Four games into a season of great expectations, the 49ers stood at a crossroads. With two exuberant wins and two gut-wrenching losses, San Francisco needed another success to recapture a winning record and keep pace for postseason contention.
Much the same could be said about Colin Kaepernick, the pride of Turlock. The Niners quarterback threw for more than 200 yards in each of the first four contests, though his three interceptions doomed his team's chances in their Levi's Stadium opener in week two. San Francisco needs and asks much of its fleet-footed leader playing just his second season as a regular starter. Could he deliver?
Kaep played well enough against Kansas City on Sunday, exceeding 200 passing yards again, completing a touchdown pass, and rushing 10 times for key yardage. But the Niners won, 22-17, as the result of perhaps their best team effort to date this year.
Running back Frank Gore plowed through the Chiefs' defense for 107 yards. Receivers like Brandon Lloyd made difficult catches in clutch situations. Ageless kicker Phil Dawson (okay, he's 39) converted a perfect five field goal attempts, two of them longer than 50 yards.
San Francisco committed no turnovers. Special teams, which committed gaffes that nearly lost a game to the Philadelphia Eagles a week earlier, tightened up and even executed a fake punt for a first down.
And the defense, which yielded a touchdown to Kansas City on the game's first possession, made adjustments and eventually clinched the game with an interception late in the fourth quarter.
Kaep didn't do it all against the Chiefs, but the Niners won because he didn't have to do it all.
“We played great as a team today,” Kaepernick said. “The defense, special teams, the offensive line, the running backs, everyone made plays.”
They needed to do so to beat the Chiefs, led by Kaepernick's predecessor. Alex Smith, who lost his job as the Niners starting quarterback to Kaep in 2012, capably led Kansas City with two touchdown passes and 175 passing yards. He had a chance to carry the Chiefs to a fourth quarter comeback win before throwing up a decisive interception to cornerback Perrish Cox.
The game may have had extra significance for San Francisco head coach Jim Harbaugh, who was rumored to have lost the support of his players, according to broadcaster and former Forty-Niner Deion Sanders. Current players including Kaepernick and Dawson denounced Sanders' comments as unfounded and wrong on the same day that team CEO Jed York expressed unwavering support of Harbaugh. “My destiny lies between these walls with these men,” the coach said.
But Harbaugh was happier talking about his quarterback than addressing locker room talk. Like his coach, Kaepernick has an enormous hand in the future of his franchise, and like his coach, he'll get a lion's share of the credit or blame for the team's results, rightly or wrongly.
“Colin was outstanding against a really strong pass rush and an outstanding defense,” Harbaugh said. “Kaep made some pinpoint throws and bailed us out on some scrambles to pick up first downs.”