With all the nonsense surrounding this team — the Aldon Smith suspension, the Ray McDonald non-suspension in the name of due process, the Levi’s Stadium grass — the biggest story of the offseason (for a little while, anyway), was brushed aside.
Remember Colin Kaepernick’s contract extension? It was too big, too small, too team-friendly, and cap-destroying. It also meant that the 49ers, for the only time other than Alex Smith’s rookie deal, are extending themselves financially to lock down a quarterback. Unless Kaepernick plays the way he did on Sunday, in which case the 49ers are making out like bandits (which may be a Bonnie and Clyde reference).
Think about it. The extension was supposedly such a huge bit of news, and so much was made of Kaepernick “betting on himself” with all the crazy incentives and the lack of guaranteed money compared to contracts other starting (and winning) quarterbacks had signed. One would think all the talk about the extension, and the meh offensive performance during the preseason, and the presumed defensive regression which would in turn necessitate an uptick in offensive performance, would lead to some added pressure.
Plenty of time had passed since the extension, and with the 49ers kicking off and immediately scoring a defensive touchdown, Kaepernick had to wait even longer to prove he’s worth the money. Not that he was thinking that way — he’s a master at being the hard-working, long-studying, 1%-better-each-day quarterbacking robot that Jim Harbaugh wants him to be. But he’s also human, and human beings, especially proud, ultra-competitive human beings, don’t want to disappoint anyone … least of all, themselves.
It started with a quick bubble screen to Anquan Boldin for seven yards, just to calm the nerves (nice play call by Greg Roman). Then a pass to Michael Crabtree drew a flag on Morris Claiborne.
That led to one of his two best plays of this game, which happened to take place consecutively.
A Vine and a GIF, in my poor attempt at displaying the some Kaepernick-like versatility. The footwork was excellent, his strength and balance were necessary on the touchdown play … and those throws. You had velocity, then you had touch. Both were accurate, so much so that the second one probably surprised Davis.
“The two plays early in the game where he stepped up, defender coming at him, stopped in his tracks and basically made a wrist-throw, a 30-40-yard laser to Anquan Boldin, who ran an exceptional route and added good yards after the catch,” Harbaugh said.
“And then, the very next play, he steps up, kicks out of a would-be tackler, running to the dead right, wrist-throws a BB to Vernon Davis in the end zone for a touchdown. I mean, in my estimation there’s only two people that could make those two plays, one is Colin Kaepernick and the other has an ‘S’ on his chest.”
What are the knocks on Kaepernick?
- He doesn’t go through his progressions. Well, his first read was Crabtree on that laser throw to Boldin on that deep post.
- He isn’t a pure pocket passer. Not only did he step up in the pocket on that aforementioned pass to Boldin, he took a shot to the chin from Rolando McClain after the ball left his hand.
- He isn’t accurate enough. I think most people would like to see Kaepernick complete over 60% of his passes throughout the rest of his career, and he completed 69.6% of his attempts on Sunday.
- Hey Kap, your passes don’t all have to be 94 mph. Touchdown pass No. 2 to Davis was as soft as the ice cream at Foster’s Freeze.
- Red zone difficulties. The 49ers were within the Dallas 20-yard line on three occasions and scored two touchdowns. Phil Dawson missed a field goal the other time, after a three-yard run by Carlos Hyde on 3rd-and-6 put the 49ers at the Dallas 19.
- The Dallas Cowboys
- Kaepernick took a few shots downfield, but overall the 49ers utilized more short throws than we’ve seen in most of Kaepernick’s starts. (Chart via @G_49er)
Yet, what else could the 49ers ask from Kaepernick’s first post-extension game that mattered? The team was in dire need of some good news after the Offseason From Hell™, and the offensive line is clearly still a work in progress. If Kaepernick was even slightly off target with any of his early throws, the game could’ve taken a turn toward what Troy Aikman so dearly hoped for.
Instead, the 49ers gave Kaepernick a lead, and he made extending that lead look frighteningly easy. Only hard work can explain a scenario like that, and we saw evidence of Kaepernick’s growth as a passer in Week 1. For Kaepernick, it’s a great sign. For the 49ers, it means that (so far) they’re getting their money’s worth.