Does Colin Kaepernick still have the hot hand? Lukewarm might be a more accurate description.
Kaepernick put together another decent performance in the 49ers’ 27-13 win against the Miami Dolphins on Sunday. But he didn’t have the type of game that makes you jump out of your seat and scream, “Yes! This guy is taking us to the Super Bowl.”
Unfortunately, that’s where the bar was set for him when he supplanted Alex Smith as the team’s starting quarterback three weeks ago.
Ironically, Kaepernick’s stat line looked eerily similar to what we grew accustomed to with Smith under center. He completed 18 of 23 passes for 185 yards. His quarterback rating was 100.2 and he didn’t turn the ball over.
But he also reaffirmed the attributes he brings to the offense that were lacking with Smith. He cemented the game in the fourth quarter with a 50-yard touchdown dash, tying the franchise record for longest run by a quarterback that he set last week against St. Louis.
Kaepernick also stretched the field with his arm, completing six passes that resulted in gains of 15 or more yards. His cannon was on full display when he nearly connected with Randy Moss for a 47-yard touchdown in the third quarter. The ball fell right into Moss’ hands, but the veteran receiver couldn’t haul it in.
The conventional thinking is that Kaepernick replaced Smith because he gives the 49ers a better chance of beating the New York Giants if the teams connect in the NFC playoffs this year. The Giants’ fearsome pass rush sacked Smith six times Oct. 14 and when it didn’t put him on the ground, it was in his face, causing him to throw an uncharacteristic three interceptions.
Kaepernick might have a better shot of eluding that pass rush, giving the 49ers a chance to exploit a questionable Giants secondary. But Kaepernick was sacked three times last week against the St. Louis Rams, who are tied for fourth in the NFL in that category, and he was hauled down four more times Sunday against the league’s sixth-best sacking team.
Coach Jim Harbaugh admitted that at least one of the sacks was the result of his quarterback’s inability to read the blitz.
Kaepernick also burned two timeouts because he couldn’t get the ball snapped before the play clock was set to expire. It didn’t impact the outcome of this game, but those little mistakes add up in the playoffs.
But the biggest concern is that the offense just hasn’t been as explosive as it was on Nov. 19 when Kaepernick shredded the Chicago Bears’ defense on “Monday Night Football.” The 49ers scored only two offensive touchdowns against a porous New Orleans Saints defense in Week 12 and they were stymied last week by a Rams team that surrenders 22.3 points per game.
In the next two weeks, we’ll find out just how hot Kaepernick’s hand really is. If the little gaffes hurt the team against the Patriots and the Seattle Seahawks, Harbaugh needs to switch back to the guy who’s already mastered the details. They matter in January.
Paul Gackle is a regular contributor to The San Francisco Examiner and also writes at gacklereport.blogspot.com. He can be reached at email@example.com and followed on Twitter @GackleReport.