Colin Kaepernick, for the second-straight week, couldn’t wait to depart the field.
He stopped for quick handshakes with Indianapolis running back Trent Richardson and Andrew Luck, the latter the quarterback who systemically broke down the San Francisco 49ers’ defense on Sunday. And then he was gone.
Before his brief news conference, the former Pitman High star sat alone in front of his locker room stall. His face was blank, his stare pushing 100 miles. The day wasn’t just a disappointment. It was a second-straight humiliation, another dose of humility for a quarterback and a team whose Super Bowl appearance in January seems like decades ago.
“We have to be better,” Kaepernick mumbled. “I have to be better.”
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We’ll assume he won’t keep fond memories of his 13th NFL start.
Laying the blame on the QB for a 27-7 freefall is too easy, especially for an organizationwide failure this week. No, the thorough dismissal of a 10-point favorite must be shared.
It’s painfully clear the Seahawks left a scar when they dismissed the 49ers 29-3 last week. Worse, San Francisco jettisoned a lot of its team mojo by allowing star pass-rusher Aldon Smith to play despite his single-car accident and DUI charge Friday morning.
How do we know this? Because Smith after the game was suspended indefinitely, something that probably should have happened — for the team as well as for him — not long after he was bailed out.
“I want to apologize to the team, the organization, my family and everyone I let down,” Smith said. “I also wanted to let it be known that this is a problem and it’s something that will get fixed.”
The 49ers, from President/CEO Jed York down to coach Jim Harbaugh, fell all over themselves in a spasm of damage control. Harbaugh once said his team’s deportment would be “beyond reproach.”
The correction for false words was swift Sunday. The 49ers trotted Smith onto the field for one all-too-clear reason: They wanted to win, and dealing with an emotionally troubled player must wait until game’s end.
“There was no right decision,” York said. “Sitting someone down and paying him didn’t seem like the appropriate punishment. ... I realize people may not agree with that decision.”
Here’s something upon which everyone can agree: The fallout from the Smith Mess shook the 49ers. From their game-opening three snaps and a punt to Kaepernick’s fumble inside his own 10 in the final minutes, the 49ers appeared to be locked on the same speed — slow.
The 49ers acted fast afterward to right their listing ship. They had no choice.
See, the 49ers used to stand for something — an enlightened approach under coach Bill Walsh, who demanded grace and poise to the point that he refused to punish a beaten opponent. His teams won three Super Bowls and provided the blueprint for two more.
Running in circles
Contrast that to the more mercenary 49er approach this week. The emphatic nature of the loss forced their hand. Harbaugh’s San Francisco teams never had lost two in a row until the Indy wipeout.
So there’s some cover for Kaepernick’s second consecutive off-kilter performance. He’s not the only one who inspired some scattered boos and prompted a gradual walkout over the game’s final five minutes.
His numbers, however, read just as ugly as the final score. He completed only 13 of 27 passes for 150 yards, a meaningless interception in the final moments and only 20 rushing yards in seven carries.
Kaepernick literally ran in circles at times when no receivers broke open. He surely missed Vernon Davis (injured), Michael Crabtree (injured), Mario Manningham (injured) and Delanie Walker (now with Tennessee).
NFL defensive coordinators also have caught up with the read-option, one of Kaepernick’s weapons that made him a sensation. Instead of finding open space with his legs, he’s funneled into tight quarters. The result was some hesitation from Turlock’s favorite citizen and still more signs that his learning curve is an in-process thing.
“I have to make those (throws) regardless,” he said. “I have to be able to throw receivers open and give them a chance to make plays. ... I’m frustrated with myself.”
His sullen face told more than his quick answers. The league catches up quickly with upstarts like him, and it’s his turn to adjust. Waiting for him and his team in only four days are the St. Louis Rams, who beat the 49ers and tied them last year.
There’s no time to sulk, but Kaepernick’s mood said it all. His NFL honeymoon has ended.