Two months ago, Kaepernick was a transcendent quarterback, a sports god making the rounds on the red carpet, like LeBron James, Deion Sanders and Magic Johnson. But Sunday, he couldn’t make one play to give his team a chance to win and now the 49ers’ Super Bowl chances are about as thin his receiving corps.
With the New Orleans Saints on deck, Kaepernick will need to find a way to play like an elite quarterback or the 49ers will fall to 6-4, kissing away any chance of grabbing home-field advantage over the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC playoffs. Heck, a couple more losses and the 49ers could be on the outside looking in come January.
Of course, the blame shouldn’t fall solely on Kaepernick’s shoulders. For this offense, losing tight end Vernon Davis is like getting your queen knocked out in chess and trying rally back with a pair of rooks, a bishop and an army of pawns.
Even with Mario Manningham on the field, the team lacks a wide receiver who can stretch the defense, allowing him to capitalize on his speed and arm strength.
But injuries to Michael Crabtree and Davis don’t explain why the 49ers are last in passing offense right now, averaging only 173.9 yards per game. Nor do their absences excuse Kaepernick for turning the ball over seven times and posting a 35.0 passer rating in the 49ers’ three losses.
Great players make things happen when the deck is stacked against them.
Tom Brady is one of the top quarterbacks of all time, which is why the New England Patriots are 7-2 and ranked 18th in passing yardage, even though Aaron Hernandez is in jail, Rob Gronkowski has missed six games because of injury and Wes Welker is in Denver catching passes from Peyton Manning.
Look at what Andrew Luck is doing in Indianapolis with a team that went 2-14 in 2011. Elite quarterbacks don’t just win games, they make their receivers and everyone else around them better.
Prior to the season, Kaepernick’s name was already getting tossed around with the Bradys, Aaron Rodgerses and Peyton Mannings of the world. Ron Jaworski said he could be one of the greatest quarterbacks ever and fellow ESPN analyst Tom Jackson said he makes the 49ers nearly impossible to prepare for.
Kaepernick’s potential is undeniable, but at this point, he’s probably just an average quarterback with A-plus tools who is still learning how to play the game at the NFL level.
This is a story that continues to unfold with tremendous intrigue and Kaepernick will get a chance to write another chapter when he goes up against Drew Brees and the Saints on Sunday.
The 49ers will need his best game if they’re going to leave the Superdome with a win, especially when they could be going to battle without Davis again this week.
If Kaepernick starts making plays, he can turn the momentum of the 49ers’ season around and prove why he is already considered to be among the league’s elite quarterbacks. But until then, he’s a work in progress.
Paul Gackle is a contributor to The San Francisco Examiner. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @GackleReport.