Colin Kaepernick was the focus of Thursday night’s final 49ers exhibition game.
The outcome didn’t matter. The fact the 49ers defeated the Chargers in San Diego, 31-21, will soon be forgotten. But Kaepernick went into the game knowing he’d be in the spotlight – and the target of boos and jeers – and yet was able to play his best football of the summer season.
First, however, came the national anthem when, for the second straight week – and the first with fans knowing what to watch for – Kaepernick declined to stand for the playing of the national anthem, to protest racial inequality in the U.S. This time, it was at the Chargers’ annual salute to the military night, with a huge flag as part of the pregame ceremony and military skydivers and an anthem sung by a Navy petty officer. And this time he was joined by a teammate, starting safety Eric Reid.
Kaepernick then heard boos when he took the field, but it didn’t faze him. There also were cheers and signs of support.
After a lackluster performance in his first exhibition game last week, Kaepernick needed a strong outing to help cement his spot on the roster or to win the job from Blaine Gabbert. And, he did just that.
Kaepernick looked sharp as he led San Francisco on an 85-yard drive that was capped by DuJuan Harris’ 1-yard touchdown run. Kaepernick completed 6-of-8 passes on the drive and also ran twice, once for 10 yards and another for 20.
He finished the night completing 11-of-18 throws for 103 yards and ran four times for 38 yards. For the first time this summer, Kaepernick showed glimpses of what he showed two and three years ago, when he was an outstanding quarterback on an elite NFC team.
Tweeted Cam Inman, who covers the 49ers for the Bay Area News Group: “Kaepernick’s job security improved a lot tonight.”
Gabbert did not play Thursday night, but the other two quarterbacks on the roster, Jeff Driskel and Christian Ponder, did get into the game. Ponder again played well, but rookie Driskel had a rough night, completing just 1-of-4 throws for 3 yards while being picked off twice.
Now the 49ers are faced with some interesting decisions about the quarterback group. Will it be Gabbert or Kaepernick as starter? If it’s not the high-priced Kaepernick, will the 49ers waive him? And if Kaepernick sticks as the backup, will the 49ers carry Ponder as a No. 3 quarterback and try to get Driskel on the practice squad, or release Ponder and keep Driskel active?
Decisions may be announced as soon as Friday.