SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) Colin Kaepernick's football spoke for him this time, not his national anthem protest, and it was a long time coming.
A year after being benched for his poor play and three starts into what he hopes is a triumphant return for the 49ers, Kaepernick hung right with Drew Brees and even threw for more yards than his strong-armed Saints counterpart in San Francisco's 41-23 loss to New Orleans on Sunday.
Confident and precise in spite of one interception and a lost fumble, Kaepernick resembled the old dual-threat playmaker he once was in leading this team to a runner-up Super Bowl finish following the 2012 season.
''I think today was a step in the right direction,'' Kaepernick said. ''We had a lot of opportunity where if a few plays had gone another way this game could have turned out differently.''
Kaepernick became the 15th player in franchise history to rush for 2,000 yards and went 24 of 39 for 398 yards passing - second most yards of his career on the way to a 102.3 QB rating. He hit DuJuan Harris for a 47-yard touchdown then Vance McDonald on a pretty 65-yard TD pass .
Kaepernick, who worked back from surgeries on his left shoulder, left knee and right thumb, had completed fewer than half his passes in his first two starts since being promoted over Blaine Gabbert.
''It was an up-and-down day,'' coach Chip Kelly said. ''There were a few throws in the pocket there that if he could have completed them we would have stayed on the field and kept some drives alive. But he also did some really good things fitting some balls in there and making plays.''
Determined to improve his consistency this week, Kaepernick had another impressive performance against the Saints, something he won't try to explain. Before this season even began with him as the backup, he sparked a debate with his decision to sit and later kneel for the anthem in support of minorities who are oppressed.
''He seemed to play really well today,'' Brees said. ''They moved the ball at times really well today and he ended up with a ton of passing yards. We figured coming off the bye week they'd be rested and re-energized and ready to roll, which they were.''
Still, San Francisco (1-7) lost its seventh straight game since shutting out the Rams to start the year and falling to New Orleans for the eighth time in the last 10 regular-season meetings.
Nobody was satisfied, even with some clear progress made.
''We definitely got in more of a rhythm today,'' Kaepernick said. ''But we still left a lot out there, particularly in the red zone. We were down there three times and got no points.''
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