The Colin Kaepernick era for the 49ers has officially begun, and the folks in San Francisco have to like what they see.
Kaepernick, who has supplanted Alex Smith as the 49ers’ starting quarterback, had a solid game as the 49ers beat the Saints 31-21 in New Orleans.
Smith has been a fine quarterback for the 49ers since coach Jim Harbaugh arrived last season, but it was easy on Sunday to see why Harbaugh chose to bench Smith for Kaepernick: Kaepernick has a much stronger arm and is a much better athlete than Smith, and he’s able to do things in the 49ers’ offense that Smith cannot. Kaepernick ran for a touchdown, passed for a touchdown, showed good zip on his passes and showed poise against the Saints’ blitz. There’s no doubt that Harbaugh made the right choice.
But the 49ers are Super Bowl contenders for a lot more than just Kaepernick. Their two great pass rushers, Aldon Smith and Justin Smith, had another ferocious game, making life miserable for Saints quarterback Drew Brees. And the 49ers twice intercepted Brees and returned both picks for six, with Ahmad Brooks running one back 50 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter, and Donte Whitner running one back 42 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter.
For the Saints, the loss drops them to 5-6 and probably out of the playoff race in the NFC, where even a 10-6 record might not be enough to earn a wild card berth. Things also got ugly late in the game, when Saints defensive tackle Broderick Bunkley was ejected for kicking a 49ers player.
But for the 49ers, this win was a thing of beauty: It improves their record to 8-2-1 and firmly establishes that they’re Super Bowl contenders. And Kaepernick is the quarterback to get them there.