Captain Comeback and Kaptain Bounceback are on the regional cover of Sports Illustrated this week. It's the first time the 49ers have made the magazine's famous cover since ... well, since this time last year. If you'll recall, center Jonathan Goodwin, quarterback Alex Smith, fullback Bruce Miller and tailback Frank Gore were featured after beating the Saints in the divisional round.
There are a couple points to be made here. The first is that the two covers illustrate - pun intended - just how much the 49ers have changed in a year. The 2012 cover not only has Smith at quarterback, it has the 49ers in a very traditional backfield formation. The 2013 cover is all about Kaepernick, a most un-traditional quarterback, and the story by Austin Murphy zeroes in on Jim Harbaugh's colossal decision to play Kaepernick over Smith earlier this year.
Another point: The national attention and praise the 49ers are getting this year fits a pattern, and it's not a good one for San Francisco. It seems that whenever the 49ers have won a momentous, prime-time game this year - Detroit, at Arizona, at New England - they've received an avalanche of kudos and have jumped to the top of everyone's power ranking (which, by the way, are about as useless as mock drafts).
The same thing is happening this week. The 49ers are favored to win on the road in Atlanta and are every pundit's pick to play in, if not win, the Super Bowl. As every true fan knows by now, the 49ers haven't fared well will a lot of praise on their shoulders. They lost the next game in each of the weeks listed above and usually came out very flat in those games.
It's hard to see them beginning Sunday's game in a such a torpor given the huge stakes involved. But there's something to be said about the team's distinct WWL pattern this year, and to me it's that they are far more comfortable in the role of the underdog.
Have any pics of you, a spouse, a child, a dog engaged in "Kaepernicking"? If so, The Bee is putting together a gallery and is interested in your pics. Best one gets a free Bee T-shirt. Please log onto http://www.sacbee.com/49ersphotos/ and download them there.
-- Matt Barrows