There are two Colin Kaepernick stories in 2016, and Sunday marked one of the biggest chapters for both.
There’s one story about a back-up quarterback starting a national movement without stepping foot on the field, without standing on his feet at all. Kaepernick’s silent protest of racial injustice by kneeling during the national anthem is one of the NFL‘s biggest narratives this season.
But there’s another Colin Kaepernick story, one that hasn’t been talked about as much in 2016. That story chronicles an elite, promising young quarterback’s fall from greatness.
Sunday gave Kaepernick the chance to recapture that greatness.
Last week, the floundering 49ers named Kaepernick their starting quarterback, giving his protest and his career their biggest stage yet on Sunday in Buffalo.
It had all the makings of a Disney comeback — the once-dominant quarterback sparks a national movement, battles opposition, reclaims his role and leads his team to victory in MVP fashion.
Some fans were surely rooting for that to happen.
But it didn’t. Not even close.
The 49ers got smacked, 45-16. Kaepernick tallied 13 completions on 29 attempts. His only touchdown — a sloppy 53-yard pass — came on busted coverage. He wasn’t great, but he wasn’t awful either, leading the 49ers with 66 rushing yards.
To be fair, the big loss can’t be pinned on Kaepernick alone. Many are blaming the 49ers defense, claiming that even a resurgent Kaepernick couldn’t rescue this team, which has its faire share of issues.
Off the field, Bills fans openly bashed Kaepernick and his protest. Between the booing and “USA!” chants during the national anthem and the anti-Kaepernick merchandise, there was clear opposition.
But his performance on Sunday confirmed what the football world already knew — Kaepernick is not the quarterback he used to be.
He’s not the rising star who once ran for 181 yards against Green Bay in the 2012 playoffs, who led the 49ers to consecutive playoff berths, who threw for more than 400 yards in the 2013 season opener.
On Sunday, Kaepernick had every chance at a redemption tale fit for Hollywood, but it didn’t happen. Blame the defense. Blame Kaepernick’s decline. Blame whomever. It just didn’t materialize.
As it turns out, though, Sunday wasn’t his only shot.
So Kaepernick will get another shot to resurrect the 49ers — and his career — next week in San Francisco, in front of the fans who have watched his meteoric rise and fall.
He will keep kneeling, whether he’s running the offense or not. That’s for sure.
But as for his football career, Sunday’s average performance may be just part of his story.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.