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Niners at the crossroads
Can Kaepernick, SF rise from the ashes of 2014?
49ers pic1
Colin Kaepernick evades a pass rush from Oaklands Khalil Mack and targets a receiver from outside the pocket on Sunday. - photo by FRANKIE TOVAR / The Journal

Oh the dynamics of Sunday’s Battle of the Bay between the Oakland Raiders and the San Francisco 49ers. Since their first meeting in 1970, the Bay Bridge rivals have always provided fodder for fans and media when they play. What else would you expect from a pair of proud NFL organizations separated by only 34 miles?

Sunday’s matchup between the two West Coast teams had a little more intrigue than usual, however. The season-long rumor mill placing Jim Harbaugh as the next head coach in Oakland and the recent debate as to who the better quarterback is, Derek Carr or Colin Kaepernick, had fans whipped into a frenzy as they poured into Coliseum.

Of course, with the very real prospect of missing the playoffs for the first time in three years and lack of offensive production the past few weeks, all the expectations and pressure rested on San Francisco’s shoulders. Oakland on the other hand, with only one win through 12 games, had nothing to lose and everything to gain, and it showed on the field.

To say Oakland’s win on Sunday was a shock would be an understatement. Even Raiders fans, who always cheer on their team no matter what the circumstances, were surprised to see their team essentially handle the 49ers with ease. Though they’d surely tell you they knew the game would play out that way. No one seemed more shocked and affected by the game than Kaepernick, however. With the increased scrutiny of his interactions with local media and the swirling doubts about his ability on the field, Kaepernick, more than anybody else, needed Sunday to go his way. Instead, he threw an interception on the very first play of the game and watched things go downhill from there.

By the end of the game he was sacked five times, threw a second interception and provided naysayers with more fuel when he stiff armed a reporter’s camera. The look on his face during the post-game press conference said it all. Sunday was a bad day.

But while the loss to the Raiders might have been rock bottom for Kaepernick and the 49ers, their underwhelming season still isn’t over and there are likely to be more lows for the team in the next three weeks and through the off season.

Playoff dreams are all but dead with Seattle, San Diego and Arizona remaining on the schedule. Even if an offensive turnaround were to take place in the remaining three games, Kaepernick is going to have to deal with is detractors and be reminded of his shortcomings until the start of the 2015 season. He’s also very likely going to have to deal with the loss of Harbaugh, his head coach and mentor.

How will Kaepernick and the 49ers as a whole respond to these tribulations? Time will tell. But while it’s understandable that the organization and its fans are disappointed and even disenchanted with this season’s turn of events, they should, in a weird way, be thankful. Or at the very least excited about the opportunities this downturn will provide.

What in tarnation am I talking about, you say? Just hear me out.

Everybody has bad games, even bad seasons, from Dan Marino to Drew Brees. Just as a poor game can’t define an entire season, a poor season can’t define an entire career. At least not always. Kaepernick has been San Francisco’s holy child since he burst onto the scene in his second year in the league. He went from backup to superstar overnight and became a household name with little to no pushback. 2014 has undoubtedly been his worst year as a NFL starter, and as one would expect in a league that fosters a win-now mentality, he’s experienced significant push back for the first time in his career. This has given Kaepernick a rare opportunity to redeem himself once next season rolls around. You can’t ride the highs without experiencing the lows, and Kaepernick should keep that in mind. The only thing better than starting a career on fire is to earn redemption though hard work and play, and if Kaepernick can do that after this season, he’ll always be remembered for it.

The same can be said for the team as a whole. It’s no secret that San Francisco’s resurgence into relevancy coincided with the hiring of Harbaugh. If the 49ers can bounce back from this season without Harbaugh at the helm, then the talent of the players will be recognized just as much, if not more, than the brilliance of Harbaugh the coach. It’ll be satisfying for Jed York and the front office, too, I’m sure.

But these could-be scenarios will be based on performance and execution. If Kaepernick and the 49ers respond to their recent misfortunes by digressing, the narrative surrounding them will be drastically different. And that’s the question the 49er Faithfull are surely asking themselves right now. How will 2014 be remembered? Is this season the launching point for another decline in 49ers’ history or will it simply be remembered as a footnote in a successful era led by Kaepernick?

Only the players can provide the answers and they’ll start this Sunday in Seattle.