Colin Kaepernick Can Establish Place in NFL QB Hierarchy with Win at Seattle
The Seattle Seahawks last lost a meaningful game at CenturyLink Field on Dec. 24, 2011. It was in that Week 16 clash that the San Francisco 49ers defeated their division rivals, 19-17, in a game that would hold the Seahawks out of the playoffs and help Jim Harbaugh's squad to a first-round playoff bye.
Colin Kaepernick? Yeah, he was about as relevant as Jim Druckenmiller in that contest. The then-rookie from Nevada was but a mere clipboard holder at the time, watching on as Alex Smith did his game manager thing and continued his career resurgence.
The Seahawks last played a meaningful game 364 days later. It was in that Week 16 clash that the 49ers watched on in horror as their division rivals clinched a playoff berth by taking them to the woodshed on a national stage. Russell Wilson, Marshawn Lynch and Co. led by a score of 42-6 at one point before a late meaningless touchdown finalized the score at 42-13.
Kaepernick? Yeah, he was about as effective as Druckenmiller in that contest. In his first start against the hated division rival, Kaepernick went 19-of-36 passing for 244 yards and a touchdown against an interception, but there was a Carson Palmer level of emptiness to those stats.
Richard Sherman and the Seattle defense confounded Kaepernick into short drives in the early going and prevented the 49ers from scoring whenever they got anything going.
It was, by most advanced and standard measures, the worst performance of Kaepernick's young career.
I say this all because Kaepernick will have his shot at redemption Sunday night. As anyone with a working television set, Internet connection or relationship with any red-blooded American man knows, Sunday Night Football will play host to the first matchup between Seattle and San Francisco since that Week 16 beatdown.
It's a game so highly anticipated that it's making folks consider missing the third-to-last episode of Breaking Bad rather than miss a minute. It's a game where a friend texted and asked whether I wanted to watch Yankees-Red Sox on Sunday Night Baseball and all I could respond with was the crying-face emoji.
Perhaps most importantly, it's the game where Kaepernick can take the (suuuper early) lead on the hierarchy of the Gang of Four quarterbacks for 2013—and establish his mark among the league's best overall.
After 60 minutes of football, it may be safe to say he's already there.
In a rematch of last season's divisional round game against the Green Bay Packers, a contest in which Kaepernick broke the single-game rushing record for a quarterback, the 25-year-old Wisconsin native again laid the smacketh down on his home-state team again. The 49ers came back from a 28-24 deficit to score the game's final 10 points, with Kaepernick leading the whole way.
More impressive? The way Kaepernick defeated the Packers.
Packers coach Mike McCarthy spent his entire offseason searching for ways to stop the read-option attack. He sent his coaches to Texas A&M University to meet with Kevin Sumlin and his staff, whereupon he seemingly implemented a hit-the-damn-quarterback strategy.
Harbaugh, proving that offensive genius is always one step ahead in today's NFL, proved all of McCarthy's work for naught. Instead of returning to the strategy that advanced his team in the playoffs, Harbaugh again stuck his quarterback in the pocket.
Suffice it to say, it worked. Kaepernick destroyed the Green Bay secondary, supposedly its biggest strength, to the tune of 412 yards and three touchdowns. He completed 13 passes to new target Anquan Boldin, who finished with 208 yards and a score.
Peyton Manning aside, Kaepernick's was the most impressive performance of Week 1. According to Football Outsiders' DYAR metric, both Manning and Kaepernick were 100 yards above replacement better than any other quarterback last week. The site's DVOA stat actually said Kaepernick was better than Manning.
Keep in mind that Peyton Manning threw seven touchdowns against the Super Bowl champions. And Kap was better? Yikes.
We all know that September is National Overreaction Month across all platforms of football. In the same way that folks are jumping all over the "Mike Evans for Heisman" bandwagon after Saturday's record-setting performance, folks are always looking for the newest, hottest thing in the NFL.
If Kaepernick goes into Seattle and comes away with the first win for a road team at CenturyLink Field in nearly two calendar years? You damn well better be ready to read somewhere between five and 5,314 thinkpieces on whether Kaepernick is the favorite to win his first MVP this season.
Starting by eviscerating Green Bay is one thing. It's quite obvious that Harbaugh is the roadrunner and McCarthy the coyote in their relationship. But wiping the smiling mug off Pete Carroll's face and shutting up Richard Sherman's always-running mouth.
Those are back-to-back performances that hyperbole was made for.
And you know what? Perhaps, in the rare occasions that this happens, the hyperbole is coming with a good cause.
Kaepernick, and I think we can all agree on this, has always been the most physically talented of the Gang of Four quarterbacks. His massive arm uncorked 10 passes that went 20 yards or longer last week, he's already proven himself on the biggest stage as a runner, and he has a body built for the long haul. The concern with Wilson and Robert Griffin III isn't talent; they're both superstars in the making.
Andrew Luck also projects just fine going forward, but he's still at the point where his team can barely squeak out wins against the worst team in football. For all of the talk about Luck being the can't-miss prospect of the decade, he's at least a step behind the other three (for now).
Where does Colin Kaepernick rank among NFL starting QBs?
Kaepernick's body is more fortified than Guantanamo. And he's older than each of the other players. Brian Burke's quarterback aging research has shown that quarterbacks typically start reaching their peak during their age-26 season; Kap will turn 26 in November.
Best of the Gang of Four? Kaepernick may already be there.
Best in the NFL? Manning, Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers are the constants.
We may find out Sunday whether Kaepernick is ready to join that conversation. Win in Seattle? It's at least a conversation worth having.
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