By Jerrell Richardson
Despite a ton of talent on their roster, the odds were stacked against the 49ers entering this season to win it all. As the runner up to the Lombardi Trophy a year ago, they were facing the dreaded Super Bowl curse. While there is no actual curse, there is no denying the fact that since the Super Bowl era began, there have been but two teams able to accomplish what San Francisco was trying to pull off this season; and both of those teams played in the '70s. Add to that a young team that was decimated by injuries to start the season and one can only be impressed with the performance this season and hopeful for the future of this organization. What stood out this year was the play of Colin Kaepernick and the emergence of the defense as arguably the best in the league.
Kaepernick Has Arrived
After all the early season complaints and doubts, when the dust settled on the regular season, San Francisco was 12-4, and tied with Carolina for the second best record in the NFC. Colin Kaepernick had some good and bad moments, but in the end he proved that he can be trusted with the future of the team. The only real knock on Kaepernick is his accuracy and ability to beat opponents from the pocket. While this is valid, it’s a bit unfair. He can continue to work on his mechanics to help his delivery, and his 58.4 percent completion percentage is still respectable.
While 58.4 percent lands Kaepernick near the bottom of the quarterbacks this year, he is right behind Matthew Stafford who had a 58.5 percent completion rate and the defending Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco wrapped up the season with a 59.0 percent completion percentage. So it’s not as though Kaepernick is wildly inaccurate, and he more than makes up for it with his legs. While throwing for 3,197 yards, 21 touchdowns and just eight interceptions, Kaepernick ran for 524 yards and four touchdowns this season. Put it all together and he was responsible for 3,721 yards and 24 touchdowns, which is a dream season for a player in his first full season as a starter.
Kaepernick is far from perfect and has made countless mistakes, but that’s how you learn at his position. The two greatest quarterbacks of this era are Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, both whom have made critical mistakes that have cost their teams Super Bowls. Instead of getting lost in the moment, those who point to Kaepernick's shortcomings need to step back and realize that the greatest aid for any quarterback is experience and something that can be faked. The bottom line is that the kid has taken his team to a Super Bowl and NFC Championship Game, and shown that he can win in any conditions under any type of pressure. Give him time to add experience to his God-given talent and the sky is the limit for number seven and the 49er offense.
49ers Had Best Defense In Football
Carolina could boast the best front seven, and Seattle with the aid of their 12th Man had the best secondary, but top to bottom, no defense was better than San Francisco's. The 49ers did not allow a single back to rush for 100 yards against them (until the Marshawn Lynch in the NFC Championship), due in large part to the tandem of NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis. The two linebackers are a force in the middle of the field and a big reason that San Francisco was so stingy against the run.
While teams found it impossible to run the ball against San Francisco, passing the ball was not a walk in the park either. Rookie safety Eric Reid could become one of the best at his position and helped round out a secondary that was almost as good as the run defense. The old saying goes, “Defense wins championships,” and with an elite unit that will only get better as Reid progresses, the 49ers will remain in contention for the near future.
Good Even In Defeat
The only bad games the 49ers played this season were when they went to Seattle in Week 2 and the following week at home against the Colts. In their other two defeats, against two very talented teams (Carolina and New Orleans), the 49ers were in the game until the final play and could have easily won. This season they were able to remain in their games until the last minute due to their dual-threat passer, their elite defense and more often than not a combination of both.
Even this last game against Seattle, when the team committed three late turnovers, the 49ers were still in a position to pull out a comeback victory – thanks in large part to Kaepernick and the defense. While the goal was a Super Bowl title, the 49ers at least continue to move in the right direction and can’t ignore the two playoff wins over two formidable opponents in less than ideal conditions. With another off season to go back to the shop and tinker, and with all the tools already at hand, the same 49er team that almost went to Seattle and pulled off a major upset will be even better and more motivated next year to complete their quest for six titles.
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Jerrell Richardson is a Bay Area native who due to a college career at San Diego State University has grown an appreciation for all things sports related in California. His heart will always remain in San Francisco though where he currently resides and covers everything from the San Francisco 49ers and Giants to the San Jose Sharks and California Bears Baseball team. Jerrell is a freelance writer covering all things NFL. His work can be found on Examiner.com.
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