49ers go back to the future in win over Houston

Kaepernick: 'This team is getting its confidence back'

49ers go back to the future in win over Houston
October 6, 2013, 9:30 pm
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Colin Kaepernick threw a career-low 15 passes Sunday night, but that didn't stop the 49ers from routing the Texans in San Francisco. (USATSI)

A week ago, the idea of Colin Kaepernick, Game Manager, was a nice throwaway line, a cheap comparison to the phrase that both elevated and demeaned Alex Smith.

But now, it’s the real deal, if your eyes are telling you what the San Francisco 49ers seem to be miming. A defense first, running game second grindhouse that gets done what needs to be done with as a few bells and whistles as the law will allow.

[RECAP: Defense stout in 34-3 thrashing of Texans]

In short, they are back to the future, and even if it doesn’t fit the preseason narrative of Kaepernick as the brightest new star in the sky, it works more than well enough to put the lie to Jim Harbaugh’s postgame mantra, “Every year’s a new year to establish what your identity is.”

Well, based on their last two games, in which they beat the seemingly moribund St. Louis Rams 35-11 and the moribund-in-training Houston Texans, 34-3, their new identity is the one they started with two years ago.

Run the ball to establish terms. Make the defense create turnovers to enforce those terms. Throw just enough to keep the receivers from losing interest. Kill the clock.

Now maybe two games is too small a sample size. Maybe the Rams aren’t very good and the Texans are utterly demoralized. Maybe the coaching staff decided the payoff for being too clever by half was diminishing. Maybe teams caught on to the read option so much that it stopped being the go-to offense, if it ever actually was.

But over the past two weeks, the 49er running game has been doing all the talking. Against the Rams, the difference was 213-151. Against the Texans, for whom the word “turmoil” is about to become the new hashtagged identifier, it was 177-113.


In addition, Kaepernick’s pass attempts have gone down each week, from his signature piece against Green Bay (39 throws) to an abbreviated career-low of 15 Sunday. Other than his 64-yard touchdown pass to Vernon Davis for the 49ers’ fourth score, he threw for only 49 yards. He was indeed so far down the list of exemplars in Harbaugh’s postgame presser than even when pressed to evaluate his role in such a dominant victory, Harbaugh demurred, opting to defend his quarterback by not engaging in the game manager debate.

It’s how Harbaugh works; it’s how he has always worked. He learned with Smith that “game manager” became a pejorative, so he is loath to walk that street again. Instead, he chooses to highlight the reasons why the 49ers are now 3-2 instead of 1-2, why they have outscored their last two opponents 69-14 rather than being outscored by the previous two, 56-10, why they have averaged 5.7 and 5.5 yards per plays instead of 4.1 and 4.8.

And why they have transformed the offense by removing its frillier elements. Maybe it is because the numbers went up when they did it. There is little evidence to suggest otherwise, to be sure.

Again, this may be only a temporary return to the halcyon days of 2011, when the 49ers looked exactly like this – forcing turnovers in droves and grinding out short but successful drives off those turnovers. Maybe the dynamic changes as the schedule eases – home against Arizona, at quarterback-less Tennessee, at everything-less Jacksonville.

Or maybe this is indeed the identity Harbaugh is talking about – the one that brought them from their decade-long torpor, the one that Harbaugh has always seemed to enjoy a bit more than the fireworks of the Green Bay game. Maybe the team’s construction three years ago has endured, and this is exactly who and what they are.

I mean, how do you argue with the facts in front of your face, other than wait until new facts arrive to invalidate them? The NFL is a short season with long breaks in between, and this is the new topic of discussion until otherwise notified.

The 49ers – same as it ever was, same as it ever was.

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