Colin Kaepernick looks like his old self again (which is more bad news for the 49ers)


Colin Kaepernick didn’t vote on Tuesday, citing the oppressive tactics used by both major parties/candidates throughout history and during the recently concluded campaign. Kaepernick also felt oppressed in a professional sense by the 49ers, and that’s why when he made the compromise he did with his employer (no protection in the form of an injury guarantee), he got an out clause of his own.

Kaepernick can become a free agent after the season, and it’s hard to remember when he looked this free. Oh yeah, it was when Jim Harbaugh’s job was safe.

Whether it’s a coincidence that his game has suddenly elevated to a level not seen in quite some time, after being shown a light at the end of this terrible tunnel in the form of a contract renegotiation, is unknown. But the resurgence is undeniable after a massive (albeit inflated by a few factors, including the Saints defense) statistical performance a week ago led to his best all-around game in over a year. Stats often lie when quarterbacks are concerned, and Kaepernick’s passing stats today (17-for-30, 1 TD) didn’t look nearly as impressive as his numbers against New Orleans. But he was better than Carson Palmer (30-for-49, 376 yards, 1 TD and 2 INT), against a top-five defense to boot.

Combine his decision-making, accuracy, long sideline strikes to Jeremy Kerley and Torrey Smith and that deep pass to Quinton Patton, or the touchdown he rushed for his own — we saw just about everything Kaepernick produced when he was an up-and-coming superstar eight years ago. (OK, three … it just seems like eight.) If anything, his running game failed him today. DuJuan Harris (five carries, 14 yards) lost his starting job to the increasingly bust-like Carlos Hyde (13 carries, 14 yards), so it was up to Kaepernick to produce anything offensively.

There is no bright side

Kaepernick was the team’s best player today. That’s not a good thing, because every strong performance adds to the interest he’ll garner on the market this offseason. And to those wondering if his national anthem protests will hurt his earning potential, remember a few things.

  1. Several players followed Kaepernick’s lead, and it’s not a story anymore.
  2. Trump won. Any owner, executive or coach who’d normally be triggered by Kaepernick’s actions is feeling a little less defensive about anything related to Black Lives Matter, plus Kaepernick didn’t support Hillary Clinton.
  3. Teams want to win above all else (just ask Richie Incognito), and there aren’t many good quarterbacks out there.

And that’s the problem for the 49ers, who are at risk of pulling off a meaningless win or two with Kaepernick playing better, and probably won’t have many sure-thing quarterbacks from which to choose if they end up with a top-three draft pick regardless. This was the year to figure out who their quarterback of the future may be (Blaine Gabbert, Colin Kaepernick, Jeff Driskell or someone in the draft), and at least they figured out a couple of things: Driskell isn’t on the team anymore, and listing Gabbert as your starter is the same as having tank decals on one side of your team’s helmets and white flags on the other.

Oh, the defense was better today. It’s true. David Johnson didn’t run over the front seven, mostly because Bruce Arians (as overrated as Jeff Fisher for completely different reasons) decided to use this game as a de facto passing offense practice for Carson Palmer and their four receivers. Luckily for the 49ers, they have cornerbacks with surprisingly good ball skills (when they aren’t committing penalties), and J.J. Nelson — who Arians announced would be start and be his No. 2 receiver until further notice — lost a fumble and deflected a perfect pass from Palmer into the hands of Eric Reid.

(Yes, this week I picked up Nelson. For both of my fantasy teams.)

Eli Harold of all people made a big defensive play. Quinton Dial was all over the place after being in all the wrong places a week earlier (and most of this season). But this was fool’s gold from a defensive perspective. The 49ers were clearly in full-energy mode today, which makes one wonder why they weren’t earlier, but whatever. That energy will flow at times the rest of the way, but they’re 1-8 — it’ll mostly ebb.

This is a jumbled way of saying the 49ers played a good game today (they lost 23-20, if you’re somehow reading this after not watching the game or checking the score elsewhere) against a team that isn’t going to sniff the Super Bowl and could very well miss the playoffs.

Niners Notes

— Smith dropped an easy pass, a would-be touchdown, on the 49ers’ final drive. He’s awful. He looked frustrated throughout the 2015 season while being thoroughly outplayed by Anquan Boldin. He drops passes constantly, gets tackled when breathed upon, and perhaps the most annoying thing is he’s a company man who gets retweeted by the @49ers Twitter account like five times per week. What a rotten free agent signing.

— If the 49ers had a real pass rush, we’d be singing the praises of Jimmie Ward, Tramaine Brock, Keith Reaser and Dontae Johnson on a near-weekly basis.

— The Raiders have Gamblin’ Jack Del Rio. The 49ers have Let’s Cash In Our Chip Kelly, who thought it would be too risky to go for two. Let’s get this straight … the 49ers came into this game 1-7. Kaepernick was pretty much unstoppable during that final drive and ran for a touchdown himself. There was 1:55 remaining in the game and the 49ers have the worst defense in the league. What the hell kind of Tomsulery is this?

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