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December 15, 2013
Good news for 49ers: Kaepernick '12 returns vs. Buccaneers

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TAMPA - Colin Kaepernick of 2013 is starting to look a lot like Colin Kaepernick of 2012, and that's a good sign for 49ers team that took another big step toward the playoffs on Sunday.

The third-year quarterback threw touchdown passes to Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis in the 33-14 win over the Buccaneers, and he finished with a 108.8 passer rating, the third time in the last four games he has surpassed a 100 rating.

What's more, Kaepernick's knack for turning broken plays into big gains - missing earlier this season - seems to have returned. He beat the Buccaneers with both his arm and his feet, with some of his best throws coming on the run.

"Some of those escapes from the pocket, (there were) guys grabbing at him - the shoulders, the legs," Jim Harbaugh said after the game. "He's kicking out of tackles and picking up first downs, three, four, five times in the game. And some incredible out-of-the-pocket throws and first-down conversions."

Said Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano of Kaepernick: "We had opportunities, without a doubt, to stop him and we didn't do it. That's what it boils down to."

The 49ers had a chance to wrap up a playoff spot on Sunday, but Arizona's overtime win over the Titans means a berth still is not secured. If the 49ers win their final two games, however, they likely will get the No. 5 seed in the NFC playoffs with either the Saints or Panthers mostly likely ending up with the No. 6 seed.

San Francisco's most crucial drive - and perhaps Kaepernick's best throw - came after Tampa Bay had cut the 49ers lead to six early in the fourth quarter with a 24-yard touchdown pass from Mike Glennon to Tim Wright.

Kaepernick and the 49ers got the ball with 14:54 minutes left in the game and didn't kick it back to the Buccaneers until 4:31 remained. In between, they drove 77 yards and picked up six first downs before Phil Dawson kicked a short field goal that all but put the game out of reach for Tampa Bay.

The biggest first-down conversion of the drive followed what seemed at the time to be a momentum-swinging unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Crabtree, who broke open down field but couldn't catch up with Kaepernick's overthrown pass. The wide receiver picked up the ball and flung it back up field, drawing a 15-yard penalty.

Earlier in the game, Crabtree had broken open deep down field but Kaepernick had settled for an underneath throw to Anquan Boldin instead. "A little frustrating," Crabtree said afterward. "You really don't see too many plays like that from me. Emotions, you know?"

Three plays later, however, Crabtree and Kaepernick made up for the receiver's lack of composure. With the 49ers facing third and 12, Kaepernick was immediately flushed from the pocket by blitzing Buccaneers defenders to his left. He drifted to his right, and just before reaching the sideline he fired a 15-yard pass to Crabtree for the first down.

"Kaepernick really put on his cape," Harbaugh said. "A couple of those conversions were, I don't know how to describe them. There's not a lot of people that can make those kinds of plays that he was making, making them with his feet, making them with his arm, making them with his head. I mean, who's able to do that in this league? Very few guys."

Indeed, Kaepernick's ability to roll right and throw down field - something he did with great effect when he was at Nevada -- was on display throughout the game, including on his first touchdown when he spotted Crabtree in the corner of the end zone for a four-yard score.

It was Crabtree's first touchdown since the Super Bowl and the first touchdown catch this season for a 49er other than Davis and Boldin. After the game, Crabtree said he felt as good as he did before suffering the Achilles' injury from which he returned on Dec. 1.

Crabtree noted that on some of his deep routes, he had a step on Tampa Bay cornerback Darrelle Revis, who is widely considered one of the top players at his position and who has been given the nickname, "Revis Island."

Asked how he fared against Revis, Crabtree at first played coy. "Who?" he said.

When reminded, he said, "I know who he is. They used to be talking about some island or something."

-- Matt Barrows



MATTHEW BARROWS

Matt was born in Blacksburg, Va., and attended the University of Virginia. He graduated in 1995, went to Northwestern for a journalism degree a year later, and got his first job at a South Carolina daily in 1997. He joined The Bee as a Metro reporter in 1999 and started covering the 49ers in 2003. His favorite player of all time is Darrell Green.

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