Skilled Kaepernick has his way with Bucs
The Tampa Tribune, published 16 December 2013

There’s a reason Colin Kaepernick nearly led the 49ers to a Super Bowl victory last February in his first year as an NFL starting quarterback. Tampa Bay Buccaneers fans saw Kaepernick’s breathtaking athleticism on full display Sunday as he repeatedly frustrated Bucs defenders with his quick feet and powerful right arm.

“He is a phenomenal athlete ... phenomenal,’’ said Tampa Bay rookie defensive end William Gholston, who deflected two of Kaepernick’s 29 pass attempts. “You’ve got to give credit where credit is due. A couple of times, I felt I should have had him and he slipped right out of my hands.’’

Gholston has plenty of company in that regard. Kaepernick threw for 203 yards and two touchdowns and added 39 yards on his seven scrambles, breaking tackles and Tampa Bay hearts along the way. “Today was a prime example of a premier athlete making plays,’’ said Bucs safety Dashon Goldson, who played with Kaepernick last year during San Francisco’s Super Bowl run. “He makes things happen with his feet, and that’s how (Michael) Vick made a name for himself in this league. I think he’s a great pocket passer as well. He can deliver the ball as fast as anybody on a line, and he can do it accurately.’’

The 49ers played a turnover-free game against a defense that entered the matchup with an NFL-high 29 takeaways, but Bucs linebacker Lavonte David thought he had picked off Kaepernick early in the third quarter, with Tampa Bay trailing 17-7. David reached up for an interception and returned it 69 yards for an apparent score, cramping up as he reached the end zone, but the dazzling play was nullified by an offside penalty against Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy.

“That killed me,’’ David said of the frustrating sequence. “I kind of popped the ball up, I saw it go in the air and I skied for it. Then I got up and my teammates were yelling, ‘Keep going, nobody touched you.’ That play would have been big for us, so that was tough. Even though our record shows otherwise, we want to show we’re a real force in this league. We killed ourselves on those third-down plays.’’

Kaepernick had a lot to do with those disappointments, often slithering through a pesky pass rush to buy extra time and find Michael Crabtree or Anquan Boldin to sustain drives. “We tried to contain him, but obviously he broke our contain and made plays with his legs,’’ Bucs cornerback Darrelle Revis said. “We know what kind of quarterback he is, and you’ve got to stop his strength. We didn’t do enough of it.’’

Asked to compare Kaepernick to another young dual threat under center, Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, who burned the Bucs on a 56-yard run two weeks ago, Gholston simply said: “Cam’s bigger.’’

The 49ers opened the scoring on Crabtree’s 4-yard catch as Kaepernick rolled right and patiently waited for an open target to emerge. Kaepernick’s other touchdown throw came when he launched a 52-yard laser to Vernon Davis, who lived up to his pre-game billing as the league’s fastest tight end. Davis got behind safety Mark Barron, shifted into overdrive and extended his hands out for an exceptional catch before his momentum led to a collision with the unforgiving wall in the south end zone.

Barron soon found himself sidelined by a hamstring injury. “It was a big-time performance by the quarterback,’’ 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said. “Kaep had a monster game. He competed and took some things on his own shoulders. There’s not a lot of people that can make those kinds of plays he was making.’’

The Bucs are simply too tired to argue.