After the loss to the Arizona Cardinals on Oct. 16, San Francisco 49ers coach Chip Kelly announced that quarterback Colin Kaepernick would be starting against the Buffalo Bills, ahead of former starter Blaine Gabbert. What may seem like a publicity stunt actually makes quite a lot of sense when you look at Gabbert’s performance as of late. Since their week one win against the Los Angeles Rams—which is their only win of the season thus far—Gabbert’s stats have taken a turn for the worst. He’s thrown only five touchdowns all season, but has thrown six interceptions. With those types of numbers, Kelly’s decision comes at no surprise.
Plenty of media-buzz has surrounded Kaepernick all season. This is due to his silent protest of the national anthem before every game, which he performs by kneeling instead of standing. This isn’t why Kelly named him the starter, however. The 49ers needed a change. It was definitely time to put in their second string quarterback—no matter who that was. It just so happened that Kelly’s backup is one of the most polarizing players in the league right now.
Maybe that’s part of the reason that Kelly was willing to start Kaepernick. Yes, Gabbert hasn’t played well, but the team also needed a spark. They needed to generate buzz, and putting Kaepernick under center provided just that.
To no one’s surprise, as soon as Kaepernick left the locker room and walked through the tunnel on Sunday Oct. 16 at New Era Field, the boos started raining down. The boos only ceased when the Bills scored a touchdown, which as it turns out ended up happening quite a few times over the course of the afternoon.
Kaepernick, however, wasn’t able to provide the spark the 49ers were looking for. They were stomped by the Bills, 45-16. Bills running back LeSean McCoy scored more touchdowns than San Francisco’s entire offense.
It seems easy to blame Kaepernick. The 49ers still lost and he was under center, he has to be at least somewhat at fault. It’s also clear that Kaepernick is no longer the same quarterback that led the 49ers on magical playoff runs of the past. Kaepernick can, however, come out of the game confident in the fact that he is a better quarterback than he was before he got hurt, which is all Kelly can really ask for.
The season is still relatively young. Of course, this is not the start the franchise would have wanted, and the 49ers clearly are not as good as they’d like to be.
This season, however, may be about more than just football for the 49ers. That’s what fans love about sports: the athletes and personalities always finding ways to make the season and the game much bigger than wins and losses. In Kaepernick’s case, he used his stage to bring up an issue that, in his mind, should be at the forefront of everyone’s attention.