NFL 2012

49ers Backup Colin Kaepernick Opened Up the Playbook and Shot Down the Bears Last Night
The stadium scene.
Nov. 20 2012 11:55 PM

NFL 2012

VIEW ALL ENTRIES

49ers Backup Colin Kaepernick opened up the playbook and shot down the Bears last night.

156729277
Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49ers rolls out to pass against the Chicago Bears during the third quarter at Candlestick Park on Monday.

Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Monday Night Football yesterday was supposed to be a tiresome thump-fest between two teams with great defenses, each playing without its concussed starting quarterbacks. It was a night for slimming down the playbook and taping up ankles—like the prior evening's Ravens-Steelers game, with even more incomplete passes and stuffed runs.

Except only the Bears got that message. The Niners decided to have a coming-out party for Colin Kaepernick, their second-year second-round second-string QB.

Kaepernick—the former Nevada quarterback picked No. 36 overall in 2011—had made his way into a few games over the course of the year: a few rushes out of a special package here, a few pass attempts there. His speed and sharpness would always surprise. (How could we not be surprised? The nation's only previous exposure to Kaepernick came during a few why-am-I-watching-this depressing WAC games.) Last week, in relief of Alex Smith, Kaepernick played his first extended action and did fine: 11 of 17 for 117 yards, 66 yards rushing and a touchdown, while being sacked three times, as the Niners tied the Rams.

But those were the Rams. What would he do against the Bears? He would shred them.

Chicago spent all of last night swarming the line, expecting Jim Harbaugh to task his first-time starter with lots of handoffs. But the Niners let Kaepernick pass. In the first quarter, he hit Vernon Davis on a corner route, he struck Kyle Williams down the sideline for 57 yards, and he found an open Randy Moss for a first down—pretty throws, right on target. Against the Bears' pressure, Kaepernick called multiple audibles, keeping things under control at the line.

Advertisement

When the Niners did run, they did so with formations so wacky they stunned even Jon Gruden (who, recall, watches game tape in his office from 3:45 a.m. onward five days a week). They ran one play with a tailback and two fullbacks lined up staircase-style. They ran others with seven or eight offensive linemen. Frank Gore averaged 4.6 yards per carry, and Kendall Hunter averaged 5.4.

All told, the Niners called 24 pass plays and 29 runs. The Bears—the league's best defense, per Football Outsiders, by a wide margin—couldn't stop any of it.

The Bears entered last night 7-2; the Niners entered 6-2-1. These were, and still are, two of the NFL's top teams. Chicago dealt with its quarterback's absence conservatively, trying to maintain the status quo by calling a lot of run plays. When Jason Campbell did pass, he threw the same passes Jay Cutler threw, just with less precision and inferior timing. No, they didn't work this time around, but it's almost always safe to have Campbell as a backup. He won't make too many mistakes.

But the Niners' backup is electrifying. He can run, he can throw, and he's six-foot-four. And the Niners weren't afraid to take risks with him. This is why San Francisco so terrifies the rest of the league. They haven't even dipped into their rookie class. "Next man up" isn't a bad thing over there. Change the playbook? Sure, why not? Alex Smith should be healthy by next week; Harbaugh won't yet tell us if he's starting. But it doesn't matter so much either way. Colin Kaepernick won't go away, and neither will the Niners.

Jack Dickey is a writer for Deadspin.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Smash and Grab

Will competitive Senate contests in Kansas and South Dakota lead to more late-breaking races in future elections?

Stop Panicking. America Is Now in Very Good Shape to Respond to the Ebola Crisis.

The 2014 Kansas City Royals Show the Value of Building a Mediocre Baseball Team

The GOP Won’t Win Any Black Votes With Its New “Willie Horton” Ad

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?

Technocracy

Forget Oculus Rift

This $25 cardboard box turns your phone into an incredibly fun virtual reality experience.

One of Putin’s Favorite Oligarchs Wants to Start an Orthodox Christian Fox News

These Companies in Japan Are More Than 1,000 Years Old

Trending News Channel
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM Watch Flashes of Lightning Created in a Lab  
  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 20 2014 8:14 PM You Should Be Optimistic About Ebola Don’t panic. Here are all the signs that the U.S. is containing the disease.
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 20 2014 7:23 PM Chipotle’s Magical Burrito Empire Keeps Growing, Might Be Slowing
  Life
Outward
Oct. 20 2014 3:16 PM The Catholic Church Is Changing, and Celibate Gays Are Leading the Way
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM I Am 25. I Don't Work at Facebook. My Doctors Want Me to Freeze My Eggs.
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 20 2014 7:15 AM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 9 A spoiler-filled discussion of "Flatline."
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 20 2014 9:13 PM The Smart, Talented, and Utterly Hilarious Leslie Jones Is SNL’s Newest Cast Member
  Technology
Technocracy
Oct. 20 2014 11:36 PM Forget Oculus Rift This $25 cardboard box turns your phone into an incredibly fun virtual-reality experience.
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Oct. 20 2014 11:46 AM Is Anybody Watching My Do-Gooding? The difference between being a hero and being an altruist.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.