Here is a link to my Monday column about the 49ers’ season-ender in Seattle. The full text appears below:
SEATTLE – Colin Kaepernick deserves praise. Really, he does. He lost the game to the Seahawks 23-17, well not all by himself. But if you were assigning blame, you’d call him the goat.
Sure, he deserves some praise. The only reason the 49ers were in the game, the only reason they were close enough to break your heart, is because of Kaepernick. Go figure him out.
He is so complicated. He defies all normal coaching parameters. One moment you are cursing him and in your next breath you are worshipping him for his improvisational skills and his unreal ability to play outside the boundaries of conventional quarterback play.
What a talent.
What a heartbreaker.
He is virtually the entire 49ers’ offense, ran for 130 yards.
Relevant questions: Where is the 49ers’ offense? What we saw, is that what it amounts to?
Back to Kaepernick – Good Colin. In the second quarter, he set up a touchdown with a 58-yard run, ran through a bunch of Seahawks, bouncing around like a pinball. Untouchable.
But he lost the game with bad play at the end – three turnovers in the second half. Good grief. Before we talk about the turnovers, let’s walk into the postgame 49ers’ locker room, into that room of ghosts. Let’s get the feel.
Kaepernick wandered out of the shower. Looking dazed. He wore a green towel around his waist. No journalist went near him. Niners’ public relations said he would talk in the interview room, and people left him alone knowing he would speak presently. Left him alone out of politeness.
They also left him alone the way you leave a grieving relative at a funeral. It was hard to find the words. You didn’t want to intrude on his sad moment.
The receivers’ lockers were near Kaepernick’s. Anquan Boldin sat on his stool facing the depth of cubicle. Looking at nothing. Next to him, Michael Crabtree looked into his locker, staring at the void – the void of a season that had ended.
Crabtree whispered something to Boldin. Boldin is like an older brother to him, and you assumed – got the feeling – Crabtree was looking for solace, for a way to understand what happened. To handle it.
Nearby, Kaepernick slipped out of his towel and got dressed. Now, he sat on his stool and put on his shoes – sneakers. He said nothing. He stared at nothing. Maybe he thought about the second half. He needed to think about the second half, how he played under the game stress that defines and ruins quarterbacks.
While he dressed, Boldin started to leave the room. But he stopped and let a media group gather around him, hands holding microphones aimed at his mouth.
How did Kaepernick play? That’s what everyone wanted to know.
“He played a great game,” Boldin said, “made plays outside the pocket with his legs. Made some great throws. Played a heck of a game.”
As you know, that was only half the story. It was a teammate protecting a teammate. We are not teammates, so, we ask hard questions.
Colin, Can you be a quarterback when the world is going nuts and everything depends on you? Can you do it, Colin?
We know Kaepernick can run. And we know he can throw — some of the time. But the 49ers had the Seahawks and their crummy, stone-age offense dead. The Niners were up 17-10 and they looked in really good shape. The Niners had shut up that annoying 12th Man everyone up here raves about. They had shut up Seattle.
And then Bad Colin took over. He couldn’t move the ball. The Seahawks took a 20-17 lead. The Niners got the ball back.
Colin, can you be a quarterback?
Kaepernick got called for delay of game. He’s still getting called for delay of game in the playoffs? Seriously? And please don’t blame the crowd noise. Live with it. On the next play, Kaepernick got stripped of the ball. Turnover. Bad Colin.
The Seahawks got the ball, didn’t score. There was time. The Niners were down three. Kaepernick threw a pick. Right to safety Kam Chancellor. Kaepernick was throwing to Boldin. He said he saw Chancellor and thought he could get the ball over him.
The pass went directly to Chancellor – piece of cake. Boldin was standing behind Chancellor, a spectator. Bad pass. Bad idea. Bad Colin.
Colin, can you be a quarterback? Can you be a quarterback when it counts?
The Seahawks converted a field goal, went up 23-17 – it would be the final score.
And now came the crucial moment. The 49ers’ moment. They would do what they always do – drive down the field with time running out and they would win at the very end like they always do and break the opponent’s throbbing heart. A 49ers’ special.
Kaepernick was doing his job on that drive, playing great – 17-yard pass to Frank Gore, 16-yard pass to Crabtree, 11-yard pass to Vernon Davis. Just moving. Taking over the game. Doing his thing.
Now, the 49ers were at the Seahawks’ 18. With time. With the future in their grasp. So close. Kaepernick lofted a pass to Crabtree in the back right part of the end zone. The pass would tie the game and the extra point would win it.
Richard Sherman was defending Crabtree on the play. This is what Sherman said about Crabtree afterward. Crabtree is a “mediocre” receiver, wouldn’t break into the top-20 receivers in the league. Sherman said Crabtree mouthed off to him and, “He knows what he said. He knows I’m going to be tough on him the rest of his career.”
So, Sherman was guarding Crabtree, guarding him with a grudge, planning to be tough on him for his entire life. A life sentence.
Kaepernick didn’t care about Sherman and his grudge. “I had a one-on-one matchup there with Crab,” Kaepernick said. “I’ll take it every time. When I saw the matchup, I thought we were going to win on that play.”
He threw the pass even though he had two other receivers on the field. He never looked at them, still didn’t know after the game if they were open. Said he’d look at the film. Burn the film.
He took the snap. He threw the fateful pass with conviction. It was the same pass play that failed repeatedly at the end of the last Super Bowl. You thought the 49ers would have learned something from that, and that includes Jim Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman.
Find another play, guys.
But they used that play. The ball flew toward the end zone and Sherman, the best cornerback in the business, tipped it. Great defensive play. The ball deflected toward linebacker Malcolm Smith who caught it, cradled it, embraced it.
Three Kaepernick turnovers at the end.
Can you be a quarterback, Colin?
And there was Kaepernick in the interview room. His mouth pinched. His eyes dead. He said he thought he was going to win. Never had a doubt. He spoke in short sentences, verbal fragments, really – his world fragmented. He blamed himself for the turnovers. “When you turn the ball over, you don’t give your team a chance to score.”
He was correct, of course.
Next time, Colin, can you be a better quarterback?
For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at cohn.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at firstname.lastname@example.org.