Two years ago, Colin Kaepernick beat Cam Newton in Newton’s own building in the playoffs. He even mimicked Newton’s “Superman” pose after a four-yard touchdown run in the third quarter of the divisional game in Charlotte, N.C.
Kaepernick was on top of the world; Newton faced questions about whether he could lead the Carolina Panthers to a meaningful playoff win after the 49ers sacked him five times and he threw two interceptions.
Now everything is flipped.
Newton is the toast of the NFL, is being billed as the new face of the league and is so hot he’s expected to be named the league’s MVP. Kaepernick is at his lowest point since entering the NFL, along with Newton, in 2011. Kaepernick is rehabilitating from three surgeries and his future with the team is in limbo. To bring everything full circle: Newton will be playing in the Super Bowl in Kaepernick’s own building.
59.8 Cam Newton’s completion percentage this season
The reversal of fortunes is a great lesson in how quickly things can change in the NFL. But Newton’s success also should inspire Kaepernick. The 2011 scouting combine roommates share many attributes, including powerful right arms and the ability to hurt opponents with their legs.
Their 2015 statistics were more similar than you would think considering Kaepernick was benched after eight games and Newton is a favorite for the NFL’s highest honor. Newton completed 59.8 percent of his passes; Kaepernick completed 59.0 percent.
Newton also had 35 touchdown passes, 10 scoring runs and was sacked 33 times in 16 starts. Kaepernick threw for six touchdowns, ran for one and was sacked 28 times in eight starts. The biggest difference: The Panthers won a lot of games, and the 49ers lost most of theirs.
Still, Newton’s success probably is good for Kaepernick. Newton’s march through the playoffs makes it easy to envision Kaepernick playing a similar style and having similar success. It’s also worth noting that as low as Kaepernick is right now, it was only two years ago he and the 49ers marched through the playoffs, including that victory over Newton’s Panthers.
Chip Kelly, the 49ers’ new coach, might decide Kaepernick is worth keeping. If not, other teams – including the Cleveland Browns, New York Jets and Houston Texans – seem like good fits.
The Denver Broncos, the Panthers’ opponent in Super Bowl 50, also are an interesting possibility because Peyton Manning’s career seems to be coming to a close. The Broncos will pick 30th or 31st in the draft, so they probably won’t have a shot at one of the top quarterbacks.
59.0 Colin Kaepernick’s completion percentage this season
Kaepernick’s success, like Newton’s, came on teams that had strong defenses and were dedicated to the run. Denver had the league’s top defense in 2015.
Defense rules – On the topic of Denver’s defense, seemingly every time the New England Patriots get bounced from the playoffs, it’s because their opponent is able to pressure quarterback Tom Brady. He was sacked four times Sunday, hit 20 – twenty! – times and had a 56.4 passer rating.
One Broncos outside rusher, Von Miller, sacked Brady 2 1/2 times. Another, Demarcus Ware, had seven hits on him. Denver also did a nice job keeping both guys fresh. As integral as he is to the defense, Miller played only 78 percent of the defensive snaps; Ware was in on 70 percent.
A defense never can have enough good pass rushers, something the 49ers undoubtedly will keep in mind during free agency and the draft.
49ers’ Super ties – After playing just one snap in Denver’s division-round win over the Pittsburgh Steelers, tight end Vernon Davis played 10 snaps Sunday. But he was targeted just once and didn’t have a catch.
Davis, wide receiver Kyle Williams (on injured reserve) and coaches Gary Kubiak, Greg Knapp and Chris Beake have been with the 49ers.
For the Panthers, the list includes wide receiver Ted Ginn, special-teams ace Colin Jones, guard Matt Masifilo (reserve/future) and coaches Pete Hoener, Bruce DeHaven, Ray Brown and Ken Dorsey.
Super Bowl 50
- Who: Denver Broncos (14-4)
- vs. Carolina Panthers (17-1)
- When: Sunday, Feb. 7, 3:30 p.m.
- Where: Levi’s Stadium
- TV/radio: Ch. 13, 1140