Still More Ways to Amaze
Just One Thing Left to Accomplish for 49ers QB Kaepernick
San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh, left, hugs Colin Kaepernick after the NFL football NFC Championship game against the Atlanta Falcons Sunday, Jan. 20, 2013, in Atlanta. The 49ers won 28-24 to advance to Superbowl XLVII. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
Atlanta — So what does Colin Kaepernick do now?
He wins the Super Bowl in two weeks, then maybe another, then maybe another two or three. That’s what Kaepernick does and who he is now.
Really, there is no escaping the magnitude of this — anything less than a title (or three) would be much too small.
Anything less than a ring — and probably a Super Bowl MVP trophy — would be unworthy of the Kaepernick legend and the bold genius of Jim Harbaugh’s commitment to him.
“He just played great; he played great,” Harbaugh gushed about Kaepernick’s performance in the 49ers’ rousing, historic comeback 28-24 victory over Atlanta in the NFC Championship game yesterday. “I don’t even know the words to say it. I mean, it was a great performance by the quarterback.”
Translation: Kaepernick is everything Harbaugh thought and hoped he was, and risked much of his credibility over.
And Kaepernick is actually, stunningly more.
How can anybody deny that after Kaepernick was the rock on which the 49ers built their monumental comeback from a 17-0 deficit? You can’t.
“Doesn’t flinch,” defensive end Justin Smith said appreciatively of the second-year QB. “He doesn’t flinch.”
No, he doesn’t. Because if he ever were going to bobble and freeze, it would’ve been when the 49ers were getting punched and stomped and the Georgia Dome was roaring, and things looked awful.
Instead, that’s when Kaepernick was at his best and calmest.
I watched him carefully during the Falcons’ drives to go up 10-0 and then 17-0, and Kaepernick was as serene as can be. Focused, but not at all jangled.
“Going out on the field frantic isn’t going to help you score points,” Kaepernick said. “You have to try to lead your team.”
He had one completion for 1 yard and zero runs through the first quarter against a defense aligned to stop his QB keepers. … And then Kaepernick and running back Frank Gore started gashing the Atlanta defense in the second quarter and never stopped.
Notably, Kaepernick did it as a thrower and a leader, not as much as a runner.
“He could do whatever — throw the ball, run the ball,” said Gore, who ran for 90 yards and two touchdowns, largely because the Atlanta defense was so preoccupied with Kaepernick. “He could do whatever. If not for him, it would’ve been a tough game.”
Kaepernick is the quarterback who played almost perfect football for three quarters of this game, exactly when the 49ers most desperately needed every bit of it.
In all, despite a lifeless 49ers first quarter, Kaepernick completed 16 of 21 attempts for 233 yards, with one touchdown and zero turnovers.
And Kaepernick is the player who had the largest hand in lifting this franchise to its first Super Bowl in 18 years.
“He just competes like a maniac all the time,” Harbaugh said of Kaepernick. “In practice, in games, it’s always the same — from what I’m looking in through the face mask, that’s what I see a guy doing.”
Both times the Falcons jumped to big leads, with the Georgia Dome erupting, Kaepernick led critical 49ers touchdown drives.
With his team down 17-0 at the start of the second quarter, Kaepernick completed five consecutive passes, climaxed by a 27-yarder to Vernon Davis, to set up a LaMichael James touchdown run to get the 49ers within 10.
And at the beginning of the third, after Atlanta closed the first half with a touchdown to make it 24-14, Kaepernick threw passes of 21 and 17 yards to Randy Moss and 20 yards to Delanie Walker to set up Gore’s touchdown run that closed it to 24-21.
As the 49ers defense got back into gear, from there, the 49ers were set up to win.
One more Gore TD in the fourth quarter gave them their first and final lead.
Yesterday, Kaepernick clearly outplayed Atlanta’s Matt Ryan down the stretch; Ryan tore up the 49ers early, but his two second-half turnovers lost the game, while Kaepernick was winning it.
And that came a weekend after Kaepernick almost single-handedly destroyed Green Bay, and outplayed 2011 MVP Aaron Rodgers, in the divisional round.
Yes, this is the QB Harbaugh suspected and dreamed he could be back when Harbaugh moved him ahead of Alex Smith in November.
Now Harbaugh, the 49ers and everybody in the whole of the world know it, beyond doubt: Kaepernick is a Super Bowl QB and he’s well on his way to becoming a Super Bowl-winning quarterback, an MVP, an icon in this next generation.
This game, those TD drives, that demeanor, that competitive, that talent that’s why Harbaugh switched to Kaepernick.
For this. Exactly this. And for the celebration that came afterward, and for the chance to win it all in New Orleans in two weeks.
Does Kaepernick think this all justifies Harbaugh’s faith in him?
“I’m just thankful he made that decision,” Kaepernick said.
Harbaugh always declines to answer specifically about feeling justified by Kaepernick’s play, but yesterday he took a little more time to savor the moment, and the Super Bowl berth.
“It’s another flag, another trophy,” Harbaugh said. “You want to win as many trophies as you can, and flags. So it does validate our team, winning this game.”
It validated a lot of things, answered all questions, and, of course, fed the legend.
Now only a Super Bowl victory in two weeks can properly conclude this incredible story.