After the Niners' deflating loss, the beat became much louder, more urgent. Reflecting a harsh reality, intensified by our preseason hopes. Winning with running and defense—winning by "imposing your will"—might be impressive, but eventually you're gonna need more. So now with a notch in the loss column, the biggest question was asked again.

Where's the explosive passing game?

Despite the additions of Moss and Manningham, Jenkins and James, the O had remained more efficient than explosive. Until Minnesota, that is, where the O indeed was decidedly neither.

The issue now put front and center, the strange statistics started to fly. Alex Smith's deep throws wouldn't fill one hand. Moss and Manningham were stuck at roughly 10 yards per catch. Manningham was questioning the playcalling, while Moss was questioning his playing-time. Oh, and Jenkins and James? They hadn't played at all.

What's the big deal, I hear you ask. After all, Jim Harbaugh's version of ground-and-pound—with occasional bursts of explosiveness—almost won us the Super Bowl. The key word, though, is "almost." In the NFC title game, we needed one explosive play—just one more explosive play—and yet we couldn't summon it. Offensively, we were playing virtually one-handed, and we couldn't take that chance again.

This wasn't just a view expressed by a couple of obstinate fans (and writers). Despite Harbaugh's well-known love of will-imposition, he was well aware of the need for explosiveness. Indeed, explosiveness was our offseason obsession. When Trent Baalke drafted Jenkins and James—who, again, have yet to play—he couldn't have made his plan more plain: he was trying to add "explosiveness to this offense."

An explosive offense was the Niners' plan. So it only made sense to ask, where is it?

Maybe it was waiting for us in New York. With Darrelle Revis out, the Jets' secondary seemed ripe for the picking. But there was something else too. Perhaps to a fault, Harbaugh knows what his critics are saying, and he loves nothing more than shutting 'em up. Last year, when the press had saddled Smith with the dreaded title of "game manager," Harbaugh promptly unleashed a pass-heavy scheme. That game, against the Giants, established Smith as a good QB. Now, it seemed, with the same doubts flying, the time was right for the next step.

But this time around, things went differently.

The headlines, of course, belonged to the running game. Deploying all their creative schemes, the Niners ran the ball 44 times for 245 yards and 3 scores. With our D destroying the Jets' terrible O, this was more than enough to win in a rout.

Ground-and-pound, though, was not the Niners' exclusive plan. As noted above, Revis was out, and of course we sought to exploit his replacement: Kyle Wilson, in his first start. On our opening play, Smith threw a deep pass that drew a flag on Wilson—so far, so good—but the tactic went downhill from there. At least three times, Wilson was torched, but Smith overthrew his receiver each time. Instead of racking up three long scores—now that would've been an explosive O—Smith's longest pass-play was 26 yards, in another uninspiring show.

And when the O showed any explosive potential, Smith was not even on the field.

After a Jimmy Raye Special on yet another opening drive—run, run, pass, punt—Colin Kaepernick came into the game. He ran the ball for 17 yards, looking again like the biggest, fastest man on the field. It seemed like just a gimmick appearance, as he immediately went back to the bench. But later on in the drive he was back, throwing a 50-yard bomb at Moss. It maybe wasn't the brightest throw, with Moss in triple coverage and all, but still it seemed significant. For two reasons, actually. One, it was a throw at Moss, the only throw at Moss all day. And two, its sheer aggressiveness was so out-of-character for this offense, it was literally breathtaking. Once Kaepernick ran the ball again for our first touchdown—the only one in the first half—there was almost no other way about it.

Our offense is more explosive with Kaepernick.

Of course, this doesn't mean that Kaepernick should start. Though Smith's efficiency has dropped in every game since the opener, it should still be enough to win most games, as long as our running game looks like this. But as to that crucial offseason question—whether Smith can run a consistently explosive O—the answer's more in doubt than ever.

Something clearly isn't right. Between Smith's accuracy issues and the screamingly obvious absence of chemistry, the passing game lacks even a rhythm, much less a shot at consistent explosiveness. A quarter of the way through the season, in terms of yards and in terms of rank, the passing O is worse than last year. With the organizational commitment to improvement, the lack of progression is incomprehensible.

A long time ago, Bill Walsh played Joe Montana in spurts, inserting him only to run a couple of well-practiced plays, usually near the opposing end-zone. The goal was to build Montana's confidence even though the Niners stunk. Today, the Niners are a Super Bowl favorite, and a quarterback platoon is not the ideal, not even close. But they can't afford to wait anymore. Without the threat of a deep pass, they won't run for 245 yards every week. Eventually, they'll simply need explosive plays. And Harbaugh seems to have come to an almost inevitable realization: Kaepernick is the one to make 'em.

Smith, no stranger to drama like this, professed to be unthreatened by Kaepernick's instant injection of life. "He can help this team," Smith said, "so it's fun to see him get out there and have success." Kaepernick, though, saw this as the start of something big: "I'm hoping they'll use me more and more as the season goes on."

As a desperate fanbase savors the prospect—a consistently explosive O, our first in more than a decade now—Kaepernick is not alone.