The Colin Kaepernick of 2013 is starting to look a lot like the Colin Kaepernick of 2012, and that’s a good sign for a 49ers team that took another step toward the playoffs Sunday.
The third-year quarterback threw touchdown passes to Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis in a 33-14 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and he finished with a 108.8 passer rating, the third time in four games he has surpassed a 100 rating.
Kaepernick’s knack for turning broken plays into big gains also seems to have returned. He beat the Buccaneers with his arm and feet, with some of his best throws coming on the run.
“Some of those escapes from the pocket, (there were) guys grabbing at him – the shoulders, the legs,” 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said. “He’s kicking out of tackles and picking up first downs three, four, five times in the game. And some incredible out-of-the-pocket throws and first-down conversions.”
Said Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano of Kaepernick: “We had opportunities, without a doubt, to stop him, and we didn’t do it. That’s what it boils down to.”
The 49ers (10-4) had a chance to wrap up a playoff spot, but Arizona’s overtime win over Tennessee delayed their clinching.
San Francisco’s most crucial drive – and perhaps Kaepernick’s best throw – came after Tampa Bay cut its deficit to six early in the fourth quarter on a 24-yard touchdown pass from Mike Glennon to Tim Wright.
Kaepernick and the 49ers got the ball back with 14:54 to play and didn’t kick it back to the Buccaneers until 4:31 remained.
In between, they drove 77 yards and picked up six first downs before Phil Dawson kicked a 21-yard field goal that all but put the game out of reach for Tampa Bay (4-10).
The biggest first-down conversion on the possession followed what seemed at the time to be a momentum-swinging unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty on Crabtree, who broke open downfield but couldn’t catch up with Kaepernick’s overthrown pass.
The wide receiver picked up the ball and flung it back upfield, drawing a 15-yard penalty. Earlier in the game, Crabtree had broken open deep downfield, but Kaepernick settled for an underneath throw to Anquan Boldin instead.
“A little frustrating,” Crabtree said. “You really don’t see too many plays like that from me. Emotions, you know?”
Three plays later, however, Crabtree and Kaepernick made up for the receiver’s lack of composure. With the 49ers facing third and 12, Kaepernick was immediately flushed from the pocket by blitzing Buccaneers defenders to his left. He drifted to his right, and just before reaching the sideline, he fired a 14-yard pass to Crabtree for a first down.
“Kaepernick really put on his cape,” Harbaugh said. “A couple of those conversions were, I don’t know how to describe them. There’s not a lot of people that can make those kinds of plays that he was making, making them with his feet, making them with his arm, making them with his head. I mean, who’s able to do that in this league? Very few guys.”
Kaepernick’s ability to roll right and throw downfield – something he did with great effect at Nevada – was on display throughout the game, including on his first touchdown pass, when he spotted Crabtree in the corner of the end zone for a 4-yard score.
It was Crabtree’s first touchdown since the Super Bowl and the first touchdown catch this season for a 49er other than Davis and Boldin. After the game, Crabtree said he felt as good as he did before he tore his Achilles’ tendon in May. He returned Dec. 1.
Crabtree noted that on some of his deep routes, he had a step on Tampa Bay cornerback Darrelle Revis, who is widely considered one of the top players at his position and who has been nicknamed “Revis Island.”
Asked how he fared against Revis, Crabtree at first played coy.
“Who?” he said.
When reminded, he said, “I know who he is. They used to be talking about some island or something.”