When an NFL quarterback decides to dole out generous gifts of gratitude for what he’s deemed extraordinary support, he generally goes the offensive lineman or wide receiver route.
Those groups, after all, are most closely associated with his success. You can’t throw the pass without the former, you can’t complete the pass without the latter.
Here’s a suggestion for Colin Kaepernick in the wake of Sunday’s rollicking win over the Carolina Panthers: break from convention and look to the defense. Specifically, Ahmad Brooks.
The gift itself doesn’t much matter. Car, watch, vacation, house, whatever. Truth is, such gifts are patently ridiculous when you break it all down. It’s one magnificently rich young man giving another magnificently rich young man something they can both afford to buy 14 of and not feel any sort of financial pinch.
It’s the thought that counts, right? That’s why max thought needs to be put into not the gift, but the reason behind it. And Brooks was as much a reason for Kaepernick’s success on Sunday as Joe Staley, Anquan Boldin, Jonathan Goodwin or Vernon Davis.
It was all in the eyes, so if you have a chance to go back and watch the game a second or third time, look at the subtle transformation that takes places in the respective windows to the soul of both Kaepernick and Carolina’s Cam Newton.
The timing was unmistakable, and the quarterback play from that point forward shifted unmistakably in the 49ers’ favor. It came in the immediate wake of San Francisco’s second goal-line stand of the first half.
The first stand ended with Brooks making a stop on Newton, and though Newton bounced back in short order with an absolutely gorgeous Charmin-meets-laser TD pass to the guy every Niners fan wanted to, during the pre-game week of hype, just shut up already — Steve Smith — Brooks planted a seed with that stop.
The seed sprouted, strangely enough, on Brooks’ human scud gamble gone awry. With the Panthers again knocking on the end-zone door, Brooks made the what-the-hell decision to try to time Newton’s snap count and launch himself from a few feet behind the line to a few feet over the confident quarterback’s head.
At first glance, the flag it drew likely prompted more than a few forehead slaps among 49ers fans. That likely lasted no more than a few seconds, after which everyone realized it was well worth taking that shot; it cost the defense a half-yard, tops, and what’s a half-yard, really?
Huge is huge, and huge is what it was going to take to keep the Panthers from paydirt there, anyway.
Huge is what the Niners got, of course, with help from Brooks and even more help from a tripped-up Panther, and that’s when the hint of freakout that flashed in Newton’s eyes as Brooks’ foot clipped his helmet one play earlier started to morph into full-blown doubt.
The Panthers’ coaching staff, obviously wisened by previous fourth-down failure, decided against trusting Newton again with a dive, and the field goal that followed was all she wrote for Carolina for the day.
You think Kaepernick didn’t feel that? Watch the eyes. He’s a different type of quarterback in many ways, and one of them is in the way his confidence manifests itself in proportion to the way his team’s defense is playing.
He ended the first half with that perfectly thrown TD to Davis, giving the Niners back the lead, and he carried himself like a pimp thereafter while Newton often looked not like Superman but Clark Kent, pushing his glasses up the bridge of his nose while Lois Lane cozies up to a real man.
The true Superman, albeit subtly, on Sunday was Brooks.
Mychael Urban has covered Bay Area sports for more than 22 years as a contributor to Comcast SportsNet, CSNBayArea.com, KNBR, MLB.com, ESPN The Magazine and various newspapers.49ersAhmad BrooksCarolina PanthersMychael Urban