COMMENTARY | The San Francisco 49ers won their fourth consecutive game on Sunday by defeating the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 33-14. While statistics may not show it, quarterback Colin Kaepernick was the best player on the field, and it wasn't even close. This is huge for San Francisco moving forward, even as it is still one win away from clinching a playoff spot and one Seattle Seahawks win away from having the NFC West title taken from it for the first time in three years.
Kaepernick completed 19-of-29 passes for 203 yards and a score. He also added 39 yards on seven attempts. These stats may not look sexy, nor will they set the fantasy world on fire. With that in mind, it's what Kaepernick did on Sunday that is more telling. He was responsible for all six of San Francisco's third-down conversions, usually buying time and making a play when it appeared that everything had broken down behind the line of scrimmage. Kaepernick hit No. 1 wide receiver Michael Crabtree multiple times on deadly accurate passes that went for first downs. It is this type of performance that lends credence to the idea that Kaepernick skeptics had simply rushed to judgment earlier in the season.
The third-year quarterback has now accounted for 18 touchdowns and just four interceptions since the 49ers Week 3 loss to the Indianapolis Colts. He possesses a quarterback rating in the triple digits during that span and is leading an offense that is averaging nearly 32 points per outing in those 10 games. Some will point to a lack of awe-inspiring passing totals, but that means little in the grand scheme of things. After all, Kaepernick is doing the most with the attempts that he is putting up each game. This is evidenced by the fact that he ranks in the top five of the NFL in yards per completion and percentage of yards traveled through the air. The latter statistic indicating that his receivers have not put up a ton of yards after the catch. Total passing yards can be a bit skewed by outside factors. Consider this. Alex Smith's five touchdown passes on Sunday traveled a total of 13 yards in the air.
One of the biggest factors that has led to Kaepernick's resurgence from early-season struggles is the fact that he has a completely healthy set of receivers in the fold for the first time all year. While Crabtree and Mario Manningham combined for just 47 receiving yards on eight targets, Tampa Bay had to account for them in the passing game.
This enabled Kaepernick to hit Vernon Davis down the field and open up the offense. Despite a drop in the second quarter that could have led to a touchdown, Davis put up 79 yards and a score on five catches. When a defense cannot hone in on one receiver, whether it is Anquan Boldin, Davis or Crabtree, San Francisco's passing attack seems to take off. This was evidenced, to an extent, on Sunday.
I still wanted to see Greg Roman's offense open it up a bit more in this one. Kaepernick started out the game incredibly hot, hitting on his first seven passes before the aforementioned Davis drop. He then hit the tight end for a 52-yard touchdown on the next drive, putting the 49ers up 17-0. After Tampa Bay responded with a methodical scoring drive of its own, the 49ers went into the half with a 10-point lead.
Instead of enabling Kaepernick to air it out to start the second half, San Francisco opened it up with two runs of the first three plays. There is little doubt that the third-year quarterback can beat defenses with his cannon arm. The idea in these final two games needs to be to put it together on a consistent basis. Maybe that comes next week against an atrocious Atlanta Falcons pass rush, but I digress.
No matter how well San Francisco's defense is playing, it is going to have to rely on the right arm of Colin Kaepernick at some point in the playoffs. If nothing else, the 49ers win on Sunday against a Tampa Bay team that came in winners of four of its last five was a step in the right direction.
Vincent Frank has been covering the National Football League for three years. He started out writing for Bleacher Report and is currently the head editor at eDraft and a columnist at Pro Football Focus. Vincent co-hosts a weekly radio show called "Football Debate Central" with former NFL player Ryan Riddle and has seen his work featured on CNN, BR and Los Angeles Times, among many other outlets.
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