San Francisco 49ers: Was Colin Kaepernick Just a Mirage?

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San Francisco 49ers: Was Colin Kaepernick Just a Mirage?
Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

The glittering jewel the 49ers unearthed on their roster nearly one year ago is looking more and more like a Cubic Zirconia these days, and as the gulf widens between them and the first-place Seahawks, the chances of another deep playoff run is something that's only being daydreamed about in Bay Area sports taverns. Alcohol certainly works as a positive aid.   

From what we've seen over the last two months, Colin Kaepernick is not a very good quarterback. It sucks to hear it. It sucks even more to say it. But we all have televisions, and most of us have computers. Quite a few of us also have cell phones. The kid that we're seeing throwing the football doesn't look very confident. The stats we're looking at on the screen don't look very impressive. 

Whether you're a statistical fanatic who sizes up a quarterback using an imperfect system based solely on quantitative reasoning, or a classic old school couch surfer who hates math and worships fourth-quarter savants like Staubach, Montana and Elway, there isn't any way around the truth. 49er fans have denied the truth ever since Week 2 of the NFL season. 

But even the most ardent Kaepernick defenders have struggled to make a coherent argument against the cold hard facts. Kaepernick is a poor pocket passer, has terrible field vision, lacks awareness under pressure and possesses underwhelming accuracy. His AT-4 launcher has become one of the most useless tools in the NFL, rarely ever firing a pass more than 30 yards down the field and appearing obsolete next to Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers' laser-guided delivery system.

According to this interesting tidbit from Awful Announcing, Kaepernick has a quarterback rating inferior to Andy Dalton's, a completion percentage lower than Chad Henne's and he has thrown for fewer yards than Geno Smith. 

He's also been a disappointment is the running game, totaling 25 yards or less six times this season. 

But none of those observations are enough to make anyone squirm more than watching his play in the final minutes of the last two games. Given the chance to lead his team to victory against two of the top teams in the NFL, Kaepernick and the offense simply embarrassed themselves in front of a nationally televised audience. Both drives looked nearly identical: Futile throws into double coverage. Busted routes. Wild scrambles. Horrific clock management.    

Against the Saints, the offense not only failed to move the ball down the field, it couldn't even get the game into overtime. To avoid giving the ball back to Drew Brees and the Saints offense, the 49ers simply needed one first down to run out the clock. Here's how that worked out: Three plays, one yard lost, 18 seconds.     

The way Drew Brees played in the final 60 seconds of the game clearly showed what it takes to be an NFL quarterback.

The same thing could be said about Tom Brady against the Carolina Panthers on Monday night. The Panthers frequently brought pressure up the middle during the final drive the same way they did last week against the 49ers. Brady wisely threw the ball away three times, keeping the Patriots alive until he finally hit one of his receivers for a big gain and a first down. On the last play of the game, he threw the ball in the vicinity of where Rob Gronkowski was being held in the end zone, causing the back judge to throw a flag.  

Unfortunately, there was nothing Brady could do to stop him from picking it up. 

No, the Patriots didn't get the win. But it was a valiant effort by Brady, who managed to get his team within one play in the cacophonous atmosphere at Bank of America Stadium. Compare that to the pathetic display put forth by Kaepernick and the 49ers offense, who only needed a field goal instead of a touchdown to secure a victory. Playing in front of the home crowd, Kaepernick was sacked once before lobbing a floater that somehow caused Kyle Williams and Mario Manningham to run into each other before it was intercepted.  

By the way, did anyone notice that the Patriots had all three of their timeouts during their final possession? 

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

If there is one excuse that can be made for Kaepernickthere've been a lot this season, but we'll get to that in a minute—it's that Harbaugh and Greg Roman haven't learned anything from their mistakes. 

On almost every drive, every play and every snap, the 49ers attempt to run a foolproof play. And almost every time it blows up in their faces, either resulting in a delay of game penalty or a costly timeout. But more importantly, even when Kaepernick does manage to get a play off in time, frantically running through multiple audibles and hurrying the snap puts extra pressure on the quarterback and screws up the rhythm of the offense.

Remember what happened in the final three minutes of the Super Bowl? The 49ers were driving the Ravens defense back towards the edge of Choke Valley when their momentum suddenly halted at the 5-yard line. Kaepernick audibled out of an option play and Harbaugh burned a timeout, allowing Baltimore to regroup and get the necessary personnel on the field.

Why not keep things simple and script out a set of plays for every drive? You don't have to be Peyton Manning to read the little wristband that presumably has a list of of different plays in case you see something in the defense you don't like. Apparently, the Niners don't like simple, choosing instead to stick with a system that's one of the slowest and most inept in the NFL.      

And if you're wondering why Kaepernick rarely runs these days, it's because Harbaugh's pulled the plug on that aspect of the game, unwilling to risk injuring his QB and preserving his primary value as a "star passer." Defenses haven't been on their toes as much as a result, and Kaepernick seems hesitant to run even when a pass play breaks down and there's about 20 yards of real estate in front of him.        

Last season the 49ers gave Kaepernick the freedom to do whatever he wanted with the ball. Yes, it's a risky move. No one wants to lose their starting quarterback to injury. But restricting a player from using one of the most lethal tools in his arsenal makes no sense at all. Would you tell Mariano Rivera to stop throwing his cutter to protect his elbow? How bout ordering Lebron to stay out of the key so he can concentrate on being a terrific passer?

Bottom line, Harbaugh needs to stop the nonsense and let Kaepernick do his thing. Because whatever's he's doing now has been just abysmal. He's thrown for under 200 yards in eight of his last nine starts and has nearly an equal amount of interceptions as he has touchdowns. His 81.8 QB rating looks like the aggregate score of the worst member on a bowling team, and stars like Frank Gore will no longer be able to net out the countless amount of gutter balls.  

From watching the Saints game, it's clear Rob Ryan and Sean Payton had a single plan in mind, and that was to make Colin Kaepernick throw at them. They rarely ever went with less than seven guys in the box, daring the 49ers to throw into single-man coverage. It worked out pretty well. Despite being without two of the starting members of their secondary—Kenny Vacarro and Jabari Greer, who suffered a torn ACL injury in the first quarter—New Orleans limited Kaepernick to a paltry 128 total passing yards.

The only reason for the close score were three turnovers manufactured by the 49ers defense and special teams, all of which led to easy touchdowns and an absurd 55-yard field goal by Phil Dawson. The offense never showed a propensity to drive down the field once in four quarters of play.   

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sport

On the 49ers' final drive, the Saints—who obviously did their homework before the game—blitzed aggressively on every play, knowing Kaepernick would be unable to deliver a quick release to an open receiver. 

Then again, maybe that's because none of the receivers were open. If there's one valid excuse to be made for Colin Kaepernick this year, it's that the receiving corps is undeniably the worst in the NFL. Honestly, an arena football team could do a better job running routes down the field. Anquan Boldin, sadly, is not a No. 1 receiver. The ability to catch a football does not qualify someone to be a primary wideout. It is however, necessary to actually be a professional football player, which is why Jon Baldwin and Vance McDonald should probably consider another career outside the NFL. 

For the last three months, all 49er fans have been doing is counting down the days until Michael Crabtree returns to the team. But even getting back last year's No. 1 wideout doesn't guarantee that everything will be alright again. Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady have been without several of their top receivers throughout the season and still managed to keep their production steady with their precision passing.  

The problem with the 49ers' passing game lies not only with a few holes in the roster, but with a quarterback that may be in over his head. After just 10 starts last year, the expectation of taking the team back to the Super Bowl may have contributed to Kaepernick's sophomore decline. 

It wasn't just the 49ers and their fans that were on that overcrowded bandwagon. Before the season even started, NFL analyst Ron Jaworski suggested that Kaepernick could become one of the best quarterbacks of all time. I naively predicted that Kaepernick might be the first quarterback to throw for 4,000 yards and rush for 1,000 more. 

He was this amazing athlete after all, kind of like a video game character that we made up on our Xbox, adjusting his size, strength and speed to ludicrous proportions. His greatest virtue, however, was a tremendous thirst to prove himself on the field, an unfathomable resolve that drove him to the cusp of Super Bowl immortality. 

Kaepernick has dreamed of being an NFL quarterback ever since he was eight years old. He turned down a career in Major League Baseball to play football at the University at Nevada. He had premonitions of playing with the 49ers before he even learned to tie his shoes. He grew up in a city that bleeds red and gold. This was his destiny. Unfortunately, nothing in sports is kismet. How else do you explain Nick Foles and his cosmic 128.0 quarterback rating?  

To be clear, I'm not saying that Kaepernick can't ever become an elite NFL quarterback. Quite the contrary, if he spends more time trying to improve the cerebral aspects of his game instead of answering his critics on social media, the 49ers offense could become the most dangerous thing since IEDs

But for now, he's still a work in progress. And the midterm report card is something I wouldn't want to open just yet. 

 

Follow @seanmgalusha on Twitter 

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