By Don Ruiz The News Tribune
SANTA CLARA, CALIF. — Colin Kaepernick does not end his press conferences by saying, “Go, Niners.”
The man who will lead San Francisco into the NFC championship game at Seattle on Sunday shares key on-field qualities with Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson: youth, a strong arm, and speed. But they show wildly different off-field faces to the public.
Wilson — expansive at the podium before concluding with his familiar “Go, Hawks” — seems to view his public appearances as a chance to put himself and his team in the best light.
Kaepernick — tattooed and terse — seems to see each media question as a snake, something to be dealt with carefully and avoided when possible.
It’s hard to blame him this week, when he is being barraged with questions about his two seasons of high-profile failures at CenturyLink Field.
“That’s in the past,” Kaepernick said Sunday, when the questions began literally within minutes of his leading a playoff win at Carolina. “This is a different situation.”
For one thing, the stakes are higher. The loser goes home, while the winner heads to the Super Bowl. And while Kaepernick beat the Seahawks the last time the teams met, this NFC championship game will be played in Seattle, where he is 0-for-2 — and hasn’t yet kept his team close.
In his CenturyLink debut last season, the Seahawks throttled the 49ers, 42-13, with a national audience watching.
In his return in Week 2 of this season, Kaepernick threw for 127 yards with three interceptions as the Seahawks’ romped, 29-3; again with a national audience looking on.
With his third visit dead ahead, Kaepernick has stressed that those two earlier games won’t matter.
“It’s a different game,” he said. “It’s a whole separate entity.”
Yet, he does grant a couple of similarities.
Kaepernick once again expects CenturyLink Field to be loud — although he doesn’t think communication was a major problem on those earlier visits.
What has been a challenge — and one that he also expects to face again Sunday — is producing points against a difficult defense.
“I think the biggest thing is we haven’t played well when we went up there, and they do have a good defense,” he said. “So, we have to go up; we have to execute at a high level.”
For their part, Seahawks defenders seem to agree that those one-sided wins won’t automatically repeat. They see Kaepernick as a difficult guy to contain, and one with plenty of other weapons around.
“You have to be aware of when he’s throwing the ball or when he’s scrambling and running downfield,” Seattle safety Kam Chancellor said. “At the same time, they have a group of good receivers and tight ends. I think Kaepernick does a good job of keeping the ball alive, and those guys get up field and try to get open.”
While Kaepernick has not played well in Seattle, he seems to have mastered the rest of the country these days.
The 49ers have won eight straight games, including back-to-back playoff games at Green Bay and Carolina.
When asked the secret to that road streak, Kaepernick’s answer is not only short, but sweet.
“Good coaches,” he said. “Good teammates.”
At the 49ers training facility, that feeling seems mutual.
San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh attributed these traits to his third-year quarterback from Nevada: “Poise: big stage never seems to bother him. And his leadership ability: players love him, coaches love him. Work ethic off the charts: A-plus, plus.”
Meanwhile, veteran receiver Anquan Boldin added another quality, one that could come in handy when Kaepernick returns to a place where he has not yet walked away a winner.
“He doesn’t waiver,” Boldin said. “Even when you guys say bad things about him, he’s still confident about getting his job done. He comes out here, he works his butt off every day: one of the first guys here, last to leave. … He doesn’t change, if it’s a bad play, if it’s a big play, he doesn’t change. He’s always next play: ‘Let’s make it happen.’”