NFL Playoffs: Colin Kaepernick Rises on the Strength of Defense




From backup quarterback to Super Bowl starter in half a season, Colin Kaepernick’s circumstances have changed dramatically. And while he deserves credit for his very high level of play, his journey is not unprecedented.

The 2001 and 2002 Super Bowls also featured quarterbacks who began the season on the bench. In 2001, Trent Dilfer took over the job from Tony Banks, and the Ravens went on to win it all. The following year, Tom Brady replaced Drew Bledsoe, and the Patriots won the Super Bowl. In both those cases, however, the new QB played at a similar level to the previous starter, and the real winning factor was that those teams had stellar defenses. This year, it’s the same story.

Kaepernick does look like a better overall player than Alex Smith, especially for the future, but right now his production is similar. The way the 49ers advanced to the Super Bowl, though, was primarily because their defense shut down two excellent offenses (the Packers and the Falcons) in the second half.

For example, the 49ers quickly fell behind 17-0, similar to the way the Seahawks fell behind 20-0 against the Falcons the week prior. In both cases, the Falcons gave up the lead and couldn’t produce much the rest of the game. Both the 49ers and Seahawks put up 28 points, so the slight difference was that the 49ers defense held Atlanta to 24, including a late red zone stop, whereas the Seahawks allowed 30 including a closing-seconds field goal.

Still, Jim Harbaugh made a smart move by switching to Kaepernick because his strong arm allowed the team to overcome the 17-point hole in a way Smith probably couldn’t. But if the 49ers win the Super Bowl, it will mainly be because they have one of the best defenses in the league, just like the Ravens and Patriots did when they switched quarterbacks.

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