ESPN analyst Ron Jaworski made the bold claim a few weeks ago that Colin Kaepernick could be the best quarterback in the history of the NFL. That statement seemed ludicrous at the time, and it still does now, although maybe to a lesser extent.
Kaepernick sure looked like one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, if not the best, on opening weekend. He enjoyed his first career 300- and 400-yard games on Sunday — yup, a two-for-one, throwing for 412 yards and three touchdowns while outdueling former regular-season and Super Bowl MVP Aaron Rodgers for the win. Beating the best certainly is a nice feather in the cap (Kaep?), but being the best is still the goal.
Anquan Boldin did a lot to help Joe Flacco establish his place among the best quarterbacks in football last season, and the stud receiver is already lending his hands to Kaepernick in that quest, as well. In his first game with the 49ers, Boldin proved to be the reliable weapon that Jim Harbaugh was hoping for when trading a sixth-round pick — what a steal! — for him this offseason. Even more importantly, he was in sync with Kaepernick from the get-go.
Kaepernick hooked up with Boldin 13 times on Sunday, racking up 208 yards between them and a touchdown, too. Time and again, Boldin made Kaepernick look like a genius by running sharp routes and consistently out-muscling defenders for the ball, but Kaepernick showed some special traits of his own in the game.
The second-year starter exhibited great poise in the pocket against a fierce Packers pass rush, consistently stepping up in the face of pressure to complete passes and only taking two sacks on the day. He also showed a renewed trust in tight end Vernon Davis, finding the athletic pass catcher six times for 98 yards and hooking up with him on two touchdowns — one more than he caught from Kaepernick in all of 2012.
Last season, there seemed to be somewhat a rift between the quarterback and tight end. Kaepernick would look Davis’ way only a handful of times each game, and he only linked up with the tight end on 12 passes in his seven games as the 49ers’ starter during the regular season. The two showed more of a relationship during the playoffs, as Davis had matched his regular-season totals with Kaepernick (12 catches, one touchdown) in just three playoff games, but Kaepernick’s reliance on Davis on Sunday showed a level of maturity that few quarterbacks find in a single offseason.
Kaepernick is a special quarterback, and his mobility only makes him more dangerous for defenses to contain. He seems to be taking Harbaugh’s coaching to heart and has developed solid chemistry with two players — Boldin and Davis — who will be key to any 49ers playoff hopes. His ceiling is still well beyond any fan’s eyesight, and, if Sunday was any indication, he’ll just keep climbing until he reaches it.
**Editor’s Note: Every week, I’ll break down one main storyline and 10 thoughts from around the NFL in the NESN.com “First and 10.” That being said, here are 10 more thoughts from around the NFL after the first Sunday of football.
1. Marc Trestman has brought stability to the Bears’ offense — Marc Trestman‘s offense isn’t based on speed like the ones trending through the NFL today. Instead, he’s focused on efficiency. The Bears displayed an efficient and well-balanced offense on Sunday, airing it out 33 times and pounding the ground 28. The run game wasn’t exactly effective, gaining just 2.9 yards per carry, but the balance forced the Bengals’ defense to stay true even late in the game. Jay Cutler looked comfortable throughout the game and even seemed confident throwing to guys not named Brandon Marshall (10 of 33 targets). It’s still going to take some time to perfect, but Trestman seems to have this offense on the right track.
2. Easy there, Geno — As Nick Folk kicked the game-winning 48-yard field goal for the Jets on Sunday afternoon, Geno Smith stood high on top of the bench with his hands wide as if he was parting the Red Sea. I get that it was your first NFL game and that you’re pumped about the win, but let’s not forget that it was Lavonte David‘s bonehead hit that ultimately handed you that win. Congrats on win No. 1, but why don’t we ease up on the celebrating just a tad.
3. Jason Witten is Cowboys best red zone option — The Cowboys targeted Jason Witten just once in the red zone in 2012, which still boggles my mind. On Sunday, they looked his way many times down near the goal line, with Tony Romo finding him for a pair of scores. This needs to become a trend — and not just because I have Witten on my fantasy team — if the Cowboys are going to be successful this season.
4. Jaguars should start scouting for a QB — The Jaguars’ offense scored zero points against the Chiefs on Sunday — ZERO! Sure, the final score read Chiefs 28, Jaguars 2, but those points actually came on special teams — a blocked punt to start the game. If we learned anything from the Jags’ offense on Sunday, it’s that Blaine Gabbert (16 of 35 and two interceptions) is not the answer at quarterback and that Chad Henne (3 of 6 for 36 yards) isn’t all that much better. Gus Bradley might be best served to start watching Teddy Bridgewater, AJ McCarron and even Johnny Manziel on Saturdays, because they’re the Jaguar’s future.
5. Rob Ryan gives the Saints’ defense hope — Sean Payton is back, but he’s not the only one who helped the Saints pull out an opening day win over the Falcons on Sunday. Rob Ryan — love him or hate him — had the Saints’ defense looking like, well, a defense on Sunday. The NFL’s worst-ranked defense in 2012, the Saints made a big defensive stand late in the game against the Falcons to seal the victory. The Saints held opponents to 17 points or fewer just three times last season. The fact that they were able to do so in Week 1 this year is encouraging.
6. The Bills’ offense is fast, and good, too — The Bills ran just 61 offensive plays on Sunday, which is nothing compared to the Patriots’ 89, but Doug Marrone‘s fast-paced attack was out in full force. They struggled to set the tempo for much of the first half, which could be attributed to an inability to run the ball or sustain drives, but things were flying once they worked out the kinks. EJ Manuel seems like the perfect fit for Marrone’s offense, showing a good understanding of the offense and great efficiency with his passing. Once the running game, namely C.J. Spiller, gets up to speed, this offense could be awful dangerous.
7. Big Ben needs help — The Steelers were atrocious on Sunday. Aside from a garbage-time touchdown from Ben Roethlisberger, the offense looked stagnant and almost inept at the times. Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders seem like legit threats on the outside, but none of the other receivers really established themselves as reliable. The running game remains the biggest issue, though, where Larod Stephens-Howling tore his ACL and is out for the season and Isaac Redman managed to gain just nine yards on eight carries. Big Ben wasn’t stellar in the opener, but he can’t do it all himself, either.
8. Jordan Cameron might be Brandon Weeden’s only hope — Brandon Weeden had an impressive preseason, but he was nothing short of a dismal on Sunday. After throwing a trio of picks to start the game, Weeden settled down late in the second quarter and found a safety net in tight end Jordan Cameron. The two linked up nine times for 108 yards and the Browns’ only touchdown in the 23-10 loss, establishing what might be Weeden’s only shot at not flopping hard this season. The return of wide receiver Josh Gordon (suspended) in Week 3 will help, but Cameron seems to be the only guy capable of seeing Weeden finish this season as the starter.
9. Terrelle Pryor will steal a few wins for the Raiders — He almost pulled it off on Sunday. Terrelle Pryor had the Raiders in position to knock off the Colts, leading late in the fourth quarter in Indianapolis. Unfortunately for him, Andrew Luck decided to change into his Superman cape and steal back the win. Even in the loss, Pryor impressed in just his second NFL start, completing 19 of 29 passes for 127 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. He also shockingly led all NFL rushers on Sunday with 112 yards on the ground, adding an unexpected spark to the Raiders’ offense. Pryor is a special talent, and if he continues to play like he did on Sunday, the Raiders might steal a few wins of their own.
10. Oh yeah, Larry Fitzgerald is really good — I almost forgot how good Larry Fitzgerald can be. Considering he was catching passes from Kevin Kolb and John Skelton for the last two seasons, it’s understandable that he’s fallen off the figurative NFL map. Fitz caught eight passes for 80 yards and two touchdowns — half his 2012 total — with Carson Palmer as his quarterback on Sunday, and, maybe more importantly, he looked like he was having fun playing football for the first time in years. Larry is damn good at football, and it’s good to see him playing like it again.
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