Forget for a moment the national anthem protest or Fidel Castro comments or whatever else has swirled around San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick this year.
Kaepernick’s football story is interesting too.
The 49ers kept Kaepernick on the bench for the first part of the season. When the 49ers finally made Kaepernick the starter, the results weren’t good right away. But lately he looks like the same guy we watched in 2012 and 2013, when he seemed on his way to greatness. He was brilliant at times on Sunday.
Kaepernick was 29-of-46 for 296 yards, three touchdowns and an interception, rushed for another 113 yards and nearly dragged the 49ers to an upset against the Miami Dolphins. Kaepernick isn’t perfect, and there are still deficiencies in his game that will probably never be ironed out, but it doesn’t seem like there are 32 better quarterbacks in the NFL.
Kaepernick has revived his career over the past four games. He had 398 passing yards at the New Orleans Saints. The 49ers were probably the worst team in the league at that point, but the last three weeks have been much better. Kaepernick has thrown six touchdowns and one interception the past three weeks, and has rushed for 197 yards. He nearly led an upset over the Arizona Cardinals. The 49ers were more competitive against the New England Patriots last week than anyone expected, trailing just 13-10 going into the fourth quarter. On Sunday, Kaepernick was tackled at the 2-yard line on the final play of the game and the Dolphins won 31-24. The Dolphins came in on a five-game winning streak, and the 49ers almost took them to overtime.
Kaepernick is playing well without much help. The 49ers have perhaps the worst receiving corps in the NFL. They don’t have a competitive roster. Their 1-10 record is not a fluke. But they have been a tough out lately, mainly because of their quarterback.
And this resurgence might be setting up an interesting offseason for Kaepernick.
The 49ers restructured Kaepernick’s contract so he can opt out after the season, or the 49ers can cut him. It’s possible Kaepernick doesn’t opt out and the 49ers decide he is worth the $14.5 million base salary he is slated to make. But if Kaepernick continues this hot streak, it might be in his best interest to opt out. If Sam Bradford and Brock Osweiler were worth $18 million a year last year (and a team thought Bradford, on top of his salary, was worth a first-round pick in a trade), there should theoretically be a starting spot for Kaepernick somewhere.
And now we have to talk about the off-field stuff.
It’s impossible to know how Kaepernick’s political views will hurt him in free agency. He knew what he was getting into when he started his protest, and had to understand that it could affect his career. On a day in which he was very impressive on the field, he didn’t dodge any questions about Castro, the longtime Cuban leader who died this past week. Kaepernick was criticized for wearing a shirt with Castro’s image. He tried to clarify what he said when he seemed to defend Castro earlier this week.
“What I said was I agree with the investment in education,” Kaepernick said in his postgame news conference, according to USA Today. “I also agree with the investment in free universal health care, as well as the involvement in helping end apartheid in South Africa.
“Trying to push the false narrative that I was a supporter of the oppressive things he [Castro] did is just not true. I said I support the investment in education, I never said I support the oppressive things he [Castro] did.”
Teams will know if they invest in Kaepernick next offseason, they’ll be getting that part of the package too. Kaepernick hasn’t expressed the slightest of regrets over his political statements, and that makes his potential free agency tougher to predict.
That will get sorted out in the offseason. Maybe he doesn’t even hit free agency – it’s not like the 49ers have a better quarterback option, and the 2017 draft isn’t filled with future stars at the position. But on a bad 49ers team, Kaepernick has been playing like it’s 2012-13 again. You might not have heard much about Kaepernick’s resurgence on the field because most of the attention he has gotten this year has nothing to do with football. But he has quietly become an interesting figure on the field once again.
Here are the rest of the winners and losers from Week 12 of the NFL season:
Khalil Mack, Derek Carr and the most exciting team in the NFL: The Oakland Raiders are a treat this season.
They played a game of the year candidate on Sunday, coming back to knock off the Carolina Panthers 35-32. They held a big lead, gave it all away, then came back and won late as they’ve done many times this season.
Quarterback Derek Carr was the biggest story. He suffered an apparent right pinkie dislocation, but came back in the second half and played with a glove on his right right hand. And he played very well. His fourth-quarter completion deep down the middle to Michael Crabtree is one of the highlights of their amazing season.
Defensive end Khalil Mack played the closer. Late in the game, with the Panthers hoping to extend the game on fourth-and-10, Mack knocked the ball out of Cam Newton’s hands Von Miller-style and recovered the fumble to seal the win. Mack also had a huge interception return for a touchdown earlier in the game.
The Raiders are 9-2. With the Patriots looking vulnerable after barely escaping the New York Jets with a win Sunday. It’s looking more possible the Raiders end up as the No. 1 seed in the AFC (technically, the Raiders came into Week 12 as the No. 1 seed thanks to tiebreakers over the Patriots). The more Raiders playoff games we get this season, the better. They’re really fun to watch.
Atlanta Falcons: The Falcons will be tough in the playoffs, if they get there. When they’re good, they’re really good.
The offense was scary on Sunday. Even with Patrick Peterson holding Julio Jones to four catches and 35 yards, the Falcons piled up 38 points on the Arizona Cardinals. Taylor Gabriel continued to emerge as a big-play threat, with two touchdowns. Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman had three rushing touchdowns. The offense is diverse and dangerous, and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan is doing a great job calling plays.
The Falcons still are in a tight AFC South race because of the resurgent Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They lead the Bucs by just one game. So the playoffs aren’t guaranteed. But they’ll be a dangerous team in the field if they can get in. The offense is fantastic.
Adam Gase: Early in the season, Gase looked like a rookie head coach and the Miami Dolphins looked terrible.
And then, something clicked.
Sunday’s win over the 49ers wasn’t dominant, but it still counts as their sixth straight victory. At 7-4 they’re in the middle of the AFC playoff race. For a while, as the Jets led late against the Patriots, it looked like the Dolphins might be getting back in the AFC East race. Crazy enough, maybe we shouldn’t rule that out yet (the Dolphins are two games back in the division but do get the Patriots at home in Week 17).
Ryan Tannehill played well again, with 285 yards and three touchdowns. His improvement has been the biggest key to the Dolphins’ turnaround, and give Gase some credit for that. A big part of the reason Gase got the job was his work with quarterbacks, and he’s doing a good job with Tannehill.
At one point this season the Dolphins were 1-4 with a home win in overtime over a Cleveland Browns team that still hasn’t won yet. The Dolphins haven’t lost since that 1-4 start. That’s a credit to the head coach.
Whoever counted out the Tennessee Titans in the AFC South race: When the Titans lost at the Indianapolis Colts last week, it looked like they were in trouble in the AFC South.
But, it’s the AFC South.
Since then the Houston Texans have lost twice and the Colts, without Andrew Luck, lost on Thanksgiving. The Titans didn’t exactly blow the Chicago Bears away – thank you, Josh Bellamy – but they’re probably back to being the favorite in the division.
The Titans sweated out a win against the Bears to improve to 6-6, and are just a half game behind the 6-5 Texans. The Titans have a bye next week, which should help for the stretch run. The Titans have a home game against the Denver Broncos right after the bye and then play at the Kansas City Chiefs, so the schedule isn’t easy. But the AFC South is mostly terrible, so the Titans are in a good spot. And given how well the offense has played with second-year breakout quarterback Marcus Mariota, it might not be an easy playoff opener for whoever would have to travel to Nashville on wild-card weekend.
Anyone besides the Dallas Cowboys who wanted the NFC’s top seed: Don’t book JerryWorld for the NFC playoffs. It looks like the Cowboys might be using it well into January.
The Cowboys have practically clinched the NFC’s No. 1 seed, barring a collapse down the stretch. The Seattle Seahawks took a bad loss at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, to fall to 7-3-1. Suddenly, the Cowboys have a two-and-a-half game lead over the other three division leaders for the top seed.
Getting the top seed doesn’t guarantee winning a conference title, but it helps. Also, the Cowboys are perhaps the most reliable team in the NFL right now because even the other “good” teams have been inconsistent. That’s especially true for the …
Seattle Seahawks: The Seahawks should be thankful the NFC West is bad. Because they’ve taken a lot of questionable losses for a good team.
The Seahawks looked terrible in a 14-5 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Seahawks went in with a couple of costly injuries to safety Earl Thomas and defensive end Michael Bennett, but that doesn’t explain why the offense never got in the end zone. Losing running back C.J. Prosise, who briefly gave the team a dangerous element, hurt. Prosise isn’t coming back from a broken scapula for a long time, if he returns this season.
The Seahawks have been surprisingly inconsistent. Their win at the New England Patriots might be the best win for any NFL team this season. They also have losses to the Rams and Buccaneers in which they didn’t score a touchdown.
Seattle still has perhaps the most talent in the NFC, or maybe even the entire NFL. At its best, it can reach a championship level. But which Seahawks team is going to show up from week to week?
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