The 49ers returned on Sunday to the formula that has served them so well in the Jim Harbaugh years, a stout defense and a run-oriented offense that allows them to play for field goals and get the win.
Good thing because they can't rely on their quarterback who remains frighteningly immature as he nears his 27th birthday in two months.
Readers keep telling me how smart Colin Kaepernick is, but he doesn't show it, on or off the field.
Off the field, he spent two weeks denying he said anything to Chicago Bears defensive lineman Lamarr Houston after he had thrown an interception, though there was video of him saying something after the play. When the NFL fined him, he appealed that.
What he should have done was to say that, in the heat of a game, a player can say something he doesn't mean. The story would have ended there. Instead, he kept it alive for two weeks and now there is added evidence that he used a racial slur, which has been corroborated by Houston.
On the field, he seems equally oblivious. The first thing a quarterback should do when he comes to the line of scrimmage is check the clock, but Kaepernick never does, so he keeps wasting timeouts or getting delay of game penalties. He made an incredibly bonehead decision in the fourth quarter Sunday. The 49ers had a fourth down and less than a yard to go just past midfield and came to the line as if they were going for it, trying to draw the Philadelphia Eagles offside. When they didn't bite, he called a timeout, the last one the 49ers had, though a penalty would actually have given punter Andy Lee a better chance of putting the ball down inside the 10. Instead, he punted into the end zone.
Physically, he remains extremely gifted. The across-the-field pass to Frank Gore that resulted in a 55-yard touchdown was a throw no other NFL quarterback could have made. But then he balanced that when he locked down on a receiver, as he often does, and Philadelphia safety Malcolm Jenkins read him and jumped the route for a 53-yard interception for a touchdown.
In the end, the Niners prevailed because the brilliant defenses concocted by defensive coordinator Vic Fangio — who had seen Chip Kelly's offense before, when Kelly was the coach at Oregon and Fangio was a Stanford assistant — shut down the Eagles' offense, until a fourth-quarter drive that went from the Philadelphia 9 to the San Francisco 1 before being stopped.
This was a game the 49ers absolutely had to win. In the past, 49ers teams starting 1-3 have never made the playoffs. But it will still be an uphill battle for this team. The NFC West appears to be the strongest division in the league. The Arizona Cardinals, who won 10 games last year but didn't make the playoffs, are stronger this year and already have a win over the Niners. The Seattle Seahawks are reigning NFL champions and their young quarterback, Russell Wilson, appears to be improving every season.
Enjoy Sunday's win because this will not be a joyful season.
Glenn Dickey has been covering Bay Area sports since 1963 and also writes on www.GlennDickey.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.