If, like many passionate and mildly pessimistic football fans, you look for and often easily find fatalistic omens, you likely watched the Packers return an awkward, ill-advised Colin Kaepernick pass for a touchdown on the 49ers’ first drive Saturday night at the Stick and immediately flashed back to Craig Newsome’s fumble return for a TD on
San Francisco’s first offensive play against Green Bay on the same field in the 1996 divisional playoff game.
You also likely thought, “Oh, no. The kid’s not ready for this. This could be a looooong night.”
You were half right. It was a long night, all right — for the Packers.
Whether or not that early pick-6 lulled them into a false sense of security, we’ll never know. They’ll certainly never cop to it.
But given what happened after that forehead slapper, and how emphatically it happened, we do know one thing for sure: Kaepernick is ready for this.
We should have suspected as much, based on what we’d already seen him do under fairly bright lights. The Monday nighter against the Chicago Bears. The Sunday night shootout with Tom Brady at New England.
Heady stuff by any measure for a guy in the infancy of a career launched in the shadows of the legends of Joe Montana and Steve Young, not to mention amid the controversy that was Jim Harbaugh’s ballsy decision to go with unknown electricity over the pedal-powered reliability that had, against long odds but in a relative hurry, become Alex Smith.
Ready? Uh, yeah. Confirmed.
Rather than rattled by his ugly duckling of an interception Saturday, Kaepernick steeled his will and played the best football of his life. Virtually served as a human eraser to all of those questions swirling around the Niners during the interminable two-week mindmelt between the ho-hum regular-season finale and the biggest game of his life.
With a big assist from Michael Crabtree, who has gone from somewhat effete to elite in less than a year and put on a remarkable display of hands, awareness and savvy Saturday, Kaepernick made life hell on a Packers team that had convinced itself that Aaron Rodgers plus a mostly healthy supporting cast plus experience would be more than enough to counter a playoff-rookie QB running a team whose defensive soul and shaken kicker were a mystery to even those closest to them heading into the game.
It’s hard to say what was more impressive: that Kaepernick maintained his poise after such an inauspicious start, that he made rock-star running QBs such as Young, Cam Newton and Robert Griffin III at his healthiest look pedestrian by comparison, or that he delivered some of the most beautifully thrown balls seen in these parts since Joe Himself was at the peak of his powers.
And speaking of power, rarely did even Joe throw with the combination of power and feathery touch that Kaepernick displayed at various times throughout the Niners’ stunning rout.
If you saw this coming, you need to catch the next taxi, train or plane to the nearest casino because you’ve got vision that makes Magic Johnson running a fastbreak look like Ray Charles running a cone drill at the combine.
Forget sweating the delicious Seahawks rematch we might get pending the outcome of today’s Seattle-Atlanta tilt.
Soak this one in for a bit.
With the exception of the brief flash of immaturity that came with his taunting penalty, for which he almost immediately made up by throwing a touchdown dart to Crabtree, Kaepernick was damn near perfect on his first playoff stage.
If you’re looking for omens, try that one on for size.
Mychael Urban has covered Bay Area sports for more than 22 years as a contributor to Comcast SportsNet, CSNBayArea.com, KNBR, MLB.com, ESPN The Magazine and various newspapers. Follow him on Twitter @BigUrbSports. His website is UrbsUnchained.com.