So....

What did you think of the Niners' first flight?

Yes, it was bad. Catastrophic, in fact. Everything had been nearly perfect. We were hot, rested, and healthy at last. The Panthers were on a roll of their own, but there was just no way that we'd stop here. After winning all those games with one hand tied behind our back, now was the time—to become the team we're supposed to be.

Instead, of course, we delivered our very worst game of the year. And everything is now in doubt.

As we've discussed, to beat good teams, you need to pass. With Mario Manningham coming back, we were finally supposed to be able to do so. Yet, instead, the roof caved in.

46 net passing yards: the fewest since Alex Smith's first start, more than eight years ago. Think about that for a second. Think of who we've seen since then. Shaun Hill, J.T. O'Sullivan, Chris Weinke. Jim Hostler, Jimmy Raye, Mike Johnson. And, of course, several years of Smith himself. Yet not once, in all that time, was our passing-game as bad as this.

Oh, wait. Isn't there another name that should be on that list?

Ah, yes. The immortal Trent Dilfer.

I know, I know. Dilfer now works at ESPN, where Everyone Spouts Predictable Nonsense. Still, as infuriating as our passing-game was, Dilfer's "expert analysis" was 10 times worse.

According to Dilfer, when Colin Kaepernick's first read is covered, he becomes "remedial."

Before I reacted, I wanted to make sure that I understood what Dilfer had said. "Remedial," like most words, has various meanings. Fairly certain that Dilfer is not an avid reader of the OED, I skipped the conventional sources and went straight to the "Urban Dictionary," which, though not written in the King's English, seemed to be precisely on point.

"[A] synonym for stupid[;] pointing out [that] someone is remedial rather than callin [sic] them stupid ensures [that] you look anything but remedial." Or, perhaps more bluntly: "remedial means you retarded [sic]."

And there you have it. To commoners like you and me, the issue might seem complicated, but that's just because we're not "experts" like Dilfer. Dilfer knows what our problem is, and actually it couldn't be simpler: when Kaepernick's first read is covered, he becomes stupid.

Enough now. Enough of this.

Dilfer's "analysis" was not only insulting—though it was certainly that—but of course it was also short-sighted and wrong. Off the top of my head, I can recall a touchdown pass that Kaepernick threw to his third read. I remember it because it was memorable, and what made it memorable was that he threw it during his very first start. Isn't it amazing, we all marveled, that such a young kid can be so brilliant?

So Dilfer's theory is that Kaepernick, though brilliant before, is stupid now.

Naturally, that's preposterous. But I'll acknowledge this much: you can certainly seem like a one-read QB, if you never have time to reach your second.

At pass-blocking, this offensive line has always been questionable—remember the "We Don't Suck" campaign?—but its showing on Sunday was simply absurd. Kaepernick was sacked six times, four of which came without a blitz, and he was pressured on virtually every play. Perhaps he could've better avoided the pressure, but that's a very different criticism than the one that Dilfer had the audacity to make. For Dilfer to watch the Panthers' assault, and assert that Kaepernick just needed to hang in there and go through his progressions—it simply defies belief.

But Dilfer did more than ignore the obvious. He compounded that ignorance with a dubious assumption: if Kaepernick had gone through his progressions, even with all the time in the world, he would've found an open man. An extremely dubious assumption indeed.

Though he was certainly rusty, Manningham helped; in fact, he was our leading receiver. But his arrival was countervailed by the prompt departure of Vernon Davis. Without Davis (or any wideout) to take the lid off the D, the passing-game had no room to breathe. One press-box reporter saw nobody open from halftime on. But come on, Kaep: just go through those progressions, man!

Then again, it isn't just the receivers' fault. I know we don't have Rice and Owens out there, but still....

If Jim Harbaugh's so smart, why can't he get anyone open?

Now that the great Bill Walsh is gone, Sam Wyche is perhaps the foremost authority on the original concepts of the West Coast Offense. In Walsh's first years with the Niners, Wyche was his top offensive assistant. Wyche was there to watch each step, as a towering genius invented fire.

A couple of years ago, Wyche was asked to describe Walsh's essential vision, and specifically why it made for such successful quarterbacks. Here's what he said: "Quarterbacks love it because of the design of the routes; someone should always be open. You create a triangle downfield with three receivers. You're controlling linebackers with underneath receivers and as soon as the deep guys are covered, the short routes are open. When the defense drops down to cover the underneath stuff, you stretch the field. The defense responds to you and it's like an accordion."

Upon his arrival, Harbaugh promised to "install the West Coast Offense in San Francisco," thus returning the light to the darkness. Early on, when Harbaugh's offense looked nothing like it, he explained that "the West Coast is a big, big system. It can encompass the talents of your players to be used in a variety of ways." That explanation was met with some doubts, but those doubts were overwhelmed by 2012's read-option explosion. Now, though, we're back where we started.

On Sunday, that wasn't the West Coast Offense. Absolutely no way at all. A "triangle downfield"? "Underneath receivers" and "deep guys"? An "accordion"?! There were none of the above. And there were virtually none of those other famous hallmarks: the slants, the quick outs, the three-step drops. Instead Kaepernick was sent on deep drops time and again, looking for receivers left on their own to navigate a crowded secondary, all while the rush bore relentlessly down.

The West Coast Offense is genius. That offense on Sunday? Now that was "remedial."

Predictably, some observers have suggested that Harbaugh should've stuck with Smith, the supposedly "efficient" passer whose efficiency rating is lower than Kaepernick's. Some others have even likened Kaepernick to Tim Tebow, who flashed in the pan before being unofficially retired. All of this is sheer insanity. Kaepernick is still what he was: the perfect blend of brains, guts, and utterly jaw-dropping physical skill. After his second start, I called him the league's most spectacular young QB. After his tenth, I wrote that I wouldn't trade him for anyone else. Say what you will—and I know that you will—but both declarations are still true today.

Yes, it was bad. Catastrophic, in fact. Last week it looked like we'd roll past Seattle and go on to the end. Now the end is completely in doubt. The Niners have some serious problems, in places we'd never begun to suspect.

But make no mistake. Colin Kaepernick isn't one.