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Kaepernick Seizes the Spotlight

Posted Dec 16, 2012

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Facing one of the most accomplished quarterbacks in the history of the National Football League in the biggest start of his young career – San Francisco’s own second-year signal-caller threw more touchdowns and had a better passer rating than Tom Brady did on Sunday night.

Colin Kaepernick’s fifth-career start wasn’t normal by any means – it was spectacular and provided a much-needed 41-34 road win over the AFC’s current No. 3 seed, the New England Patriots.

“We knew we were going to have to put up points,” said Kaepernick after improving to 4-1 as a starter and helping San Francisco clinch a playoff berth in consecutive seasons. “Tom Brady and that offense are very potent. They can put up a lot of points so we knew we were going to need to match that today.”

So just how impressive was Kaepernick against the Patriots at their home stadium? Just ask fellow 2011 draft class member, Aldon Smith, the NFL’s sack leader, currently tied with J.J. Watt at 19.5 on the year.

“I’ve told everybody from the beginning Kaepernick’s good,” said Smith on a night where he didn’t sack Tom Brady, but did record his first-career interception against the future Hall of Famer, the second of the night on the Patriots well-known passer.

In Smith’s mind, Kaepernick’s four-touchdown outing on a national stage proved just how impressive the 49ers young quarterback can be against top-notch opposition.

“He’s the truth,” Smith added. “He’s good, accept it and keep expecting good things from him.”

Offensive players echoed those statements.

Right tackle Anthony Davis searched for the right phrasing to describe the magnitude of Kaepernick’s fifth career start. He summed it up as such:

“He just beat Brady in his house,” Davis said, pausing afterwards to let those words stand.

As much as the young quarterback excelled on Sunday, he wasn’t alone.

The win over New England was a team-effort, one that ensured Jim Harbaugh would become the third coach in team history to win 10-plus games in first two seasons joining George Seifert and Steve Mariucci.

San Francisco’s collective effort, four turnovers on defense, countless deep passing plays leading to points, hard runs from Frank Gore (83 yards on 21 carries) and a 62-yard kickoff return when the game was tied at 31 by LaMichael James – all contributed to the win.

Because of the group effort, the 49ers improved to 6-1 in primetime games under Harbaugh, and the same 6-1 record in games on the East Coast under his guidance.

“I think anytime you come into a hostile environment like this and we played the way we played, it showed the character of this team, the toughness and the will to win,” cornerback Tarell Brown said.

The 49ers got up on the Patriots early, 17-3 at half, and added to their lead with two more third-quarter touchdowns to push the advantage to 28 points.

Even when New England responded with a flurry of second half yards and points, Kaepernick remained cool, calm and collected.

The leadership in the face of adversity truly impressed his teammates.

“He’s a great player,” said Delanie Walker, who caught Kaepernick’s second touchdown of the game, a 34-yard go route where he was left wide open down the visitor’s sideline. “He rose to the occasion and played a great game. You really can’t tell it’s his second year with the way he’s commanding the offense. I praise him for that.”

Kaepernick’s running has set him apart from most NFL quarterbacks in the early stages of his career, but on Sunday, velocity and accuracy reigned supreme. The quarterback now has 100-plus quarterback ratings in three of his five starts, including Sunday’s 107.7 rating against New England.

He’s also soon to experience his first taste of postseason action. It’s just a matter of figuring out seeding in the remaining two weeks of the regular season with games against Seattle and Arizona left on the schedule.

“It feels great to get this win, help us move forward towards where we want to be for the playoffs,” Kaepernick said.

Postseason football will be here soon, but for now, Kaepernick can take pride in performing well in difficult circumstances (a cold, rainy game) against last season’s defending AFC champions.

“It's a big stage to come out here and play tonight,” the young 49ers signal-caller said, “but at the same time you have to approach it like it's any other game and try to get this win so we could get where we want to be for the playoffs.”

The focus is already on Seattle, who remains 1.5 games behind San Francisco with a big win over the Buffalo Bills.

“Every single game we play from here on out will feel like a playoff game,” said linebacker NaVorro Bowman, who recorded his first-career forced fumble to go with a team-high 11 tackles. “We’re looking forward to Seattle.”

Having beaten New England on the road in a “weather game,” the experience should only bode well for San Francisco and its young passer when they travel next Sunday to play in a loud road environment in the Pacific Northwest.

For now, the team can take pride in Sunday’s solid performance until the team lands back in the Bay Area and starts preparation for the Seahawks, the same team they held out of the end zone in a 13-6 win at Candlestick Park back in Week 7.

Seattle has score 50 points or more in back-to-back weeks and don’t plan on giving up the NFC division title without a fight.

The 49ers, meanwhile, feel good about getting back to the postseason. To them, it speaks volumes about the program under Harbaugh.

“It shows how much work we’ve put in and what type of guys we have on this team,” Bowman added. “We have a huge goal and that’s to win the Super Bowl. We’ve got to keep going.”

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