In the exhaustive psychoanalysis that dogs any quarterback, particularly one as maddening as Colin Kaepernick, we now must note his new sartorial sensibilities. After passing for 340 yards and two touchdowns and answering — for now — every critic from Joe Montana to Joe Six-Pack, he showed up for his post-game interview looking nothing like Tilted Ballcap Dude.
His blue suit was tailored, complete with pocket square. His tie was green, adorned with a clip. He wore brown suede loafers and horn-rimmed glasses. Oh, the headphones still hung at his shoulders, but he has an endorsement deal with Dr. Dre from back in his GQ cover days, which requires him to model them every week before the cameras.
Point being, he looked sharp Sunday.
And a quarterback who looks sharp, with Tom Brady as Exhibit A, is a quarterback who at least might be trying to exude a new confidence.
No one knows if Kaepernick’s impressive performance, the conversational takeaway from a 25-20 victory over Baltimore, is a breakthrough in the works or just another climb before the usual roller-coaster plunge. Do realize his work was achieved against a depleted Ravens secondary that was forced to start the recently cut 49er, Shareece Wright, at cornerback. This was a gift for the 49ers’ heretofore sluggish passing game, with Anquan Boldin pointing out, “When you have a guy on your team for that long and get to see him every day in practice, you understand his weaknesses, as well as his strengths. That was one of the things we wanted to attack.”
They attacked Wright so much, it seemed Wrong. But the formula was an absolute necessity after four straight losses and so much local and national discussion about Kaepernick’s demise. Suddenly, though you’d be a fool to expect too much, the 49ers actually are showing a faint pulse as struggling Seattle arrives Thursday night at Levi’s Stadium, having suffered two fourth-quarter collapses and defeats in successive weeks. Shocking as it sounds, the 49ers can move ahead of the Seahawks in the NFC West standings with a victory. And seeing how the bitter rivals can’t keep a lead — they’ve been outscored 61-27 in the fourth quarter and overtime, 40-3 over the last three games — well, maybe Pete Carroll should return to USC or something.
“We need this win Thursday,” said Kaepernick, though hardly guaranteeing it.
Given the vulnerability of Seattle’s secondary these days, with Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas leaving Carolina’s Greg Olsen wide open on the losing touchdown Sunday because each received a different set of sideline instructions, Kaepernick has a chance of continuing his upswing. The Seattle defense dearly misses former coordinator Dan Quinn, now head coach of the Atlanta Falcons, and Carroll is left to deal with Kaepernick after his second straight game with a better-than-100 passer rating. He finally discovered his expensive big-play receiver, former Raven Torrey Smith, who burned Wright early in the second quarter for a 76-yard touchdown. Boldin also had a huge game against his former team. Wherever offensive coordinator Geep Chryst had been hiding the playbook in previous weeks, it’s good to know the dog didn’t eat it.
More importantly, opening up the deep passing game bolsters the waning confidence of a quarterback who looked beaten in September. Montana took to the airwaves last week and urged Kaepernick to beg his coaches to let him run. “Make the coaches and the offense go back to letting him play the game he knows. Where he’s been the best is when he’s out of the pocket,” Montana told the NFL Network. “So let him do the things that he does well. He’ll take that team back and get it winning again, but you can’t force him to do something and make him start thinking and then everybody questions every throw he makes. Let him be himself.”
So much for listening to the Greatest Quarterback Ever. Quite curiously, Kaepernick’s two touchdown passes were thrown from the pocket. On the Smith bomb, he faked the play-action, dropped back one step and winged it — then sprinted downfield to greet Smith in the end zone. He was exquisite later when he dropped back, moved left, then right, staying within his circle of protection before finding Quinton Patton in the end zone for a 21-yard score. Patton leaped into the stands, and it was nice to see him do so without fear of landing on an empty seat. The last few weeks have been that bleak in Yorkville. Now, with the quarterback beginning to find his way, there is a droplet of hope for a change.
“It means a lot when we have a big play. It takes pressure off us and gets Kap’s confidence going,” Smith said. “He’s just being himself when we see him — smiling, joking, having a good time. That’s the biggest thing. You’ve got to have fun, and he’s been having fun.”
“We wanted to get him in a rhythm. We wanted to get the ball out of Kap’s hands and take advantage of plays one-on-one,” said Boldin, who made a 51-catch created by Kaepernick outside the pocket. “Kap did a great job of seeing the field today. He’s still having fun. Everything feels light at practice. I don’t see him bearing any weight.”
As for Kaepernick, he’s still not saying much, even if he’s dressing better. “I mean, people can talk all they want. It doesn’t affect how I go about my business,” he said. “I think our team is gradually picking up momentum, playing better and better. I think we’re a 2-4 football team that has to get some more wins.”
So this is what it’s like to rejoice, to win, to actually see Kaepernick smile on the field, to see the crowd chant “Bruuuuuuce” when an unlikely weapon, fullback Bruce Miller, catches a deep ball down the right sideline for 52 yards. The big play! Who knew it still existed in Santa Clara?
“Every time you win, it’s a really good thing. That’s my answer there,” said the prince of eloquence, coach Jim Tomsula. “Winning is a good thing.”
It wasn’t a perfect day at Levi’s, by any means. In the press box, there was the strange sight of former NFL referee Jerry Markbreit — who was supervising officials on this day — talking so loudly into a phone that several reporters heard him. “I don’t know what difference it makes, but it’s against the rules,” he barked to whoever was listening. According to a league source who spoke to Examiner staff writer Paul Ladewski, the Ravens complained that the 49ers’ in-game-entertainment staff allowed live images of their kicker, Justin Tucker, to appear on the stadium’s larger-than-life video boards before he attempted kicks.
Was this possibly an attempt to distract Tucker, one of the league’s premier kickers? Was this the Silicon Valley version of a “gate,” more tech-driven than one of Brady’s lackeys taking a ball-deflating needle into a bathroom? Or was this just another clueless Jed York guy not knowing that the video board shouldn’t have real-time images of a kicker as he’s trying to do his job?
The public-relations staffs of both teams claimed to know little or nothing. The league office will return the Examiner’s request for an explanation today, I assume. All I can say is, two 1-4 teams might have been desperate enough to try anything.
And today, because of a sharp-dressed man, the 49ers are 2-4.