When the Seahawks, whom we should've beaten, went on to just destroy the Broncos, it was easy to think, for the third year straight, just how close we seem to be.

But as I review these last two weeks, I wonder just how close we are.

Two decades ago, Joe Montana sat in a meeting room, watching film with his receivers and an offensive coach. The coach was focused on getting the receivers to run their routes with total precision, making the play look the same on the field as it did on the chalkboard. For example, the coach noted an issue with the way they were running a double-post; the receivers were getting too close together, allowing one corner to cover them both. Finding a play where they were able to keep the proper distance, the coach nearly squealed with delight. "That's a pretty picture," he said.

Montana, of course, had nothing against running perfect routes. After all, his legend was chiefly the product of a system that placed precision above all else. Nevertheless, he didn't think that the coach's focus was necessarily in the right place. To Montana, what mattered wasn't so much the "perfection" of a receiver's route. What mattered, instead, was the receiver's position in relation to the corner. In other words, if the receiver had to choose between running the route as the coach designed it, and opening up a passing lane, the receiver should screw the route and just get open. "Because if you're shoulder to shoulder with the cornerback," Montana said, "I'm gonna have to come off you."

Though Montana was the game's closest thing to a superhero, he knew that his job was much simpler than that. In the West Coast Offense, he understood, someone somewhere would always be open. Montana's job was simply to find him. So that was what he told his receivers. It doesn't matter who you are; what matters, instead, is whether you're open. If you are, I'll throw to you. If you're not, I'll move along.

As you might recall, with his last play against Seattle, Colin Kaepernick threw a deep pass into the end zone, intended for Michael Crabtree. As you might also recall, the pass was tipped and intercepted, costing the Niners the Super Bowl. In the aftermath, the pass was analyzed a hundred different ways. Some questioned the play-call, noting that we didn't need to be so aggressive. Some questioned the match-up, noting that Crabtree was up against Richard Sherman, the league's top corner. And some questioned the pass itself, noting that it was underthrown.

But the central issue was something else, much simpler and much worse.

Crabtree was covered, and Kaepernick just didn't care.

Crabtree, indeed, was "shoulder to shoulder with the cornerback." (Actually, that's saying it generously; Sherman was slightly ahead of Crabtree, as well as inside him.) The passing lane was impossibly small, if it even existed at all. Montana, then, would've come off him, looking for that open man. (And, indeed, he would've found one.) But Kaepernick threw it anyway, and that's the central issue here.

When Kaepernick made basically the same mistake, in basically the same situation, at the end of the previous Super Bowl, I forgave him immediately. Sure, in a way, the Super Bowl was much more egregious; naturally, the stakes were higher, and Kaepernick tried to force it to Crabtree on three occasions, not just once. But there was plenty of mitigation; Kaepernick was a virtual rookie, going against a seasoned defense, and each of those throws would've drawn a flag from any other officiating crew.

So what mattered wasn't so much the mistake, as painful as the mistake might've been. What mattered was, he needed to learn.

Shockingly, Kaepernick didn't. And to make matters worse, he still hasn't.

A week after the Seattle game, Kaepernick asserted that his only mistake was the underthrow. As for the decision to throw it at all, he didn't show a trace of regret. He showed, instead, a stubborn defiance: "I'm going to take Crabtree every chance I get on a one-on-one matchup." No matter whether Crabtree is covered—no matter who else might be open—he "would do it the same way again."

To be fair, Kaepernick spoke at least partly for show, defending Crabtree against Sherman's postgame incoherence. But nevertheless, Kaepernick merely confirmed what these last two seasons seemed to suggest. When the stakes are highest, Kaepernick is throwing to Crabtree, no matter what.

How many times must this policy fail, before he starts to consider a new one?

Crabtree's a solid top-receiver, but he's not Jerry Rice, whom Kaepernick makes him out to be. (Indeed, if he were that great, wouldn't one of these passes have worked?) But that's not even the point. Montana had Jerry Rice, and even he didn't just assume that Rice would win every one-on-one. Sometimes, Rice was covered; and if Rice was covered, Montana moved on.

He didn't just throw it up into coverage. That's how you throw away championships.

This offseason, Kaepernick's contract will be a hot topic. And it's amazing how one play can change your perspective. Before that play, I would've thrown the world at him. Physically, he was—and still is—the most spectacular quarterback ever. And he did produce a spectacular season, making me say, going into the playoffs, "Colin Kaepernick isn't the issue." But this franchise isn't about spectacular seasons; it's about collecting Super Bowl titles. And with that in mind, after that play, I can't deny the simple truth.

Something here is seriously wrong. Contrary to popular belief, Kaepernick isn't a one-read QB. But when the stakes are highest, he becomes one, with disastrous results.

After his Super Bowl heartbreak, Kaepernick was given that rarest of gifts: an honest-to-goodness second chance. The fact that he did the same thing again—that he didn't learn from that awful pain—is almost literally unbelievable. And now, after we've been through the three most gut-wrenching consecutive playoff defeats in the history of the game, he's got the sheer audacity to say, if he's lucky enough to get a third chance, he's just gonna do the same thing again?

What on earth is wrong with this kid?

It's interesting, what heartbreak will do. For me, Kaepernick was love at first sight. It wasn't just his physical skills; it was also his utter indifference to fear. But fearlessness, though crucial for success in any pursuit, can all too easily morph into recklessness. And though fearlessness might take you right to the end, recklessness will strand you there. Recklessness will break your heart.

The season just ended, but next season's story is already here. For Kaepernick, the honeymoon's over. The benefit of the doubt is gone. He's gotten us tantalizingly close, but to get us over this awful hump, he must adjust his big-game approach. At this point, I'm not sure that he can. But after all, he's got no choice.

He just can't break my heart again.