the future of safety Dashon Goldson and receiver Randy Moss, and of course the seemingly likely trade or release of Smith — but overall, the Niners are in prime position to be favored to win the NFC again next season.
Their toughest competition could come from within their own division in the form of the Seattle Seahawks, while the Green Bay Packers and Atlanta Falcons will be in the mix again. Certainly a nonplayoff team or two from this season will surface — maybe a resurgent New Orleans Saints squad or the New York Giants will recapture their winning ways.
But regardless of what the rest of the league does, because of Harbaugh’s decision to pull the trigger on the QB switch when he did, the 49ers are the team to beat. Kaepernick gives the Niners a quarterback other teams can be envious of, and one who can match points with just about anyone.
It’s been some time since that’s been the case in San Francisco.
Dylan Kruse is the sports editor of The San Francisco Examiner. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @dylan_kruse.