Sunday night was shaping up to be the night where the San Francisco 49ers punched their second straight ticket to the Super Bowl. After three quarters of play, they were leading the Seattle Seahawks 17-13, their defense was keeping Russell Wilson in check and Colin Kaepernick was torching Dan Quinn’s defense.
Then, the fourth quarter happened. All of the work Kaepernick had put into the first three quarters of the game became irrelevant. Of the three drives the 49ers offense had in the fourth quarter, Kap turned the ball over on each one.
On San Francisco’s first drive in the fourth quarter, he was sacked by defensive end Cliff Avril and subsequently fumbled. Then, on the very next drive, he underthrew a pass intended for wide receiver Anquan Boldin, which safety Kam Chancellor picked off. Finally, with less than a minute left to play, Kaepernick tossed a pass in the corner of the end zone to wide receiver Michael Crabtree, but outside linebacker Malcolm Smith pulled down the interception to seal Seattle's bid to the Super Bowl.
Based on his play early on in the game, who would have thought Kaepernick would have melted down the way he did? Nevertheless, the third-year signal-caller out of Nevada didn’t make any excuses. He took full responsibility for his poor play during his postgame interview.
“I didn’t play good enough to win,” Kaepernick said, per Dan Hanzus of NFL.com. “I turned the ball over three times. I cost us this game.”
It was good to see Kap take the high road. He acted mature amid his interview with reporters, yet he needs to realize he can use Sunday’s loss as a learning experience as well. He has all the talent in the world, but there are times when he trusts his arm too much.
Case in point, look at the first interception he threw.
The Seahawks defense threw a zone coverage at him. Chancellor dropped underneath to cover the flats along the sideline, and the cornerback fell straight off to cover the deep portion of the field behind Anquan Boldin.
Boldin found a crease between both defensive backs, and Kaepernick trusted his arm enough to let the ball rip. Fortunately for the Seahawks, Chancellor is an incredible athlete and the coverage they deployed was designed to take that particular pass away.
Kap knew there was a chance the pass would get picked off based on the coverage, but he threw it anyway. Those are the types of decisions he has to do away with, because they will eventually catch up with him and cost him a game at some point. And they did in the NFC Championship Game.
As far as the second interception goes, some felt it was a good pass and an even better play by All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman. Yes, Sherman did make a phenomenal play on the ball, yet Kaepernick could have thrown a better pass.
If the QB would have put a little more under the ball, odds are that Crabtree would have been the only player who would have had a chance to make a play on it.
Kap agreed with that notion and pointed it out in his presser, via Hanzus of NFL.com: “I could’ve put it a little deeper in the corner and gave only Crab a chance.”
Obviously, Kaepernick is well-aware of his substandard play, but let’s not forget this season was his first full season as a starter. Like any other quarterback in the NFL, he had his fair share of ups and downs. You can't take away the strides he made late in the year, especially in the playoffs.
In addition to helping the 49ers fuel an eight-game winning streak down the stretch (playoffs included), Kaepernick finished the season with a plus-2.7 grade from the folks at Pro Football Focus (subscription required) and protected the football week in and week out.
Let’s just say the 49ers won’t be moving on from him anytime soon. There’s plenty of untapped potential in his game, and he has more ability than 90 percent of the quarterbacks in the NFL. However, his failings were bound to show against the best defense in the NFL.
For whatever reason, he tends to have a monumental meltdown when he plays in the Pacific Northwest. In three career games at CenturyLink Field, Kaepernick has thrown six interceptions and fumbled twice. Whether it’s the “12th Man” or the Seahawks defense as a whole, it’s evident he has to play better when he squares off against the ’Hawks in Seattle.
The Seahawks and 49ers are both powerhouses in the NFC, and it’s likely that both teams will be favorites to meet in the NFC Championship Game again next year.
The good news is that Kaepernick is surround by a top-notch staff in San Francisco and has the necessary skill set to get better as he garners more snaps under center.
Clearly, Kaepernick and the 49ers would have liked the fourth quarter to play out differently, but Sunday night proved to be a learning experience. That’s the only way they can look at it if they want to get better and make a return run in 2014.