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Lowell Cohn: 49ers' Colin Kaepernick fails to grab the reins

SANTA CLARA - Chip Kelly would be crazy to make Colin Kaepernick his starting quarterback. I base this on what Kaepernick did or didn't do against the Packers on Friday night.

And Kelly, bless his heart, has shown no signs of being nuts.

Blaine Gabbert, who has been the 49ers' main quarterback for some time, started the game and played like, well, Blaine Gabbert. Bland. Forgettable. Just there like background noise or sky or smog.

Be honest about Gabbert. Sure, he led a nifty touchdown drive. But he really didn't do much. In my notes I called him a “mere game manager.” He is mere. Everything about him is mere. He gives the minimum, is minimally acceptable. Nothing about him special. His “mere-ness” is his outstanding quality.

Kaepernick took over at the start of the second quarter. The crowd, such as it was, felt an internal stirring, the stirring of something momentous about to happen. Kaepernick was about to happen.

It's not like Kaepernick had a tough act to follow. Gabbert had two completions for 14 yards. His passer rating was 77.1. Mediocre.

So, when Kaepernick entered at the beginning of the second quarter the game was his. The position his to win. The world his for the taking. He looked good trotting toward his team and lining up in the shotgun. He looked like the long-awaited answer. And what did he do? Let's take a close look.

He threw five passes his first series. Two completions - and hallelujah for those. He also threw away one pass - unable to locate a receiver. He had one pass tipped at the line of scrimmage - a dead sparrow lying in the gutter. He had another pass knocked away downfield.

Hardly Joe Montana. Hey, hardly Blaine Gabbert. What about Kaepernick's second series? He knocked the world on its ear, right?

He ran with the ball twice, possibly because, yet again, he couldn't locate a receiver. That, of course, is his specialty. The one pass he threw got knocked down at the line of scrimmage. That made three passes the Packers got their mitts on. The Niners went three and out and held the ball for, get this, 1:28. You could hold your breath for 1:28.

On his third and last series of the second quarter, Kaepernick ran twice. He didn't get off a throw, again giving the impression he couldn't spot a receiver or maybe he didn't have pocket awareness or maybe he lacked patience or maybe he's just no good. Always with the single read, never going through his progressions. Same old Kap. Again the Niners went three and out. This time the offense kept the ball 1:50.

For his first quarter of work, these were Kap's vital statistics: completed two of six passes for 14 yards - the same yards as Gabbert. What a pair those two are. Kaepernick's passer rating was 42.4, slightly taller than the earthworm.

How did Kaepernick perform in the third quarter?

He didn't play in the third quarter - reverting to his dominant mode during the preseason. Not playing. Doing nothing.

Kelly put backup Jeff Driskel into the game in the third quarter. Surely, the wrong move. Kelly needed to see Kaepernick. Not Driskel. Not Christian Ponder. Or maybe Kelly had seen enough of Kaepernick. A lot of people have.

Afterward, Kelly said Kaepernick's performance was “up and down.” Kelly said he needed to look at the film to evaluate both candidates for the starting QB job. The naked eye should have been enough. Kelly said he wanted to give Gabbert and Kaepernick the same amount of snaps with the first unit, that's why Kaepernick didn't play the third quarter. In some parallel universe that makes sense. Kelly said he has no timeline for making a choice even though time is running out. Kelly appeared nervous.

Kaepernick apologists - they exist - will say drawing conclusions about his status after one measly quarter isn't fair. That I'm not being fair. Kaeperenick has been hurt. He didn't get enough practice. He's learning Kelly's system. He's rusty.

So what? It's not Kelly's fault Kaepernick is rusty. It's not Kelly's job to be fair and evenhanded. He already did that for Kaepernick. The season approaches. One more exhibition game next Thursday in San Diego. The final game is a masquerade, an impersonation of a game. The important guys - the starters - hardly break a sweat.

Kaepernick had to make his stand Friday night. Then and there. But he never distinguished himself from Gabbert. Never took hold of the job. Was just another guy. Kelly gave them an equal chance. Kaepernick could not take what was given.

Kaepernick came into the game needing something to build on. He is not a builder. He is in decline. Has been a long time. Not accurate, can't find receivers. Doesn't see the whole field.

Why has Kaepernick declined? Who cares? That's his problem. Not Kelly's. Not the 49ers'. Not yours.

I am not saying Gabbert is better. But he isn't worse. At least the offense with him in charge scored a TD. With Kaepernick zilch. The team has been Gabbert's since last season and it should be his until he flops in the regular season – if he flops.

Where does this leave the Niners and Kaepernick?

They can anoint him the backup if you call that anointing. Or they can cut him. Me, I advocate cutting. He never again will be good, never in his life. If Gabbert fails in the regular season and Kaepernick takes over and gets hurt, the Niners will owe him $15 million in 2017. Pretty much a repeat of this season. A severe case of Lingering Kaepernick.

If they cut him, mostly I'll miss the earphones and the sideways hat. Wait. He doesn't do that anymore. That's one area in which he improved. His look. Nice work.

You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at lowell.cohn@pressdemocrat.com.

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