Commentary

Jets play role in rise of Kaepernick

It started at MetLife Stadium, where Niners QB scored his first NFL touchdown

Updated: January 31, 2013, 10:17 AM ET
By Rich Cimini | ESPNNewYork.com

Four months ago, on a warm and partly cloudy day at MetLife Stadium, two seasons took dramatic turns.

The New York Jets suffered their worst beating of the year, 34-0 to the San Francisco 49ers, and lost Santonio Holmes to a season-ending foot injury. The game was so one-sided that 49ers cornerback Carlos Rogers accused the Jets of quitting.

[+] EnlargeColin Kaepernick
Ed Mulholland/USA TODAY SportsIf the Jets didn't know who Colin Kaepernick was before, they certainly knew after experiencing a clinic in Week 4.

For the 49ers, it was a day of discovery. Out of nowhere came Colin Kaepernick, fast and smooth and so poised. He ran through the Jets as if their defense were 11 orange pylons, his first baby steps in a remarkable journey to Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans.

Kaepernick is one win away from icon status, and the Jets played a small role in his storybook rise.

"Our claim to fame, I guess," defensive tackle Mike DeVito said Wednesday, managing to laugh.

Until Sept. 30, Kaepernick was an afterthought, just a name on the roster. As Alex Smith's backup, he appeared in only one offensive snap in the first three games, so, yeah, it surprised the Jets to see him so involved in the 49ers' game plan. He was in for a total of 11 plays, breaking runs of 30, 17 and 7 yards, the latter a stand-up touchdown.

Officially, Kaepernick rushed five times for 50 yards. Truth be told, he was tackled only once -- a shoe-string stop by Yeremiah Bell on the 17-yard run, which could've gone for 81 if Bell's arm were a couple of inches shorter.

On the other plays, Kaepernick went down on his own -- two kneel-downs and a mercy slide at the 1-yard line in the final minute that saved the Jets from the indignity of a 41-0 loss. How many young players, staring at a clear path to the end zone, would've passed up a touchdown?

"It was frustrating," DeVito said. "We had a really good game plan, but we had a hard time containing him. We didn't see him on tape. All of a sudden, he comes out there and he's rolling out, getting on the edge. He caught us a little off guard."

No one could've known it at the time, but Kaepernick's first play was a preview of the 49ers' playoff run -- a read-option that hypnotized the Jets.

Working out of the pistol formation with three receivers, Kaepernick faked an inside handoff to Frank Gore, pulling the Jets' defense to the strong side. He rolled to his left -- the weak side -- with Delanie Walker trailing as the pitch man.

Linebacker Calvin Pace, responsible for the backside, was isolated on Kaepernick in the open field. Decision time. He cheated toward Walker. Kaepernick read Pace's eyes, gave him a shoulder fake and turned it up to the inside for 17 yards.

"It makes it 11-on-11 football," Kaepernick told reporters this week at the Super Bowl, explaining the beauty of the read-option. "You're actually blocking the defender by reading him."

On his second carry, Kaepernick - in shotgun -- ran a quarterback sweep to the left for a seven-yard touchdown, making it 7-0. There were no gadgets, no options, just him running behind several blockers that mowed down everything in their path. It was like an escort from a cadre of New Jersey State Troopers.

It was the first touchdown of Kaepernick's career. He saved the ball, clutching it tightly as he was congratulated by teammates on the sideline. They were genuinely happy for him, a sign of his popularity. Maybe they knew something no one else did.

"Just some creativity," 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said after the game, explaining why he decided to remove his second-year quarterback from mothballs.

It was demoralizing for the Jets because it was the kind of change-of-pace offense they wanted to run with Tim Tebow. Basically, they were out Tebow-ed by Kaepernick, who invented "Kaepernicking" to match "Tebowing" in touchdown-celebration fads.

After his coming-out party against the Jets, Kaepernick's backup role continued to grow. In the 49ers' 10th game, he started for the concussed Smith, sparking a quarterback controversy that was doused as soon as the world witnessed his immense talent.

He's a 6-foot-5 flamethrower with freakish athletic ability. Good luck to the Baltimore Ravens.

"If you need him to stand in the pocket like Tom Brady, he can do that," DeVito said. "If you need to be Michael Vick, he can do that, too. It's rare when you see a guy like that."

And the Jets saw him first, albeit as a blur.

Rich Cimini

ESPN New York Jets reporter

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