AGOSTINI: 49ers give Kaepernick a hefty lift

ragostini@modbee.comOctober 6, 2013 

  • ABOUT THE REPORTER
    alternate textRon Agostini
    Title: Staff writer
    Coverage areas: Sports
    Bio: Ron Agostini has served as a sports reporter and columnist for The Bee for more than 35 years. His stories and columns have won state-wide, regional and national awards and he's a board director and past president of the California Golf Writers and Broadcasters Association. He's a graduate of Fresno State.
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— Victories come in different sizes and shapes in the NFL.

The scoreboard dictates nearly all terms, but there are other measuring sticks: Surviving a tough game with all bones intact, pleasing your coaching staff enough to buy another paycheck, or perhaps even a tackle on special teams.

For San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, he'll factor their 34-3 strafing of the Houston Texans above all other barometers.

But for the sake of this humble workspace, we'll submit another reason why Turlock's pride and joy walked away with a smile: He won the night because he was not Texans quarterback Matt Schaub.

Look, everyone in this zero-sum league — even the elite — takes his turn riding the Misery Mobile.

Two weeks ago, Kaepernick's still tender NFL pedigree was questioned after he tossed four interceptions during back-to-back losses.

Just like that, he downsized from CK7 the Boy Wonder, the phenom who read-optioned the 49ers into the Super Bowl after only 10 NFL starts, into Little Boy Blue.

Twice in Seattle, he's barely escaped with his luggage, much less his pride. Even his tattoos, the prized ink celebrated from coast to coast, slipped from Cutting Edge to Where's Alex Smith?

To recover, Kaepernick and the 49ers adopted a new plan: Quit putting the game on Kaepernick's shoulders. Make it a group lift.

It's worked. The 49ers (3-2) waltzed to back-to-back wins while Schaub — he of the four pick-6 touchdowns in the last four games — is the one who can use a group hug.

While Schaub tossed three interceptions (nine for the season), Kaepernick completed only six passes, four of them during the 49ers' scoring drive in the first quarter.

The 49ers parlayed Houston turnovers into 28 points. Sometimes, the best game plan calls for retreating to a safe place and letting the other team fall on its sword.

"It's another win. Back on track," Kaepernick summarized. "I think this team is getting its confidence back. Our defense has played amazing. ... The whole team is getting its confidence back."

Kaepernick, seldom expansive with his post-game interviews, didn't require much elaboration this time. There was really nothing else to say. Before the game was 25 minutes old, the 49ers led 21-0. From then on, Kaepernick was asked simply to not implode his team.

He complied.

"I thought his game was good," coach Jim Harbaugh assessed. "I'm trying to think of things that he could have done better. He executed extremely well."

Two plays stood out. His 14-yard scramble, punctuated with his slide beneath the onrushing All-Pro Ed Reed — the veteran who intercepted him in the Super Bowl — set up the 49ers' third score.

Then there was his 64-yard touchdown strike to Vernon Davis, who raced past Reed and the slumping shoulders along the Houston bench.

By then, the Texans all but loaded the equipment for the trip to the airport. Kaepernick's biggest sprint was to the end zone to congratulate his receiver.

In fact, Davis handed his QB the game ball afterward.

"Vernon popped, they dropped coverage on him, and, I mean, Vernon showed his athleticism," Kaepernick said. "You never know with Vernon. Vernon is someone, I mean, when he hits it and he is full-speed, there is really nobody that's going to catch him."

Kaepernick and the 49ers are buying time with these wins while receivers Michael Crabtree and Mario Manningham heal from their injuries and pass-rusher Aldon Smith continues his rehab. A victory next week over Arizona would bring them to 4-2, probably a decent goal when they scanned the schedule in August.

Schaub can be thankful for some favorable geography. His flameout didn't happen in Houston, where season-ticket holders already replace campfire wood with Schaub jersies. There, he would have needed a disguise, perhaps a wig and a hat pulled over his eyes, to escape.

Only his confidence, a fleeting thing, has changed. I'm sure the 49ers quarterback can empathize.

Kaepernick can be thankful he was not wearing Houston's No. 8 jersey. I wonder, though, if he gazed across the field and wondered, "There but for the grace for God..."

Bee staff writer Ron Agostini can be reached at ragostini@modbee.com or (209) 578-2302. Follow Ron via Twitter, @modbeesports.

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