During Sunday’s NFC Championship game, the San Francisco 49ers lived and ultimately died on the legs and right arm of Colin Kaepernick. Such is the life of an organization who is all too dependent on a young quarterback. On the other sideline Seattle also features a young QB, however they insulate Russell Wilson with a fantastic running game and the NFL’s best defense. Similarly, the 49ers are usually outstanding on the ground and feature a top-five defense. This Sunday however, too much of the offensive burden fell on the young shoulders of Kaepernick.
The 49ers running backs could only come up with 31 yards on 17 carries. Frank Gore, typically the heart and soul of the offense, was a complete non-factor. Gore managed an astoundingly bad 14 yards on 11 carries. Kaepernick himself ran for 130 yards, out gaining the entire Seahawks team on the ground. His 58 yard scamper through Seattle’s flailing defense set up San Francisco’s first touchdown and secured a 10-0 second quarter lead. He made plays through the air as well, namely the electric and game changing third quarter 26 yard touchdown strike to Anquan Boldin, thrown on the run with a Jeff Garcia leap added in at the end. The laser pass found it’s way over the outstretched arms of all world safety Earl Thomas and into Boldin’s hands in the back of the end zone. The play muscled back momentum for San Francisco after Seattle had just scored ten straight points to tie the game. It was a desperately needed answer in the face of Seattle’s defense and it’s home crowd.
While these dynamic plays kept the 49ers in the lead for much of the first three quarters, Kaepernick had himself an astonishingly terrible fourth quarter. After turning the ball over once in the previous 24 quarters, Kaepernick proceeded to give the ball away three times in eleven minutes. It’s still pretty hard to comprehend that this actually happened. After the first two catastrophic mistakes, a fumble and an interception, the 49ers defense bailed out Kaepernick both times. With Seattle starting two possessions in a row in 49ers territory (one inside the 20) the defense somehow only allowed three points The unit stood as strong as it ever had at the most important time of the season and allowed Kaepernick a chance to redeem himself. He took control of the offense in the waning minutes of the game and moved the team down the field, converting a season saving 4th and 2 and a third down play to set the 49ers up at Seattle’s 18 with 30 seconds remaining and two timeouts. The plug was then pulled on the 49ers’ season on a first down fade route, as Kaepernick under threw Michael Crabtree in the back of the end zone. Was it a huge gamble with time and time outs on his side? Yes, it most definitely was. However, Crabtree was open, behind the defense and a better throw that allows the team’s best wide receiver to make a leaping catch secures a trip to the Super Bowl. If the throw has too much on it, at worst it sails over Crabtree’s head, lands in the third row and the offense lives to see another day. The only unacceptable result is an under thrown ball allowing Seattle’s defense to make a play where there most definitely should not have been one to make.
On Sunday, the 49ers offense couldn’t get their running backs to even make a slight impact on the ground. They became entirely too dependent on a young quarterback and these are the types of highs and lows that can be expected. Colin Kaepernick has had a ton of success in a very short amount of time. He has already won four playoff games, three of them on the road. He’s climbed to second in total rushing yards by a quarterback in the playoffs, behind only hall of famer and former 49er Steve Young, who played in 18 more playoff games than Kapernick has. He has lead back to back deep playoff runs and it’s easy to forget Kaepernick only has 29 total starts, including the playoffs, under his belt. That doesn’t even add up to two full seasons. He still has plenty of room to grow and improve as an NFL quarterback. His pocket presence, accuracy and decision making all need to improve. Sunday’s game was a microcosm of Kaepernick’s limitless potential and relative inexperience. For every thrilling, game altering 60 yard run there was a devestating, game altering turnover. Kaepernick was a large part of why the 49ers lost the NFC title on Sunday, but he was also an integral part of why they were several inches away from a return trip to the Super Bowl.
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