Colin Kaepernick went to school this offseason, hoping to raise his game to a new level.
He worked on his footwork and his delivery. His spent several weeks studying with former NFL MVP Kurt Warner to refine his skills at reading defenses, standing in the pocket and improving his accuracy and quickness in delivery.
And, over the first two weeks of the 2015 NFL season, it appeared he might, indeed, be a more refined quarterback.
And then Sunday happened.
In the 49ers’ embarrassing 47-7 loss to the Arizona Cardinals, Kaepernick threw four interceptions – two that were returned for touchdowns early in the game – and he looked again like the quarterback of 2014 who had seemed so out of rhythm in some of San Francisco’s worst games. The Cardinals' defensive backs even told reporters they knew exactly what the 49ers and Kaepernick would do in the passing game, and called is a "simplified" offense.
As he always does, Kaepernick took the blame for the defeat on himself. He didn’t point fingers. And first-year head coach Jim Tomsula defended Kaepernick.
“Colin is our quarterback,” Tomsula told a writer for the 49ers website. “I think the world of that guy. … He’s a competitive guy. Colin’s a guy that has a tendency to put it all on his back.”
But with the 49ers now 1-2, Kaepernick will have to come out with a sterling performance this Sunday afternoon against the Packers at Levi’s Stadium to regain his confidence and quiet the skeptics, many of whom now believe the QB may not have advanced at all, despite all the offseason work.
After watching Sunday’s debacle, columnist Tim Kawakami of the Bay Area News Group noted that when the 49ers quickly found themselves in a 21-0 hole, San Francisco decided to revert to establishing the run game, a strange occurrence, and suggested the 49ers at that point just didn’t trust their $18 million-a-year QB “to throw a downfield pass.”
Wrote Kawakami: “That is how horrible QBs make a team horrible and yes, I know, it also works the other way: Horrible teams make QBs horrible.”
Added Kawakami: “You think (offiensive coordinator Geep) Chryst and QB coach Steve Logan are going to fix him now?”
Meanwhile, columnist Marcus Thompson III of the Bay Area News Group suggested the 49ers’ disaster Sunday is the result of the larger problems of the entire organization.
“Kaepernick isn’t alone in the mess,” he wrote. “The 49ers have several donkeys on which to pin the tail, and the place to start is at the top. Yes, this is all fruit from a poisonous tree. This is the produce from two years of mismanagement. Trickle-down NFL economics.”
To be sure, there is a lot of time left in this season. Over the next 13 games, perhaps the 49ers will find their stride. The cornerbacks will improve, the offensive line will begin to give Kaepernick some time and the pass rush will develop.
But right now, the 49ers also need to see Kaepernick put up a big game this Sunday against Green Bay.
Wrote Conor Orr of NFL.com: “The walls are closing in on this team very quickly. There’s no true respite for the 49ers until a Dec. 6 matchup against the Bears. In between, games against Green Bay, at the Giants, vs. Baltimore, St. Louis and Atlanta all pose unique problems for a team that can’t seem to find an identity.
“All we know for sure is that for now, whatever identity they’ll find needs to include Colin Kaepernick.”