Last season, Colin Kaepernick and Robert Griffin III seemed to redefine the QB position with a mix of speed and precision rarely seen before. Griffin led the Redskins to an NFC East title on the strength of gaudy passing and rushing numbers, while Kaepernick marched the 49ers to the Super Bowl by blindsiding teams with his legs and arm alike.
Repeating that success in 2013 proved difficult for both, however. After a season-opening romp over the Packers in which he threw for 412 yards and three touchdowns, Kaepernick struggled, surpassing the 200-yard passing mark just once over the next nine games. He also proved less devastating on the ground, finishing seven of 10 games with 25 rushing yards or less after he topped that mark eight times in the regular season in 2012. Things weren't much better for Griffin, who entered Week 12 with 10 interceptions (he had five total in 2012) and zero rushing touchdowns (he had seven last season).
The 49ers' 27-6 win over the Redskins Monday showed that at least one of those QBs is back on track this season. Kaepernick went 15-of-24 for 235 yards with three touchdowns as San Francisco moved to 7-4. He used his legs to move the chains here and there, but most impressively, he stayed calm in the pocket, delivering deep strikes downfield against a vulnerable Redskins secondary. The primary recipient of those strikes was Anquan Boldin, who finished with 94 yards and two touchdowns, his best game since he dropped 208 yards on 13 catches in the Week 1 win over the Packers. Kaepernick posted a 9.8 yards-per-attempt average after marks of 4.14 and 4.10 in his previous two games.
But on the other side, Griffin's struggles continued. RGIII finished 17-of-27 with 127 yards, no touchdowns and one interception and suffered hit after hit (including one to the nether regions) against a ferocious Niners front seven that sacked him four times. It was the first time in Griffin's career, pro or college, that his team failed to score a touchdown. The loss, their third in a row, dropped the Redskins to 3-8.
"We haven't got dominated like that since I've been here," coach Mike Shanahan said after the game. "When you get embarrassed like we did tonight, it's tough."
The uninspiring performance followed a contentious week for Griffin in D.C. After the Redskins' 24-16 loss to the Eagles in Week 11, Santana Moss called out RGIII, demanding that the second-year QB take more accountability for Washington's woes. Days later, a report emerged that Griffin asked coaches to not put his bad plays up on the boards in meeting rooms. (Shanahan later denied that report.) There were plenty of plays in this game that Griffin will not want to see again. He finished the first quarter 1-of-6 passing with minus-one yard and an interception, a careless toss on 1st-and-10 right into the arms of Donte Whitner. It would prove to be the 49ers' only takeaway of the game, but bad decision-making overall doomed the Redskins, who finished 4-of-17 on third and fourth down.
Griffin defended himself -- and his teammates -- after the game. "I think we're all frustrated. Everybody's tired of losing. But one thing that we're not, we're not quitters."
But when pressed about the performance, Griffin turned defiant. "What am I supposed to do? Come up here and talk about how bad we are? That's not my job."
The win was much-needed for the Niners, who had lost two straight and were in danger of falling out of the playoff picture with the 7-4 Cardinals on the rise. It could get even better for the 49ers offense next week, when the team is expected to welcome back wideout Michael Crabtree, who suffered a torn Achilles in May. Crabtree led the Niners in yards, catches and touchdown receptions last season, and his absence seemed to hurt Kaepernick early this season.
On defense, San Francisco got strong performances from Ahmad Brooks (seven tackles, two sacks) and Aldon Smith (two sacks), with Smith notching his first sack since returning from indefinite leave. On offense, Vernon Davis bookended Boldin, catching four passes for 70 yards and a touchdown, while Frank Gore was an afterthought, finishing with 13 carries for 31 yards. The 49ers host the Rams Sunday before welcoming the NFC West-leading Seahawks (10-1) to Candlestick Park in Week 14. The development of a QB often takes years, a fact lost amid the flurry of star performances from young signal callers in 2013. Both Griffin and Kaepernick still have a long way to go, but after Week 12 it's clear: Kaepernick is currently further along in his development than Griffin.