"We want Kap! We want Kap!" That chant could be heard throughout Levi's Stadium as the San Francisco 49ers were well on their way to losing their fourth straight game. Head coach Chip Kelly will be under immense pressure during these ten days between games to not only bench the man who won the offseason quarterback "competition," but to start Colin Kaepernick in his place. And you know what? Those pressuring the head coach are probably right.
Of course, that's not to say that Kaepernick will be the better player under center. We do not know that for sure. That's the point. No one will know that until a good look at Kaepernick under real game situations – against starting NFL defenses – takes place. If Kaepernick stinks it up as the team's starting quarterback, you are in no worse shape than you are right now. In fact, you could argue that you are in better shape because you at least know that Kaepernick is not a viable solution going forward. You will know that the quarterback position must be addressed moving forward.
Let's face it. The 49ers' season is over. We've seen nothing from this team to hint that a comeback from this disastrous start is possible. You can throw blame anywhere within this organization. From the owner to the general manager and even the team's new head coach. After all, it is that coaching staff that has stuck with Blaine Gabbert for so long. Their reasoning was understandable. Kaepernick is not at 100-percent and a change earlier in the season would have looked bad on the coaching staff.
However, now the team is 1-4. The 49ers have lost four straight games. The last two of those four were completely winnable. Aside from a quarter of play against the Dallas Cowboys, the starting quarterback has looked anywhere from mediocre to awful.
Heading into Thursday night's game against the Arizona Cardinals, Gabbert was the 33rd ranked quarterback according to advanced statistics site Pro Football Focus. That's out of 34 graded quarterbacks. He has completed just 58-percent of his passes, which ranks 29th in the league. His passer rating is 69.6, which ranked 31st in the league. His yards per attempt are ranked 32nd in the league at 5.93.
Against the Cardinals, Gabbert had a passer rating of 56.1, which is the second time this season that it has dipped below 60. Against the blitz, his passer rating fell to a pitiful 12.0, which includes his two interceptions of the night.
"I got to play better," Gabbert said following Thursday's loss. "There's no question to that. I got to do a better job leading this football team, executing this offense, scoring points, winning games, the whole nine yards. That's just the way it goes. I got to play better."
Leading up to Thursday's game, Kelly has been committed to Gabbert, saying that there has been no discussion regarding a change at quarterback. Kelly was asked if he had considered making a change during Thursday's loss. "During the game? No," Kelly answered.
Think about all of the great players/coaches/teams the #49ers have in their history. To see them like this is mind numbing.— Louis Riddick (@LRiddickESPN) October 7, 2016
Kelly was also asked if the quarterback position would be something that the coaching staff assesses during the team's extended time between games. "I think we're going to look at everything," Kelly answered. "I mean, we're 1-4. We need to make sure we're going out there and giving us the best chance to win, so we're going to look at everything."
Meanwhile, Kaepernick appears mentally ready and waiting to step in as the 49ers' starting quarterback. "I'm always ready to step on that field and looking forward to that opportunity," Kaepernick said following the 49ers' loss to the Seattle Seahawks last month.
Of course, starting Kaepernick would mean allowing the spotlight already on him to get even brighter. Kaepernick has been under the media spotlight for the entire season thanks to his protest of the national anthem. However, backup quarterbacks don't get press conferences. If they get any attention at all, it's usually via interviews by their locker following games. Kaepernick's locker space has been overflowing with media this season because of his stance and actions. If he were to become the starting quarterback for the 49ers, questions about that stance, and not football, might dominate the press conferences.
While Kaepernick's cause may be a just one, it may also create an even bigger distraction for an already struggling 49ers team. Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area reports that one player has questioned Kaepernick's commitment, pointing out the quarterback's failure to regain weight since the conclusion of the 49ers' offseason program. Kaepernick has appeared much thinner following his rehab from offseason surgeries. That thinner frame makes many question his in-game durability. Should Kaepernick get injured, the team might be on the hook to pay his entire 2017 salary.
What's the alternative? Apparently, third-string quarterback Christian Ponder has some support within the 49ers locker room. "Ponder is the best option for quarterback on the roster," a locker room source told CSN Bay Area. Ponder has been inactive during the entire season and has worked primarily with the scout team in practices. A source told CSN Bay Area that Ponder, like Gabbert, has been more consistent than Kaepernick in practices. What does that say about Kaepernick? If Ponder gets the call ahead of Kaepernick, you have to wonder if the latter has any future with the 49ers.
Chip Kelly will make the call on who starts at quarterback when the 49ers face the Buffalo Bills at New Era Field in Orchard Park, New York on October 16. Will it be the correct decision? Perhaps. Will it help right the wrongs with the 49ers this season? Probably not. However, it may help answer some questions moving forward. After all, the NFL Draft is less than seven months away.