GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Phoenix desert is where Colin Kaepernick spent a good deal of his offseason working with the likes of Kurt Warner, purportedly to better his game as an NFL quarterback and make him more well-rounded in marrying himself to the position.
This is also where Kaepernick bottomed out.
Four interceptions. Becoming the first San Francisco 49ers quarterback since Steve DeBerg in 1980 to have two interceptions returned for touchdowns in a game. Two sacks. His famous confidence slumping along with his shoulders. A passer rating of 16.7. Fans calling for his head and wanting Blaine Gabbert -- yes, that Blaine Gabbert -- to replace him.
“I nullified all the efforts of every [49ers] player on that field today,” Kaepernick said.
“Once again, today was 100 percent my fault. There’s nothing anyone in that locker room could have done to change that game today the way I played.”
You’d have a hard time finding anyone to dispute that contention. He reverted to the bad habits of throwing off his back foot, staring down receivers, not making enough reads. Then again, with the offensive line disintegrating around him, he had little time to make sound judgments. Which is partly why, earlier in the week, offensive coordinator Geep Chryst spoke of simplifying the playbook.
And it played right into the hands of the Cardinals’ opportunistic secondary. Cardinals backup safety Tony Jefferson even told PFT radio earlier in the week that Kaepernick had trouble throwing outside the numbers.
Yes, all of Kaepernick’s career-worst four picks came outside the numbers.
“Their passing game has just simplified so much,” said Cardinals free safety Tyrann Mathieu, who had two interceptions, including the 33-yard pick-six that gave Arizona a 14-0 lead less than six minutes into the game.
“It was easy for us to anticipate routes, get some good breaks on the ball today.”
In fact, the Cardinals had more interceptions (three) on passes traveling more than 10 yards downfield than the 49ers had receptions on such passes (one), per ESPN Stats & Information research.
And Kaepernick’s 16.7 passer rating was also a career low; his nadir had been 20.1 against the Seahawks on Sept. 15, 2013, in Seattle.
If it seemed like the Niners were gun-shy of letting Kaepernick throw the ball after his second interception -- they ran on 13 consecutive plays following the pick -- coach Jim Tomsula said that was not the case.
“That was me,” Tomsula said. “Just trying to get everybody calmed down here. Let’s grab a hold of this and see if we can get things calmed down and get back at it.”
Instead, the Cardinals ran their lead from 14-0 to 28-0 before Kaepernick attempted another pass. By then it was too late, and all that was left to do was wonder if Gabbert would play in mop-up duty.
Last season, Gabbert relieved Kaepernick late in a blowout against the Broncos in Denver. So it did seem strange to see Kaepernick remain in the game, especially with injury a possibility.
Tomsula was asked if benching Kaepernick would have had more of a negative effect on him than letting him try to play through it.
“Colin,” Tomsula said, “is our quarterback.”
For better or worse. At least for now.