SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Colin Kaepernick showed flashes of the quarterback he used to be in his first start in nearly a year.
But far too often in Sunday’s 45-16 loss at Buffalo, Kaepernick looked more like the quarterback who lost his starting job a year ago to Blaine Gabbert than the one who went to a Super Bowl and NFC title game in his first two years as starter.
Kaepernick completed just 13 of 29 passes for 187 yards and missed a handful of open receivers with off-target throws as the 49ers (1-5) scored a season-low 16 points on the way to their first five-game losing streak in six years.
Despite all that, coach Chip Kelly said he saw enough bright spots to give Kaepernick another shot on Sunday against Tampa Bay.
“I think there are some things he did on Sunday that you can build upon,” Kelly said Monday. “For his first extended playing time since last year, I thought there were some real positives there that we need to continue to kind of try to build with him and get him going.”
After a promising start that included scores on three of his first four drives, including the 53-yard touchdown pass to Smith, Kaepernick generated very little against a Buffalo defense content to let him try to win from the pocket.
Kaepernick got worse as the day went on, completing just 5 of 18 passes for 52 yards in the second half and taking all three sacks as a close game got out of hand in the fourth quarter.
“We didn’t finish our drives,” Kaepernick said after the game. “A lot of those drives were finished with field goals. If we finished those with touchdowns, the outlook of the game is different and it plays out differently. So that is something that we need to be able to do is get sevens instead of threes.”
Kelly blamed a couple of dropped passes, a false start on third-and-short and the failure to convert a fourth-and-1 when the game was still close for those second-half struggles.
Kelly also praised Kaepernick’s ability to extend plays with his legs as most of his 66 yards rushing came on scrambles rather than designed runs. Kaepernick also did not commit any turnovers.
“There’s room there where I think he can grow and I’m sure as he watches the tape with us tomorrow and we get a chance to sit down and visit with him and go through everything, he’ll see some things and get a chance to get a little bit better and that’s the thing that we’re encouraged by because he did a lot of really good things,” Kelly said. “I think we just need to try to build upon that as we move forward.”
Kaepernick will get that shot Sunday in his first home game as starter since losing the job last year. It figures to be a friendlier environment than last year when he was booed late in his tenure and in Buffalo , where his public protest over the national anthem made him a target of many fans throughout the game.
The Niners offense was actually slightly more productive in the first game with Kaepernick than in the previous five games with Gabbert, averaging 5.0 yards per play — up from a league-low 4.5 yards per play the first five games. Gabbert ranked last in the NFL in yards per attempt (5.9) and had the second-worst passer rating (69.6) in the league when he lost his job.
But it looked nothing like the offense Kaepernick led in 2012 and ’13, when he helped make the Niners one of the top teams in the NFL.