SAN FRANCISCO – Moments after his final drive on Sunday ended with an interception in the red zone, Colin Kaepernick walked to the sideline, ripped off his helmet and unleashed a torrent of four-letter words.
It was a fitting ending to a second straight week of frustration for the heralded 49ers quarterback.
Seven days after Seattle's swarming defense held the 49ers without a touchdown, Indianapolis surrendered just one in a 27-7 thrashing of the defending NFC champions. The 49ers turned the ball over twice, punted seven of their first eight drives and crossed Indianapolis' 40-yard line just two times, generating such little offense that they drew a mock cheer from the smattering of fans left at Candlestick Park when Kaepernick completed a pass for a first down late in the fourth quarter.
Kaepernick rushed for just 20 yards and threw for only 150 on 13-of-27 passing, not exactly reminiscent of the video games statistics he delivered in the playoffs last winter or against Green Bay in San Francisco's season opener. The disappointment was etched all over Kaepernick as he trudged to the tunnel stone-faced after the game and as he stared at a hole in the floor while sitting in front of his locker. But the notoriously terse quarterback composed himself by the time he stepped to the podium to face questions from the media.
Asked how he thought he played, Kaepernick said, "I have to be better."
Asked whether he had enough open receivers to throw to, Kaepernick said, "I have to be able to throw to open receivers and give them a chance to make plays."
And asked how frustrated he was with a second straight loss, Kaepernick sighed and said, "I'm frustrated with myself."
It's silly to draw too many conclusions three weeks into the season, but for at least one Sunday, the Colts and 49ers looked like teams headed in opposite directions. Indianapolis rode a balanced offense and a stingy defense to a 2-1 start and a signature victory. San Francisco revealed cracks that may be difficult to patch in the coming months.
Though Kaepernick was quick to point the finger at himself, he didn't forget how to play quarterback the past two weeks. The truth is San Francisco's first losing streak of the Jim Harbaugh era has more to do with the rest of the 49ers' offensive personnel than it does their quarterback. With receivers Michael Crabtree and Mario Manningham sidelined by injuries until at least midseason and tight end Vernon Davis nursing a hamstring strain, the 49ers lacked the big-play threats to make either the Seahawks or Colts pay for playing press coverage in passing downs. Kaepernick went for less than 6 yards per pass attempt Sunday and he seldom attempted to throw downfield because his receivers couldn't create separation.
On the off chance a receiver broke free against the secondary, the 49ers frequently misfired. Kaepernick threw behind a wide-open Kyle Williams in the flat on third-and-four at the Indianapolis 44 late in the first quarter. Quinton Patton also dropped a potential first-down catch over the middle to end the 49ers' next drive with a three-and-out.
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"It's just execution," wide receiver Marlon Moore said. "We've got to get open, the offensive line has to block and the quarterback has to make reads and throw the ball. It's a collective unit."
A huge game from the running backs would have been well-timed with the injuries to the receiving corps, but the ground attack was mostly ineffective. Aside from the 78 yards on the ground that the 49ers gained during their lone touchdown drive late in the first quarter, they managed just 37 yards on 17 carries the rest of the afternoon.
The Colts frequently used a linebacker to spy on Kaepernick and they stacked the box with seven and eight defenders to clog Frank Gore's running lanes.
"Their engine is Kaepernick and Frank Gore, so we had to account for those two guys," Colts defensive end Robert Mathis said. "Job one was taking away Kaepernick and job two was taking away Gore."
San Francisco's defense remains strong enough to keep it in the game, even as its offense is struggling, but the 49ers finally broke in the fourth quarter Sunday when Indianapolis extended a six-point lead. Andrew Luck punctuated a seven-minute drive with a bootleg for a touchdown to make the score 20-7 with 4:13 to go and Ahmad Bradshaw added a 1-yard touchdown run less than two minutes later.
Even more disconcerting for the 49ers: attrition is starting to weaken their vaunted front seven. Patrick Willis limped off the field with a groin injury late in the third quarter and Aldon Smith is out indefinitely as he seeks treatment for substance abuse issues.
About the only good sign for the 49ers on Sunday was the united front they presented in the locker room after the game. There was no blame game or finger-pointing, just a desire to get things fixed in time for Thursday's Week 4 matchup against the St. Louis Rams.
"We've got to look at ourselves, see what's going on and see what we're not doing right," Gore said. "We've got the talent. We've got a great coordinator. We've just got to keep driving and get in a rhythm."
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