The 49ers can no longer disguise the obvious: Quarterback Colin Kaepernick is a talented but erratic player and can’t be depended on to lead them to postseason success.
On Sunday, Kaepernick had what is becoming a typical game against quality opponents, occasionally brilliant but often erratic.
The brilliance showed late in the second quarter when the 49ers drove for their only touchdown, with Kaepernick completing four key passes, the last a 13-yarder to Vernon Davis for the score.
The erratic element showed when the 49ers drove deep into Seattle territory in the third quarter and seemed poised to at least kick another field goal and possibly score their second touchdown — until Kaepernick threw an interception. So, the Niners came away with no points.
The game was won because Frank Gore broke loose for a 51-yard run in the closing minutes. Coach Jim Harbaugh didn’t risk another Kaepernick pass going to a Seattle defensive back so he called nothing but runs — one by Kaepernick — to let the clock run down before Phil Dawson’s go-ahead field goal.
Earlier this season, Kaepernick’s struggles were “explained” because his favorite receiver, Michael Crabtree, was sidelined by injury. But now, he has Crabtree, Davis, Anquan Boldin and Mario Manningham. Few teams can match that stable of quality receivers.
Certainly not Seattle. Golden Tate is the only Seahawks receiver who could make the active roster for the Niners, and he’d probably be used primarily as a kick returner.
Yet, in Sunday’s matchup, Russell Wilson was the better quarterback. Wilson is a second-year quarterback who was a third-round draft pick last year, but won the starting job in training camp from Matt Flynn. He has continued to improve this year.
Kaepernick was a second-round pick in 2011. He played in the preseason but mostly just observed as Alex Smith took the Niners into the playoffs. Last year, he took over when Smith was sidelined by a concussion and had some spectacular games against opponents who were not prepared for him.
In the Super Bowl, the Baltimore Ravens stopped him cold in the first half. Niners fans choose to believe that their team just missed winning because they couldn’t score on that last drive. The truth, though, is that the Ravens were on their way to a lopsided victory with a 28-6 lead when the power went out. During the long delay, the older Ravens players obviously stiffened up and the 49ers mounted a comeback to close the gap to 34-29. But just before the two-minute warning, with the ball on the Baltimore 5-yard line, the Ravens double covered Crabtree because they knew Kaepernick would be throwing to him. So, he threw three straight incompletions and the Ravens went on to win the game 34-31.
This year, Kaepernick has looked sensational against weaker opponents but quality teams have shut him down. The New Orleans Saints played eight on the line of scrimmage to stop the 49ers’ running game, virtually daring Kaepernick to pass. But he couldn’t make them pay and the Niners lost.
Kaepernick has always relied on his physical skills. For the first time, he’s being challenged. To be successful against good teams, he’ll have to change his mindset. I don’t think he can.