Straight Out of the Rabbit’s Hole: The Kaepernick bad-scenario

Diego Del Barco
Dec 2, 2012 at 11:15 PM


Completing 70% of his passes (a league best) was not enough. Being third in the league in yards/attempt (7.98) and QB rating (104.1) was not enough. There was a younger, hotter, more dynamic hand on the ball, and Jim Harbaugh decided that it was time for Colin Kaepernick to assume the reigns as the starting quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers.

Be careful what you wish for, Jim.

The San Francisco 49ers lost their third game of the season today because their new starting quarterback put them in a position to lose the game, but that was not Kaepernick's only letdown today, he also failed to give this team this "explosive" more dynamic offense that we are all expecting to see with him at the helm.

Let's start with the safety. A lot of folks are fixated on a blown call by the referees who said Kaepernick's throw did not go past the line of scrimmage when replays seem to indicate that it did, and rightfully so, I could see myself getting caught up on this too, but guess what? Blown calls happen in the NFL. It is up to the players to not put the decision on the hands of the referees, and in this case Kaepernick did. It was a 1st&10 from San Francisco's 17-yard line, and when the ball left Kaepernick's hands he was a good 20-plus yards behind the line of scrimmage and halfway into his own endzone. Why? James Laurinaitis broke through one of the A-gaps (more on that later) and he was on Kaepernick's face almost immediately, forcing the young QB to run back to avoid the sack and try to make something happen. The rest is history. Kaepernick's decision to run back and into his own endzone put him in a more difficult position than when he first realized Laurinaitis was right on his face. He threw the ball away just after a Rams' defender failed to bring him down by his jersey and he did so completely out of balance. Kaepernick put himself in a position where his throwaway was close enough to put the call at the mercy of the official's judgement. Blown calls happen, this is nothing compared to what the Lions went through this past Thanksgiving.

Let's move on to the fumble. Horrible, disgusting play-call, but let's get to it. It was 3rd&3, coincidentally also from the 49ers' 17-yard line and the offense was on a pistol formation, Kaepernick's staple in his college days at Nevada. Frank Gore was lined up right behind him, and Tedd Ginn Jr, on the field on this 3-WR set, motioned from the far right and lined up behind Gore just before the ball was snapped. The Rams, with three down linemen, blitzed two extra defenders from the right side which were left unblocked (by design from what I can tell). Kaepernick saw this and realized that either handing the ball off to Gore on the read or keeping it himself would had resulted in a loss of yards, so he went with his third option on the play, pitching it to Ginn Jr. who was running to the left. We all know what happened next: bad pitch, fumble, Janoris Jenkins recovered it and stumbled into the endzone for the Rams' only touchdown of the game. One two-point conversion later it was a tied game.

At this point there were just over three minutes left in regulation, St. Louis' offense had only accounted for two points (the two-point conversion), yet the game was tied at 10, and Kaepernick was directly responsible for all 20 points on the board. Last Thursday in Upon Further Review, I stated that in order for Kaepernick to be successful this season he needs to avoid being the reason the team losses. Kaepernick has a very bright future ahead of him, and there is no doubt in my mind that he is the best QB on this roster straight up, but maybe he needs to take a few lessons from the man that he replaced. I can't say it would be for certain, but here's how I see Alex Smith handling those two scenarios: he takes the negative yardage both times and lives to see another down. That is vintage Smith, it is part of the reason people argue he rightfully lost his job to Kaepernick. The stats mentioned at the beginning of this piece are what Smith was able to accomplish while doing his best to not lose the game, doing just enough to win. That wasn't enough.

Instead the 49ers once again failed to put together a three-game winning streak this season, largely because of Kaepernick. The offensive line, fresh off back-to-back outstanding games, often struggled against the Rams' pressure, the lowlights coming on the home team's two defensive scores. The play-calling was questionable several times during this game, and for the second time in as many games San Francisco's coaching staff seemed outdone by St. Louis'. Nevertheless, last time I checked, this is the NFL: sometimes inferior competition will outplay you, sometimes the best coaches get out-coached, and sometimes the referees will blow calls; but regardless of it all, when the quarterback gets the ball he needs to be able to make the best possible decision based on the circumstances laid out in front of him, and Kaepernick made the wrong decisions today, and it cost his team a chance to win.

Don't believe me? Ask him:

"I gave up those points that were on the scoreboard for the Rams. That's 100 percent my fault." - Colin Kaepernick.

Now let's move on to the other beef we should have with Kaepernick's performance today: where is this explosive offense he is supposed to bring with him? If the team is going to risk playing the young QB who is more likely to make a mistake, then the reward would be the improved offense he turns the unit into, but that was not the case today. Instead Kaepernick had his worst game as a starter in the NFL, throwing for barely over 200 yards on 32 attempts while being sacked three times, although he did have 84 rushing yards on nine carries. He couldn't outplay Sam Bradford. After performing well against a Bears' defense that was not fully prepared for his improved accuracy, Kaepernick did just enough to help the team win on the road against a bad Saint's defense, and he had an average game today against a St. Louis defense that is, well, average (and yes, Delanie Walker dropped a crucial pass that may have turned out to be the game-winning touchdown - Alex Smith knows that feeling). Don't get me wrong, Kaepernick does show flashes often, and I still think he's the best QB on the roster, but you wonder whether Harbaugh made the right decision giving him the reigns when Smith's style of play seemingly fits this team better right now.

Nonetheless, if I would disagree with a Harbaugh decision more than his choice to play Kaepernick over Smith, it would be him having a quick hook on the young QB and turning the offense back to Smith. The decision has already been made, and Harbaugh needs to stand behind it and do everything possible to help the QB he hand-picked help him lead this team to another Lombardi Trophy. Whether that will work out remains to be seen.

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44 Comments

  • Lucky Phil
    Straight Out Of The Hole! You are doing some good work, Diego. Enjoyed the article. Whats your opinion on how we can avoid the "Fiscal Cliff"?
    Dec 7, 2012 at 6:44 PM
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    Response: Thanks. I wouldn't dare.
  • CMAC
    Kapernick is a bad move by Harbaugh...period. 1. Smith (while unsigned) set up camp and helped install Harbaugh's play-book during the strike. Harbaugh flirted with Manning, and now Kapernick. Coach has ZERO loyalty. 2. Smith went 13-3 last year and was equally good this year. Players don't lose their position to injury, especially a player playing at Smith's level before the injury. It is about winning, not excitement. 3. Kapernick at 3 games is 2-1. Project that over the last 4 games and that could be 3-1 or 2-2. That is assuming other teams don't look at the LB blitzes the Rams used and adapt. 4. This is all Harbaugh's ego. Kap reminds him of himself (his words) . Harbaugh was never a SB Quarterback. He was an average QB that never won a SB. The Niners don't need an average QB. Smith was top-5 before injury. 5. If Kapernick fails, you can't go back to Smith. Smith won't be interested in helming the team for this coach next year. He is done no matter whether Kap goes south or succeeds. If Smith is not reinstalled before the playoffs, he is done in SanFran forever. He will go throw to Fitz in AZ and laugh.
    Dec 6, 2012 at 1:52 PM
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    Response: Tells us how you really feel. I must be in the minority thinking Alex is smarter than going to Arizona, he knows what a nightmare it is to play behind a pathetic O-line.
  • mark
    You called the rams defense average when it is 12th overall. You mentioned the lions getting jobbed as if we can't complain about the incorrect safety call, but Jim Schwartz screwed his own team by challenging a scoring play. That's the only reason it did not get reversed. Don't forget the vikings game and giant games this year. We lost both mainly because of Alex. A QB rating of 43 against new York with 3 int's? I only point that out to remind you that even veteran qbs have bad games. And I don't necessarily call a qb rating of 83 with 2 turnovers (incorrect safety included) a bad game.
    Dec 4, 2012 at 11:53 PM
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    Response: I was talking about the Rams' rankings before the 49ers made their numbers improve across the board. Forsett was clearly down, that was a blown call. The vikings game is the one game where the defense was a letdown, let's not make Alex the primary suspect. There's no excuse for how he performed against the Giants. Yes, veteran QB's do have bad games. And Kap had a bad game regardless of what his rating was (and yes, 83 is pretty mediocre)
  • Shane
    Diego, I typically enjoy your writing, whether i agree or disagree, Its well written. I would say i agree and disagree. I agree Kaep certianly did things that directly correlated with this loss. However, i think if Akers can kick, or Walker could catch, it can easliy be argued that he did a lot that would directly correlate to a W. There is a lot of blame to go around for this loss, from coaching to play (although i get the article is based around Kaep) but Maybe if goodwin didnt all of a sudden forget how to snap the ball the last 2 games, that fumble play goes differently. I just think we expect so much "explosion" we lost sight of the sweet taste of a gutsy division win on the road if Kaep gets some help.... Lastly (seriously) why do ppl keep saying Kaep got bailed out in NO?? Its not like he played like garbage. Thats a very tough road game and he played very well. Just because the D did their job its a bail out? The one pick Kaep threw (again on a low snap that screwed up the whole play) didnt put the game in danger, it was the first half! I thought it was good balance between O&D.
    Dec 4, 2012 at 9:07 PM
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    Response: Thanks Shane. I'm definitely not trying to let everyone else off the hook, it is a team game, I still believe Kap's mistakes where the biggest factor though. Just my opinion. I'll have more on Kap and the offense in Upon Further Review.
  • Sam
    For my input on the QB controversy, http://49empire.blogspot.com/
    Dec 4, 2012 at 5:22 PM
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    Response: so basically we disagree
  • Kevin
    Also, for everyone complaining about the play-calling being conservative? You're just wrong. 32 passes, and you think they were designed dump-offs or short routes? On almost every pass play there are deep options. Kaep CHOSE not to throw it deep, and it was probably the one good thing he did all night. STL was playing huge cushions and taking away the dep throw. Play calling has nothing to do with it. They was challenged to win the game throwing short and accurate and moving the chains, and they failed. Nothing to do with no "calling" big shots down field.
    Dec 4, 2012 at 11:13 AM
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  • edmond
    noooooooooooooooooo!!!!!!! Watching the offense lately has been punt punt punt. it's been horrible. people have their blinders on when it comes to the big play effect. it's pretty and fun, but it's not what wins games. Laugh, if you will, but we need a game manager to run this team whether or not everyone likes Smith, he tends to move the chains and not make idiotic decisions. the past few weeks (even vs the saints and bears) have been difficult to watch offensively. Ooh and aah all you want at the 20 yard play, but most of that has been from YAC and from one big run against a dime package in prevent. not to mention two really great blocks off the line. anyway, i'm sure i'm wrong here to everyone, but Smith is the 49ers best QB. the best NFL QB we have, and basically the most underrated QB in the league. Collin is a college QB. A Tebow pep rally guy. That's a gimmick. Don't be fools and fall for the pretty gimmick, flashy stuff. People who know the 49ers should know that Kaepernick is not the answer. Open your eyes, folks.
    Dec 3, 2012 at 7:51 PM
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  • Ceadderman
    Well... get ready for a Wildcard berth. This team has a slim margin of error. Harbaugh is gonna frack around an waste the opportunity at Division Crown at this rate. We have New England, Miami, Arizona and Seattle with only Arizona being a Home game. Now I don't know about you all but I'm gonna be livid as hell if this team makes the Playoffs an is one an done because of this decision. Eddie D. would break his foot off in someone's backside for the way the last game played out. I will not accept Playoffs as the result of this season. Not with the best Defense in the League. This team should and needs to go all the way. This dalliance with the OBVIOUS backup is stupid. I don't care about "Coach of the Year" that award was last year. He's not acting like CotY this year. He's acting like Singletary. An we all know how well THAT worked for Singletary sticking with the Backup when he had his opportunity to replace Alex Smith. I don't know what Alex Smith did in a previous life but whatever it is the man is clearly snakebit by Karma. :/
    Dec 3, 2012 at 4:17 PM
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  • The Fudge Hammer
    Dude, you are making too much sense on the analysis of the game. Thinking like a coach. I don't get why we went with him, and yet dumbed down the playbook. Fisher had a copy! Kap offers another level, great UPside, but first he's a step back. Hopefully he's taken that, and from now on it's all forward. Did you see early in the game his quick spin out of a tackle on the edge? Nobody can do that but RG-3. We'll win the West and he'll be tested on the road in the playoffs. Good luck with that.
    Dec 3, 2012 at 4:09 PM
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    Response: Kap offers the upside, but he needs to start showing it consistently, otherwise he's not giving this team a better chance to win than Smith. (And that spin out was NICE!)
  • Gerry Cable
    Just wanted to add this thought. Let's say they don't want to pay Alex the big money next year and cut him. They are going with Kaep! How bad will it be with everyone if Alex gets nasty and signs with Arizona. Fitzgerald and that defense would be a problem.
    Dec 3, 2012 at 2:56 PM
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    Response: Is Alex Smith gonna beef up and play offensive line?
  • Brandon
    How can this article even be legit if it starts with "...he also failed to give this team this "explosive" more dynamic offense that we are all expecting to see with him at the helm"..The play calling of this game was so conservative. It looked like they forgot Alex smith WASN'T QB. Open it up for Kaep and give him a chance to make plays.
    Dec 3, 2012 at 2:25 PM
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    Response: Excellent point and agreed.
  • Kevin
    Even if you remove the mistakes from the equation, the idea that the offense is somehow better with Kaepernick is a complete fallacy. In 3 of his 4 games he has had 31 drives in which to get points and has come away with 47 total. This is far below what would be acceptable from Alex. The running game suffers because he doesn't have the knowledge required to diagnose the defense and adjust the protection or the play itself. So many commentators, both on TV and online, fail to understand the massive amount of nuance that goes into playing the QB position, and believe a strong arm and good escapability are enough to make you superior. This is simply not the case. Kaepernick has a stronger arms and better legs than Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, and Tom Brady too, but it's the things a QB does before the snap that often truly define his ability. Kaepernick is an athlete at this point while Smith is a QB. If this team wasn't already a contender then maybe it makes sense to grow your young athlete into a QB. But punting a SB-caliber season on pure ego...that's unforgivable. Anything less than a Super Bowl appearance this season is a failure - if Kaep fails to get there, its on JH.
    Dec 3, 2012 at 1:45 PM
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  • Pete
    I think most of the people on this board must be from UTAH or something. Smith Likes. Smith is not a super QB either the only way he made it far last year was because the defense was making turnovers left and right. Now that is not happening this year and they need to compensate with QB play, which CK is doing now with a couple of mistakes that are teachable. Best to get the kinks out now to prepare for playoffs to groom CK. I still like CK at the helm. He will learn quick. Both Ram games were winnable.
    Dec 3, 2012 at 11:52 AM
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    Response: You say it like the defense's decrease in turnovers resulted in a bad season - Smith was 6-2 and compensating for it by having a better season than last year. But yes, the hope here is that CK will learn from this and get better, he's being put in a situation where he needs to get through those growing pains quickly because the time is now.
  • Matt
    We probably would have been having this same conversation last week if the defense had not scored 2 TDs against the Saints.
    Dec 3, 2012 at 11:38 AM
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    Response: maybe
  • MosesZD
    Dude, this is EXACTLY what Kaepernick did in college, too. Sure, his athleticism worked really well for him in college. Against bad teams. Against the better college teams, he was below average as a QB, though he could bail himself out with his legs. Yesterday, showed that. He tried to bail out his substandard QBing 9ability) with his legs (athleticism). It didn't work. Sure, he had the one 50-yard rush. But the rest of the game was mediocre. Missing open receivers. Running when he should have passed. Running from phantom pressure. Failing to audible (unlike Smith) out of bad plays. Killing drives with mistakes and, ultimately, giving the game away with THREE CRITICAL MISTAKES -- running OOB to stop the clock, the safety and the pitch-fumble. All the kind (and worse) of mediocre crap that would get Smith strung-up in effigy as fans, like you, chanted "We want Carr."
    Dec 3, 2012 at 11:21 AM
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    Response: wait a second? I chanted "We want Carr"? Cool, I didn't know I did that.
  • Sten
    Kaep made some big errors no doubt but he didn't lose this game: *Gore 2.5 ypc *Jacobs 1.5 ypc *Akers choking again *'D' netting zero turnovers *'D' surrendering a long 2-pt conversion *'D' failing to get pressure on the QB (otherwise having a very good game) *Stupid penalties at inopportune times *Dropped balls at inopportune times *Bad play-calling The QB 'controversy' has drawn our focus away from some major issues here. Personally I think losing Hunter for the season may prove to be a bigger issue than whoever is behind center.
    Dec 3, 2012 at 10:52 AM
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    Response: All those things contributed to the result, but the biggest factor is Kaepernick giving the Rams points when they couldn't get them themselves. I agree that losing Hunter may turn out to be a huge blow if LMJ (or anyone else) fails to become a threat running outside the numbers
  • michael
    People making excuses for kaep because he is a rookie....unbelivable. No he's been in the league two years, unlike the number of actual rookie qb's like russel wilson who oh by the way are leading there team, he has no excuses. He's been saved by the defense in the last two games, and the blue print to beat him is there. Don't play man to man unlike the bears and saints laod up the box and dare him to beat the zone. Will see how this gamble plays off if the niners began to lose play off seedings
    Dec 3, 2012 at 8:48 AM
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  • dmic
    Nice read but I do want to mention that there are too many people to blame this loss on. Kap did have mistakes but dropped balls (Walker missed TD) and stupid penalties are right behind being out coached in my book. Kap is third in my books for this loss. You can't win when you have the mistakes players made in the last few minutes of the game. Goldson should know better than to lay the wood on the QB late in the game and it also stops the clock so the Rams have more time to get the next play ready. Am I defending Kap- not at all last week I posted on other sites that Kap will be a better QB but at this point because of experience Smith is our better option. I do believe Kap needs to start one more and if he looks bad you pull him, without demoralizing him somehow. My biggest fear is that with this loss to a team we should beat we may not even win the division.
    Dec 3, 2012 at 8:47 AM
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    Response: Like I said, this loss does not put the 49ers in danger to win the division, they still have a 1.5 game lead
  • Mike Moyer
    In all honesty david akers cost us two wins, all he does all day is practice kicking field goals.
    Dec 3, 2012 at 8:39 AM
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    Response: Akers has his time coming from me. Yes, regardless of it all, Akers had a chance to win this game and once again failed. By the same token, Kaepernick already lucked out last week vs the Saints, this team is not going to be able pick him up every time.
  • soleofthebay
    Great article. Some thing has been getting to me. It was said that ONE of the reasons to make the switch is the idea that Kap gives us the best chance to beat the Giants, BUT if we cant even beat the Rams what does it matter? My only issue with this situation is the TIMING. We are legit super bowl contenders this is not the time to experiment! I think JH is looking to far ahead and I hope it does not effect our play off seeding and or team chemistry. Take away the game against a unprepared Bears Defense and we have tape of nothing but sub par performances. Kap will be a better qb than Alex with out a doubt, But Alex would have put up more than 13 points (even if they were all field goals close ones so akers can actually make them sheesh) and would not have gave up 10(or be responsible for) points. Alex may be boring but we would most likely be 10-2 if he never went out. Kap is the future but our window is wide open NOW do not mess it up coach. Another thing to consider is our team is built right NOW for a QB like Smith and you want to try to change to complete different style of QB in November?? Again the TIMING here is my problem.
    Dec 3, 2012 at 8:13 AM
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  • Terry B.
    Of course, it wasn't only Harbaugh who thought that Kaepernick should be the starting QB: http://www.49erswebzone.com/commentary/1055-straight-rabbits-hole-thoughts-49ers-quarterbacks-following-saints/
    Dec 3, 2012 at 8:05 AM
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  • david
    Yes kap made a bad pitch but the safty was a bs call jim made a decision to start kap he needs to stick with it whole season we won 2 lost 1 remember alex led 2 games vikings 23 1e then lost to giants 26 3? Remember 3 picks he threw? And against the saints akers missed a fg and had another 1 blocked so wwe could have had 23 points not all on kap.and against rams 1st game kap gave niners chance to win a couple of times def couldn't stop em then akers missed another fg
    Dec 3, 2012 at 7:33 AM
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  • Gerry Cable
    Kap is basically a rookie! Once the other teams watched game film on him, this learning curve was bound to happen. I don't know why anyone would risk a Superbowl run to experiment right now? It's the timing! Alex has so much experience and savvy. Maybe because he is not getting the ball down field and our running backs are wearing down, Harbaugh feels we need more balance to go all the way. Maybe he feels we need Kaps arm and it's now or never for the season. I'm confused!
    Dec 3, 2012 at 7:28 AM
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  • Rudy
    ........"also failed to give this team this "explosive" more dynamic offense that we are all expecting to see with him at the helm." and this sounds o me as the worst signal sent not by Kap but from a head coach to his team. I will be rooting for the niners no matter who will play, but this is a team sport . That needs that special committment based on everyone involved being on the same page and trust . Harbaugh extablished clearly this last year among the organization and players and they fight for the same goal. Blue collar football, with both feet on the ground .13-3 and conf, final, no matter what people could say outside about poor qb and lack of deep throws and all we know about criticizing AS. Players saw it and believe in Harbaugh even more. So now he made his new statement, searchin for big plays and more "air" expèressed by his starting qb choice. What happened when this could not be workin ? ( and not for the guy fault, he's too young). Someone could lost faith in HC. Not good. Hope it won't be like this, and Kap goes all the way, but still not a goo sign sent. would AS had more sacks? yes but not 2 points. Sorry.
    Dec 3, 2012 at 7:24 AM
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  • Dan
    Harbaugh is shielding Kaep from any scrutiny he sees. But a blind man can see that Kaep was responsible for the loss. The defense woulda/coulda/shoulda pitched a shutout in this one if not for the comedy of offensive errors. Harbaugh better be careful. He is beginning to tread on a slippery slope. This team expects to win a Super Bowl this year. One more loss against a try hard Miami team and this could all blow up in his face. I am feeling like he has turned this team into more of a developmental squad than a SB contender now......And where are Lamichael James and AJ Jenkins????
    Dec 3, 2012 at 7:05 AM
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  • Dallas Niner Fan
    You know I am not even going to get into this Kap vs Smith thing. What I find interesting, however, is that if Alex Smith was the QB yesterday everyone would be calling for his head. When Kap screws up everyone defends him. I hear oh its not really his fault, bad play calling ect. ect. Its always easier to be a backup QB instead of a starter.
    Dec 3, 2012 at 6:59 AM
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  • Mouse
    I don't understand this "explosive offense" theory. Imo Kaep just looks good behind center and people get all excited watching him run and gun. Why don't you look back at some of our point totals with Alex this year? We put 30 points or more on the board way before Kaep's game against the bears. His last two games.... 17 and 13. It's a mirage folks. Apparently so is our superbowl season. Hey at least we can boast about his qbr and blame losses on coaching, referees, and the offensive line.
    Dec 3, 2012 at 6:54 AM
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  • David
    This is a win-now team. Alex is the win-now qb. Kaep maybe the qb of the future but June not December is the time to figure that out. The numbers don't lie. Kaep has been worse in almost every statistical category in each game he's started. And now it's translating into losses.
    Dec 3, 2012 at 6:49 AM
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  • Tn
    Secure a win. Kaep needs to learn how to do that.
    Dec 3, 2012 at 6:47 AM
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  • Bret
    I take issue with your point about the safety. One of the reasons they're playing Kaepernick is his escapability. He made a GOOD play. To say he shouldn't have put it the hands of the officials is disingenuous: every play is in the hands of the officials to screw up! But I agree with your basic points here. In fact, I think you failed to mention his biggest error of the day: going out of bounds before the field goal. This is football 101, and without that saved timeout, the Rams would have never been in position to tie the game, let alone win it. The way it ended was ironic (on the AS front), but I was happy they decided to make the move, and I'm prepared to live with it too.
    Dec 3, 2012 at 6:40 AM
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    Response: We'll disagree about calling it a GOOD play when he ran into his own endzone after snapping the ball 17 yards away from it. Yes, every play is in the hands of the officials, but it's still up to the players to provide strong evidence to support their claim, and Kaepernick was not able to do that. Regarding going out of bounds: I didn't want to pile it on - another mistake to be blamed on his youth/inexperience.

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