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COHN: Kaepernick again proves he's the right choice

49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick completed 16 of 25 passes (64 percent) for 231 yards with a touchdown and interception in Sunday’s 31-21 win against the Saints. He also rushed for 27 yards on six carries, including a 7-yard touchdown run.

BILL FEIG / Associated Press
Published: Sunday, November 25, 2012 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, November 25, 2012 at 9:43 p.m.

NEW ORLEANS -- Jim Harbaugh is an excellent dancer. If they held a dance contest in the NFL, he’d win. He can do the jig, the Lindy Hop and the boogaloo. He was dancing up a storm after the 49ers defeated the Saints 31-21 on Sunday, dancing around every question about who will start next game at quarterback for his team.

“We’ll address that at a later date,” Harbaugh said.

Why is Harbaugh hesitating to name Kaepernick the starter?

“I have nothing to explain,” Harbaugh replied, explaining nothing. “You call it hesitation. I don’t feel any hesitation. We’ll make the best decision for us going forward.”

Sure, Jim.

Harbaugh will start Kaepernick next Sunday against the Rams because he isn’t crazy. Well, he may be crazy, but he isn’t an outright lunatic. He saw what Kaepernick did against the Saints, a good team playing for its playoff life, a good team playing in a giant room so loud it sounded like the inside of a nightmare.

Kaepernick led the Niners to a win and did things Alex Smith never allowed himself to dream of doing. Smith would be embarrassed to have fantasies about stuff Kaepernick does routinely.

Like the missile he launched to Mario Manningham in the first quarter. The official score sheet says the pass went 13 yards — vertical yards. But Kaepernick threw an out pattern that must have traveled 20 yards before Manningham grabbed it and ran forward. Out pattern is the toughest pass to throw in the universe — Smith couldn’t throw one with a rocket launcher strapped to his arm. Kaepernick does it like breathing. On the next play, Kaepernick ran around left end for a touchdown. He does that like breathing, too.

Kaepernick threw a similar out pattern to Michael Crabtree in the third quarter, and followed that on the same drive with a 25-yarder over the coverage into the eager hands of Delanie Walker. Perfection. A string quartet playing Mozart and making you cry from the sheer beauty of it all.

Remember this. The game was tied 14-14 at the start of the third quarter. The Niners got the ball first. It was time for a statement drive, something Smith rarely does — make a statement. Kaepernick led the 49ers down the field for a touchdown, 80 yards in six plays. Statement loud and clear.

So, Kaepernick runs better than Smith and makes throws from inside and outside the pocket better than Smith. What he lacks in pre-snap reading ability, he’s picking up fast. Call him a student of speed reading. He took zero sacks against the Saints. Facing similar pressure Smith is a sack machine. Kaepernick ended the quarterback controversy, such as it was, in the din of the Superdome, ended it rudely and definitively.

This is exactly the right time for Harbaugh to choose Kaepernick. It allows the second-year player to get on-the-job training for the playoffs and Super Bowl. The only question is — Why didn’t Harbaugh make the change sooner? No way in a million years Harbaugh is going to bench Kaepernick after he just beat the Bears and Saints. But Harbaugh will play his little games. Let him play.

Harbaugh waited until 10 p.m. Saturday to announce Kaepernick as the starter. Kaepernick told me this. Harbaugh made the announcement at a team meeting — “Kap will be our starter tomorrow.” Fairly dramatic team meeting. After he got the start, Kaepernick told himself, “Let’s go out and win.”

Here is Alex Boone’s impression of Kaepernick in answer to my questions. Boone is a good witness. He is an offensive lineman, and offensive linemen pay attention and have good vocabularies.

What is Kaepernick’s demeanor like in the huddle?

“Very calm, very cool, very collected. He knows what he’s doing, he gets us the play and he gets us out.”

Was he always that way or has he developed?

“He’s always been that way. Last week against Chicago, he was the same way. He came in and said, ‘OK, let’s do this, let’s go.’ I thought he did a fantastic job last week. I thought he did a very, very good job this week.”

Does he seem like a veteran?

“Sometimes he does. You see him in those key situations where you really need your quarterback to step up, and he’s very calm, cool, collected. You can count on him to be there.”

Does Boone assume Kaepernick will be the starting quarterback the rest of the way?

“I don’t assume anything. I’m an offensive lineman. I just do what I’m told. I go out and punch people.”

Which brings Donte Whitner to the witness stand. Like most defensive backs, Whitner likes to talk, except Whitner is a better talker than most defensive backs. He’s an orator. He answered my questions about Kaepernick.

Does Whitner know Colin Kaepernick?

“I do know Colin Kaepernick. I work out with him every morning.”

What’s he like?

“He’s a quiet guy who has lofty goals for himself. He doesn’t really tell you much of his goals if he doesn’t know you. He’s one of the hardest workers on the football team. He’s one of the first guys in each and every morning — six o’clock, six-thirty. We’re not supposed to be there until 9:30, and he’s one of the last ones to leave. Even when he was a second-string guy, he was the first guy into the building. That’s the kind of guy he is and that’s why he’s having the kind of success he’s having. If you ask anyone, he’s one of the fastest guys on the football team, also.”

Has Kaepernick ever vocalized his lofty goals to Whitner?

“No, but Coach had us turn in goal packets at the beginning of the year. I asked to see Colin’s, and one of his goals was to be a starting quarterback in the NFL. He wants to win a Super Bowl. He wants the Pro Bowl. He wants to be one of the top guys in the National Football League. With his hard work and his skills, I believe he can get there.”

Did everyone fill out a goals packet?

“It came from Bo Schembechler when (Harbaugh) was at the University of Michigan.”

“How did Whitner come to see Kaepernick’s goals?

“Just before (Kaepernick) turned them in to Coach, he was at his locker and I said, ‘Let me see yours.’ We exchanged them.”

So, Kaepernick always had the highest goals for himself and he’s beginning to realize them. I never saw Harbaugh’s goals at Michigan. I imagine one of them was “Dance like a maniac.” You should see Coach do the Charleston.

For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at cohn.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at lowell.cohn@pressdemocrat.com.

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