FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Colin Kaepernick is giving the New England Patriots some extra things to think about this week.
As if defending perennial Pro Bowl running back Frank Gore wasn’t enough of a concern, the Patriots (10-3) now must focus on curtailing San Francisco’s shifty quarterback in front of a national audience Sunday night.
“Our job is to contain him, running and passing,” New England defensive end Chandler Jones said Friday. “Kaepernick’s a good athlete. He can throw the ball and he can run as well. It’s our job to contain him.”
Easier said than done.
The Miami Dolphins last week discovered first-hand how difficult that task can be.
Trailing by seven late in the fourth quarter, the Dolphins’ defense surrendered a 50-yard touchdown run to Kaepernick, who deftly deceived the defensive line with a perfect play-action fake, bounced outside and darted untouched up the left sideline for the clinching score for the 49ers (9-3-1).
“Everybody came to me and Mr. Everything did his thing,” Gore said after the win.
The highlight-reel run also served noticed to the rest of the league — there is no quarterback controversy in the Bay Area.
“He’s a guy that can do a lot. Just that last run he had against Miami last week where he’s able to just hit the sideline and pull away from everybody and he has a very strong arm,” Patriots safety Devin McCourty said. “So, another young quarterback that we’re playing that we’re going to just try to make things tough on him, do different things, but he’s really grasped onto the offense fast. He hasn’t played in many games, but he’s been very productive.”
Kaepernick’s primary numbers don’t jump out at you — three passing touchdowns, five touchdown runs and a 67.4 completion percentage. Yet the 25-year-old has just one interception in 129 pass attempts, has eclipsed 200 yards passing in three of his four starts and is averaging 7.6 yards per carry.
“He has one interception. As a young guy to be playing football and playing at a high level like he’s doing, he’s not making many mistakes at all and he’s not throwing into coverage where guys are just dropping balls,” McCourty said. “I think because of his arm strength, he’s able to even throw in some tight windows and get the throw in there and it’s the right read. So it’s going to be tough for us.”
San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh earlier this week highlighted Kaepernick’s top qualities, saying he’s fast, powerful, smart and reads the field extremely well.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick sees similar talents.
“I think the two most important things for a quarterback are his decision making and accuracy. I could probably go out there and read the field decently but I don’t think you’d want me playing quarterback,” Belichick joked. “There are other guys that can thread a needle but maybe not see as well, but I think the combination of seeing the field, making good decisions and accuracy is really what it comes down to more than some other qualities.
“I think he’s done it to a degree,” he added. “He’s a young, improving quarterback. It looks like he gets better each week and probably plays with more confidence and does things a little bit better each week. But, I wouldn’t disagree with (Harbaugh).”
Kaepernick started the season as the backup to Alex Smith, who just last season led San Francisco to within one victory of the Super Bowl and had the 49ers at 6-2 and atop the NFC West before going down with a concussion in the first half against St. Louis on Nov. 11.
The 36th overall pick in the 2011 draft then calmly stepped under center and inherited the starting role even with Smith healthy enough to return.
“This guy, he can throw the football, he has a strong arm, he’s pretty accurate. For the most part, he makes pretty good decisions,” said New England nose tackle Vince Wilfork. “To be playing only a couple of weeks, he makes some good plays for this team.”
The Patriots defense, however, poses perhaps the most formidable test yet for the mobile quarterback.
Their run defense is eighth in the league, surrendering just more than 100 yards a game. And while the unit still ranks 29th against the pass, it has vastly improved since the acquisition of cornerback Aqib Talib, who has played in four games for the AFC East champions. New England has won seven straight, including a dominating 42-14 victory over the first-place Houston Texans on Monday.
“Defensively, turnovers and points allowed, that’s really what decides the game,” McCourty said. “We can pull up a bunch of different stats, but how many points have you given up and try to take the ball away. So for us, it stays the same throughout the season.
“We’ll have our work cut out for us this week. This team and this offense, they do a good job of taking care of the ball, so we’re really going to have to try to go out there and make our own plays in the passing game and running game.”
For the 49ers to win, so will Kaepernick.