So now to the Colin Kaepernick flash re-assessments, I guess.
Like the entire 49ers offense, Kaepernick didn't have a good game Sunday vs. Carolina, there's little question. He was harried, he didn't run particularly well, he didn't look decisive with his throws, and when he did throw he sailed a few far and wide.
Any QB, and definitely a 49ers QB, is going to get scrutinized when the team can't score a TD and loses 10-9 at home, and puts up only 151 total yards and 10 first downs (both new statistical lows for the Jim Harbaugh era).
I am not going to go along 100% with Trent Dilfer's declaration last night that Kaepernick is essentially a one-read QB and if you take away his first read, he becomes "remedial" as a passer.
(No shock I don't buy into everything Dilfer says. I didn't when he was the 49ers' very chatty back-up to Alex Smith, I didn't when he has gushed about Kaepernick, and I don't now. Dilfer makes good points, but he makes a ton of them, and they go all over the place, all the time.)
Dilfer said it on ESPN, and 49ers fans are repeating it everywhere: Kaepernick is a "one-read QB" and somehow that is supposed to explain everything.
Dilfer knows this stuff; I'm not going to say his evaluation is all wrong.
Sometimes yes, it does look like Kaepernick is most comfortable in the Read Option, when the scheme itself limits what he has to think about and limits what the defense can do against him.
But I don't think that's the whole story here. What can Kaepernick do if his first, second and third options are all covered, all the time?
Even if he isn't getting through them like Joe Montana, I'm not sure it would matter with this set of receivers.
For one, the 49ers aren't running a lot of Read Option this season, which makes him more of a normal NFL QB, allows defenses to throw more complicated schemes at him, and though the 49ers offense has done some explosive things this season, it has bogged down, too — against Seattle, Indianapolis and most egregiously against Carolina.
My point is that I watched the 49ers receivers very carefully in the second half, especially when Kaepernick was pressured and had to move (and didn't have his first option open)... and I didn't see ANY receivers breaking open.
This has to partly be Greg Roman and Jim Harbaugh's fault for not putting the receivers into places where they could adjust and get to a spot Kaepernick could find them; it had to partly be Kaepernick's fault for not throwing them open.
Kaepernick just never really does the "throw the receiver open" thing that Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Andrew Luck specialize at; it's a tricky very, very advanced thing to throw a pass before your guy breaks open, trusting that 1) he will get to that spot right when the ball arrives and 2) the DB won't get there first.
Kaepernick likes to see the WR open before he fires, and he usually throws it so hard it doesn't mess up any timing even if he waits.
And Kaepernick isn't very fluid as he goes through his reads. In the past, he has been able to take a quick look, then either rifle a pass or take off... and this year, the taking off part really hasn't been there except for a few games.
I've written that I believe he had a foot injury suffered in Week 1 and then eventually recovered from it recently. Did he get it hurt again? Is he hurt in some other way?
But mostly, I think this is a problem with the 49ers' receiving corps—and yes, we have been at this spot before, with Alex Smith in the playoffs and the loss to the Giants.
Without Michael Crabtree... and then without Vernon Davis in the second half... and with Mario Manningham just getting back in... and with Anquan Boldin not exactly a speed-burner, especially late in a route... and Kyle Williams out there for a few snaps who knows why... and Jonathan Baldwin doing nothing in his few snaps...
There was not a lot of separation out there, whether Kaepernick was on his first read, second read or 10th read.
And when he threw a deep one to back-up TE Vance McDonald down the middle... McDonald couldn't hold onto the ball. That was a play that could've turned the game, right there, and Kaepernick did his part.
Crabtree should be back in a couple weeks and Davis presumably will be back soon from his concussion.
Then maybe the 49ers offense will have the receivers Kaepernick needs to beat good defenses, and if the 49ers' pass game still struggles, I will start listening to Dilfer more. I guess.
But I don't think you can say you know for sure he would've gouged the Carolina D in the second half with 10 more carries, and I'm not sure how Gore would be feeling today—and the next few weeks—if the 49ers tried.
-- The 49ers' net passing total of 46 (subtracting the 45 sack yards) is lowest of the Harbaugh era and lowest net since they managed only 44 net passing yards on Oct. 9, 2005.
That was Alex Smith's first NFL start, when he had 74 gross passing yards, and was sacked for 30 yards in a 28-3 loss to the Colts.
-- Kaepernick had 91 gross passing yards (not subtracting the sack yards).
-- Again, the 10 first downs and 151 total yards are 49ers lows in the Harbaugh era.
151 yards is the 49ers' lowest total since they gained only 133 vs. Minnesota in Nov 2006, when the 49ers won 9-3.
It's the lowest first-down total since they also had 10 first downs in a 40-21 victory over Seattle in December 2010.
They had only 6 first downs twice in 2007—in that Minnesota game and in a 24-0 loss in Seattle. (And 9 two other times in that wonderful season.)
In 2005, the 49ers had SEVEN games with less than 10 first downs.
I haven't criticized Williams as much as many 49ers fans do, but it does seem like he has been gifted a roster spot and playing time on this team for some reason, and Sunday he didn't even return punts (after fair-catching like crazy all season).
It's not like Harbaugh to keep players on scholarship. Williams is on scholarship.
But you can't ever predict who else might get hurt, that's the point.
When you get back Mario Manningham and if you want to count Aldon Smith in this conversation, and are close to getting Michael Crabtree and Tank Carradine, then you still can lose Vernon Davis, Eric Reid and Ray McDonald.
Which is what happened to the 49ers Sunday, and now we shall see how Davis, Reid, McDonald and others feel over the next few days.
And after that, you could lose other key players in the back stretch of the season, the way the 49ers lost Justin Smith for a few late-season games last season and then when he returned he wasn't the same in the playoffs.