Even after all of this, still somehow we were going to win.

For the third straight time—the third straight time—we'd won two games but then come out flat. While our offense snoozed, the Rams put another ding in our D's reputation. Their first score might've been a bit fluky, but there was nothing cheap about their second, as they picked up yardage in chunk after chunk. Two drives, 127 yards, and immediately, 14-zip.

By now it's clear that something's wrong. Last season, our defensive approach was simple and suffocating. First, stop the run, so completely that the opponent has no choice but to pass. And second, attack the passer relentlessly. Yet for several stretches so far this year, we haven't managed either one.

Fortunately, though, only for stretches, and as the D awoke, so did the O. Alex Smith finished a nice drive with a touchdown pass, cutting the lead in half. But more remarkable was that he did it despite having sustained a concussion five plays earlier. (Say what you want about the man as a passer—heaven knows I certainly do—but do not question the man's resilience.)

But resilience aside, once a concussion is diagnosed, you're done for the day.

So enter Colin Kaepernick.

This might surprise you, but I didn't want this. I didn't want Kaepernick to assume the top spot, by injury or otherwise. No question, as I've said repeatedly, I think we need a consistently explosive offense, and I don't think Smith can consistently run one. I've seen no evidence of sustainable growth in his vision, his guts, or his accuracy deep. Hence I've argued that Kaepernick should continue to contribute, making regular appearances to run a well-practiced package of explosive plays. But questioning Jim Harbaugh doesn't mean I don't trust him. And if he says Smith is our top QB, then I want Smith as our top QB. I'm not sure how much of a chance he gives us to win it all, but it's gotta be more of a chance than Kaepernick; if it weren't, Kaepernick would've been playing already.

Yet I won't lie about this: the man's mere presence is exhilarating. I commend Smith for becoming a generally "efficient" QB. And I don't prefer exciting losses to boring wins (though I do contend that if you're more "exciting" (i.e., explosive), you're more likely to win). But all too often, the offense with Smith is lame, lifeless. Watching one short-pass after another—on those relatively rare occasions when he passes at all—you can almost slip into a stupor. As soon as Kaepernick enters the game, you just can't help but sit up and lean in. With every snap, you feel the potential for something great.

Obviously, though, Kaepernick felt the weight of the moment, and initially he couldn't bear it. Struggling with both his reads and his mechanics, at first he just looked overwhelmed. During his first drive, like Smith so many times before, he didn't see a wide-open man down the middle of the field, missing a shot at a deep score that would've caused the place to explode. Instead, it was three drives, three punts, and big questions.

But then again, Kaepernick couldn't be this bad. This, remember, was Harbaugh's choice, the man he'd traded up to get. The man he'd coached for a year and a half. If Kaepernick were really this bad, it would mean bad things about Kaepernick, but it would mean worse things about Harbaugh. It would mean that Harbaugh either couldn't evaluate or couldn't coach. Which, of course, is impossible.

What was much more likely was that he was struggling merely from coming in cold. That once he warmed up he would show who he is. Inexperienced, so probably choppy; but still abounding with breathtaking potential.

On a single drive, now down by 10, he showed both sides. He fumbled twice, yet he went five-for-five, with three caught more than 10 yards away. And when he scored, with those dangerous legs, you could almost feel his confidence surge.

And when Frank Gore immediately turned the ensuing kickoff into another score, there was only one sensible conclusion. Even after all of this, still somehow we were going to win.

But now let's talk about special teams.

After the defense held, the Rams set up to punt. They'd already converted one fake punt, with the punter throwing for 21 yards. So even if you figure that they're not likely to try it again, it's obviously in the back of your mind. You stay ready, just in case. After all, as Harbaugh said, probably not intending the pun, "The Rams are a fake team." Yet the Niners looked just as surprised the second time, as the punter threw for 19 more.

How's that saying go? Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on Brad Seely, who's damn lucky to be employed.

Our D, in no mood at all to be back on the field, predictably surrendered the lead. With our line unable to generate pressure, and with our coverage lacking any answer for Danny Amendola, the Rams again chunked their way down the field, scoring with barely a minute left. Thrillingly, though, that was too much time for Kaepernick. On a drive starting at the 22, he ran for 29 and threw for 25, producing the tying field-goal as time expired.

Thus began an overtime where neither team decided to win. One Rams penalty wiped out a virtually certain winning touchdown, and another wiped out an actually certain winning field-goal. Meanwhile, the Niners summoned one more drive, with the big play a 14-yard Kaepernick run, to set up a winning field-goal of their own.

But David Akers, like our defense and special teams, just ain't what he used to be.

In the NFL, ties are so rare that you're never sure quite what to feel. Ultimately, you're just divided. On the one hand, with Kaepernick having been pressed into duty—and with the Rams having virtually won the game twice—we're lucky we didn't come away empty. Shocking upsets happen weekly, and for all we did wrong, we avoided one. Unlike the other NFC division leaders, the Niners didn't lose. That, by any measure, is good.

But as I've mentioned, our true measure, the one that matters, is where we are on the road to the Super Bowl. And as of now, here's where we are. Pending Smith's return, our quarterback is exciting but unproven. Our defense is subject to serious lapses. Our special teams are almost embarrassing. And every few weeks, the whole team lays an emotional egg.

So no, the Niners didn't lose. But on their quest for the championship, they most assuredly did not win.