Sacked six times. Three total points. Boos echoing from the sideline to the third deck. Network announcers calling for your replacement.
Colin Kaepernick was promised no rose garden in the NFL. Today, all he’s getting are thorns.
Every quarterback, including the great ones, have fought through the times when it all goes wrong and the fan base seeks your successor in next year’s draft. It’s a rite of passage, and no one gets a free pass.
I doubt if that’s any consolation to Kaepernick, the beleaguered quarterback of the 49ers. He’s never lacked confidence, from his days at Pitman High to now.
But it was hard to miss the wheels flying off the axle during Sunday’s 17-3 loss to Green Bay. If Kaepernick’s head was spinning after the team’s third straight loss, could you blame him? He guided a team to the Super Bowl in only 10 starts, yet he seems lost and searching after his 43rd. He’s tasted both extremes before his 28th birthday.
If the latest disappointment lacked the shock value of last week’s four-interception flame-out at Arizona, it reached a new level. For the first time, speculation grows about his possible demotion. The 49er Faithful would have stopped booing, if only for a few plays, had No. 2 quarterback Blaine Gabbert exchanged his cap for his helmet.
66 The sacks absorbed by Colin Kaepernick over his last 20 games
Coach Jim Tomsula, when broached the question last week, dismissed it by saying “Colin is our quarterback.” After the loss to the Packers, he said, “Won’t even go into that discussion. It’s not on my mind.”
Methinks the coach told a little white lie. Every coach thinks about pinch-hitting a slumping quarterback – his future employment is attached to that decision – especially when the question will dominate the airwaves for a full week before Sunday’s trip to New York.
What makes it worse, of course, are the constant comparisons. The 49ers’ breakdown has been choreographed by some of the NFL’s QB elite: Ben Roethlisberger of Pittsburgh, Carson Palmer of Arizona and Aaron Rodgers of Green Bay.
Rodgers is a finished product. It’s an open question whether any other quarterback in the NFL could have matched his first throw – an on-the-run 40-yard missile dropped by Ty Montgomery. Rodgers even completed a pass left-handed as he was pulled down.
When Rodgers runs in circles – as he did before he found Richard Rodgers in the end zone on the game’s first series – he’s buying time and exasperating the defense. When Kaepernick runs in circles, he’s trying to survive to the next snap.
There are reasons why Kaepernick is under siege like no other QB in the game. His offensive line might soon land him in the hospital. He’s already been sacked 14 times, six on Sunday, after being turfed a league-leading 52 times in 2014.
That fact probably is why the 49ers are staying with him. They know it’s more a system-wide failure than one they can attach only to the QB.
“Four games in ... this can’t happen anymore,” guard Alex Boone said. “We’ve got to pick it up and find our identity ... (and have) a good man-to-man session to figure it out.”
It’s not a good visual, however, when your quarterback airmails it left and right, high and low. Kaepernick’s first pass was a one-hopper to tight end Garrett Celek. Only a shortstop could have gloved it.
Late in the game, the boos intensified as he sailed two in a row toward 49er linemen on the bench. Then, with the 49ers threatening, he tossed low to Reggie Bush over the middle. Had he led him properly, it’s likely the 49ers would have scored.
“I would say the one throw I would want to have back is the one to Reggie in the red zone,” Kaepernick said. “He made a great move. I didn’t make the throw.”
Two factors accelerate concerns about Kaepernick: 1. His best games over the years have come at Green Bay’s expense. Not so this time, and 2. The toxic body language from his receivers. Both Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith expressed non-verbal disgust.
“They’re playmakers for this team. They want to contribute,” Kaepernick said. “They want to have an impact and we weren’t able to get the ball to them and allow them to have that impact until later in the game. So, I understand the frustration.”
Right now, Kaepernick’s friends are few. Packers linebacker Clay Matthews mocked him by kissing his bicep after a sack. The wonderkind who was called the nouveau QB of the future is leading a 1-3 ship taking in more water than it can bail.
Have we already seen the best of him? Backed by a killer defense and a stout line, he led a team to the brink of a Super Bowl title only three years ago. But now, it’s Rodgers who carries aces while Kaepernick holds 7-2.
The best of the best, when confronted with such a dillemma – think Jim Plunkett, Joe Theismann, Eli Manning – have persevered. Can Kaepernick will himself through a personal slump and a team drought?
“Study as much as I can. Work as much as I can. That’s the only way I know how to fix things, is go back to work,” he said. “Talking about things, analyzing things, all that is good and has its place, but at the end of the day you have to work to get better.”
All true, but every quarterback in the NFL works hard. Can he rescue himself before he no longer has that opportunity?
Yes, those thorns can draw blood.