After back-to-back losses to the Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints, head coach Jim Harbaugh and the San Francisco 49ers traveled across the country on Monday Night Football and set the record straight.
From the get-go, the Washington Redskins looked outmatched in every way possible. Offensive coordinator Greg Roman unleashed a well-designed aerial attack that exploited one of the league's worst pass defenses.
The plan of attack was a bit confusing in the early stages of the game based on the fact the 49ers are such a run-heavy team, yet once quarterback Colin Kaepernick and his pass-catching options got on the same page everything started to click.
After a 10-point first half, San Francisco’s offense put together three scoring drives in the second half to put the game on ice. Kap’s first touchdown pass of the third quarter was to Pro Bowl wide receiver Anquan Boldin, while his second was to Pro Bowl tight end Vernon Davis.
Those two scores through the air were in addition to the one touchdown pass he had thrown in the first quarter. By the time the clock had struck zero, every 49er drive that ended in a touchdown either included a Kaepernick-Davis connection or a Kaepernick-Boldin connection.
This, in turn, should come as a surprise to no one considering the third-year signal-caller has relied on both players all season long to garner points. Even though Kaepernick turned in a fine performance to the tune of 235 yards passing, three touchdowns and a passer rating of 134.5, there’s no question he needs to find regularity in his game.
Davis in particular, had effusive praise for his quarterback following the game, telling the Associated Press (via ESPN), "Colin, he's been taking a lot of criticism, but one thing I like about Colin, he's always hanging in there, he's always fighting through adversity. He's one of those guys who's tough."
The problem isn't Kaepernick's toughness, though.
Too often Kap shines against inferior opponents, but then is unable to carry that production over against stiffer competition. He needs to find a way to play championship-caliber football when he goes head-to-head with the top-tier teams in the league. When one takes the time to examine his numbers, his outings versus teams with losing records compared to those with winning records is night and day.
Against the Green Bay Packers, Seattle Seahawks, Indianapolis Colts, Arizona Cardinals, Panthers and Saints, Kaepernick’s stat line is as follows: 1,159 yards passing, seven touchdowns and seven interceptions.
Against the St. Louis Rams, Houston Texans, Tennessee Titans, Jacksonville Jaguars and Redskins, his stat line is incredibly different: 878 yards passing, seven touchdowns and zero interceptions. It’s safe to say Kap is a much more relaxed player when the 49ers play teams they are supposed to beat.
Yet, it shouldn’t be this way. Kaepernick has to do a better job of dominating top-notch teams. There’s no reason he can’t live up to expectations and be a more consistent quarterback. Shoot, he did it last year when he supplanted Alex Smith in the starting lineup.
By now, we have all heard every excuse in the book when it comes to San Francisco’s offense. But at some point, the excuses have to stop and Kaepernick has to do a better job of elevating the play of the players around him. That’s what good quarterbacks do.
Without a doubt, wide receiver Michael Crabtree’s presence would help the young quarterback, yet his existence alone shouldn’t determine the success of the 49ers passing game. San Francisco may have the league’s worst passing attack from a statistical standpoint, but that doesn’t mean they have the worst wide receiving corps.
You can’t sit here and tell me the New York Jets, Oakland Raiders and Jaguars have a more deadly group of wideouts than the 49ers. Yes, the Niners are lacking a vertical threat that stretches the field, but how much longer can we justify that as the reason as to why San Francisco is struggling on offense?
This is the NFL; every team has to deal with injuries and every team has to play with the hand its dealt. Obviously coaching plays a huge role into what teams are trying to do on a weekly basis, but players still have to execute the plays that are being called on the field.
Consistency is what separates average quarterbacks from great quarterbacks. And right now, Kaepernick is nothing more than an average quarterback who shows up versus a favorable matchup. He’s lucky he has one of the best defenses in the NFL in his corner.
Whether you agree with the assessment that Kap needs to become a more consistent player is beside the point, because the numbers don’t lie. According to the analysts at Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Kaepernick has only turned in a positive performance four times this year.
Of those four positive performances, not a single one came against a team with a winning record.
Additionally, PFF has him down as the 31st-best quarterback in the league. The good news is Kaepernick still has five regular-season games left to prove that he can be a more dependable quarterback week in and week out.
With upcoming games versus the Rams, Seahawks and Cardinals, Kap has the opportunity to grow up in front of our eyes. If he doesn’t make us believers from now until the end of the season, the 49ers will be sitting at home, while the Cardinals make their first postseason appearance since 2009.