PITTSBURGH – Facing a Pittsburgh Steelers defense intent on stopping Week 1 NFL rushing leader Pierre Garçon, Colin Kaepernick threw a career-high 46 times on Sunday.
In the process, the San Francisco 49ers quarterback recorded his fourth career 300-yard passing game. But by the time the offense found its rhythm, Pittsburgh had already put the game out of reach, defeating San Francisco, 43-18, at Heinz Field.
"As a defensive coordinator, you're going to notice if someone runs like Hyde did last week," Kaepernick said. "You have to address that and they did. We got to our passing game, we just got to it a little bit late."
On its second possession of the afternoon, the 49ers offense strung together a 17-play drive, marching down the field to set up a 1st-and-goal at the 10-yard line. But one penalty, one sack and two negative plays later, San Francisco was forced to settle for three points.
"You can't have field goals in that situation," Kaepernick said. "Obviously with the offense the Steelers had, we had to go and match them touchdown for touchdown. We didn't do that today."
At halftime, Kaepernick's stat line looked far different than how it finished. The signal-caller completed 11-of-15 passes but for only 61 yards.
"You have to be able to take what the defense gives you," Kaepernick said. "They were playing deep on most of those plays, so we're not going to throw that way down the field. So that limits you to shorter passes."
In the third quarter, the 49ers mounted another methodical drive, this time spanning 18 plays and 82 yards. But once the team reached the goal line, the momentum stalled. The offense failed to score despite taking eight snaps inside the Pittsburgh 12-yard line.
"We didn't play our best football today and it showed," Kaepernick said. "There were times when we had opportunities to make plays and we didn't."
That changed for the most part in the fourth quarter. On the offense's first two possessions of the final period, Kaepernick threw touchdown passes.
The first came on a 4th-and-goal from the 14-yard line when the quarterback fired a dart to Anquan Boldin in the back of the end zone. The veteran wideout tapped both feet inbounds before falling on the chalk. Three minutes later, after the Steelers answered with a score of their own, Kaepernick hit Torrey Smith over the middle of the field for a 75-yard strike – the longest catch and run of Smith's career.
"There were things from this game that we can take away as a positives, but we don't play for moral victories," Kaepernick said. "We have to look at it this week, move on and learn from it moving forward."
San Francisco's final turn with the ball on Sunday effectively summed up the game. The 49ers again drove the length of the field but couldn't finish in the red zone. On the 15th snap of the possession, Kaepernick, who led the team in rushing with 51 yards on eight carries, was stopped just shy of the goal line on a fourth-down scramble.
The Steelers took over, ran out the clock and handed San Francisco its first loss when Kaepernick has thrown for more than 300 yards. The signal-caller finished the day 33-of-46 passing for 335 yards, two scores and a 106.7 quarterback rating. He was also sacked five times.
"We have to move on to the next game," Kaepernick said. "We're more of the team from Week 1. We didn't play our best football today. Everyone knows that. For us, we have to regroup and get ready for Arizona next week."