Colin Kaepernick enters the NFC Championship game Sunday playing his best football.
Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks will take CenturyLink Field in a bit of a statistical slump, which is either significant or irrelevant, depending on who is doing the analysis.
“The most important thing for Russell Wilson is he has won — more than anybody else in his first two years as a starter,” former Dallas quarterback and current Fox sports analyst Troy Aikman said this week. “Yet a lot of the discussion I hear is his numbers aren't as good as they were earlier in the year. I'm not sure why anybody cares about that.”
Wilson, in his second season at age 25, is 24-8 as a regular-season starter. Kaepernick, 26 and in his third season, is 17-6. Not exactly Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady, but give it a decade.
Even more impressive are Kaepernick's three postseason wins away from home, with the only blemish last season's 34-31 loss to Baltimore in the Super Bowl.
Seattle, where Kaepernick is 0-2 and became unhinged by the crowd noise and Seahawks defense, is another story.
Few if any believe the title game will be like the 42-13 and 29-3 losses the 49ers and Kaepernick absorbed in their last two games in the great northwest.
“We will be reminded all week about the 71-16 point total in the last two games in Seattle,” NFL Films producer Greg Cosell said. “I would be surprised if this game was along those lines.”
At 6-foot-4, 230 pounds, Kaepernick exudes competitive fire and raw ability. He can be terse and edgy in interviews, seldom giving much of himself. Wilson, 5-11, 206, has a more subtle skill, but his height isn't an issue because of a high release. He's engaging and expansive, carrying himself as if he's in his mid-30s rather than his mid-20s.
In terms of overall season statistics, Wilson rates a slight edge. Kaepernick has been better over the last five games.
Wilson is a 56.7 percent passer over the last four regular-season games and a playoff win over New Orleans with 788 yards, four touchdowns, three interceptions and a passer rating of 85.7.
Kaepernick has completed 59.2 percent of his passes for 1,133 yards, seven touchdowns and one interception over the last three regular-season games plus playoff wins over Green Bay and Carolina, a passer rating of 98.1.
Former 49ers quarterback Steve Young, on his weekly KNBR radio show, gave the 49ers a clear advantage. He loves the way Kaepernick has played of late and has his doubts that Seattle's formula of relying on a smash-mouth running game, suffocating defense and utilizing the crowd noise will be enough.
“I think they can do that to most teams in the league, and if the 49ers go in and have the noise and chaos and interceptions and are behind 17-3, then that system works,” Young said. “It just seems to me that the 49ers are the grittier team, more offensively expansive, and put more pressure on people.”
Former New York Giants quarterback and current CBS analyst Phil Simms said Seattle's passing offense hasn't progressed in recent weeks but lauded Wilson's ability to avoid mistakes.
“He doesn't take a chance,” Simms said. “He's not going to be the point guard that has 15 assists and three turnovers. He's going to be the point guard that has four points and no turnovers. It kind of puts you in a bind that way.”
Kaepernick, by contrast, needs to avoid the early mistake in Seattle that will enable the Seahawks to get their raucous crowd rolling.
“Colin Kaepernick is similar to Brett Favre in this way — there's no throw they can't make, and no matter how closely someone is covered they can still get it in there,” Simms said. “I think of his games in Seattle, tipped balls, tight coverage, throws that shouldn't be made ... they'll need to slowly get him in the game and make sure he plays a little bit like Russell Wilson.”
Young said on KNBR that Wilson might need to play a little more like Kaepernick and make “15 real solid throws, piercing throws of 10 to 20-plus yards. Throw the football around a little it.”
An NFL defensive coordinator, speaking on the condition of anonymity, thinks both players have the temperament for playoff football.
“What they do is get on their sidelines, get with their coaches and get on to the next play,” the coordinator said. “That's the key in the playoffs. You've got a limited 60-minute game, everything is on your shoulders and you've got to realize, 'Hey, I'm throwing this one out of bounds. It's second-and-10. So what?' ”
Both have had growing pains. Kaepernick, shorn of wide receiver Michael Crabtree, struggled earlier in the season, much as Wilson has lately. No less an authority than Joe Montana told USA Today that Kaepernick is too quick to leave the pocket and run rather than throw under pressure.
Kaepernick and Wilson do many of the same things well, with the ability to complete big passes, execute the occasional designed run and turn broken plays into big plays when things break down.
Former 49ers quarterback Jeff Garcia echoed the sentiment that Kaepernick has the edge should he play within himself.
“I think the advantage is with the 49ers, but the main thing is don't get caught up in, 'Hey, I have the big arm, I can make every throw,' ” Garcia said on KNBR. “Be smart about it. See the throw before you make it. And be on top of your decision-making, because turnovers will ruin your day.”