Niners need offense to keep pace with Pats

Stoically stone-faced and tight-lipped as is his style, Colin Kaepernick showed little emotion and gave concise answers Wednesday regarding the 49ers' impending showdown with the New England Patriots. Kaepernick will have a lot more to say with his play when he gets on the field Sunday, and how San Francisco's starting QB and the offense he directs performs that night could determine the outcome.

Like his teammates, Kaepernick is eagerly anticipating matching up with Tom Brady and the prolific New England offense in the prime-time lights at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass.

But in this case, it may be more a matter of keeping up for the 49ers, as they well know.

"This is the showdown we've been waiting for, to show everybody we are one of the best teams in the NFL, and we've got to put points on the board," tight end Delanie Walker said. "We know New England's got an explosive offense, and we can be the same with Kap."

Particularly with Kaepernick, which is one of the primary reasons the second-year pro is now San Francisco's starting quarterback instead of Alex Smith, a guy that just happens to be the NFL's third-ranked quarterback and the league leader in completion percentage even though Smith hasn't taken a snap in a game since suffering a concussion against St. Louis on Nov. 11.

But don't expect Kaepernick to get all worked up about it, even though Sunday's game is the biggest stage yet for the second-year pro who is 3-1 as a starting quarterback since taking the job from Smith last month.

Kaepernick never broke a smile and gave his standard clipped responses to the two dozen questions he fielded from the media in the San Francisco locker room.

Excited for the big game, Colin?

"Yeah, it's very exciting to be out there," he replied. "Just want to go out and perform well."

How much are you looking forward to matching up with Tom Brady and the vaunted New England offense?

"It'll be a great challenge for us. It's a great opportunity to go out and show what we're capable of."

And so on.

But Kaepernick is right about one thing: The Niners likely will need to show the upside of what they're capable on offense to stay with the high-scoring, high-flying Patriots, who are on a seven-game winning streak and averaging 41 points a game during that stretch with four games of 42 points or more.

After breakout performances in Kaepernick's first two NFL starts, the San Francisco offense lacked rhythm and punch the past two weeks as the 49ers lost in overtime to the St. Louis Rams and struggled for three quarters before finishing off the Miami Dolphins.

The Niners realize they will need more this week with the NFL's top-ranked offense on the other sideline. And it's another prime-time opportunity for San Francisco's 12th-ranked attack to show what it can do now that Kaepernick has settled in as the team's starting QB.

The last time the 49ers played in a nationally-televised evening game, Kaepernick lit up the Chicago Bears in his starting debut Nov. 19 to spark San Francisco in a 32-7 rout, throwing for a career-high 243 yards and two touchdowns with a passer rating of 133.1. The next week, Kaepernick passed for 233 yards and one touchdown and ran for another score as the Niners put up 31 points in a win at New Orleans.

Those are San Francisco's highest scoring outputs since the first week of October, when Smith was still the team's starting quarterback. But things haven't gone as smoothly the past few weeks, when the 49ers had their least productive offensive performances since slipping past Seattle in another prime-time night game Oct. 18.

The 49ers even experienced problems getting to the line of scrimmage on time last week, when they converted on just two of 10 third-down plays and didn't secure a 27-13 victory over the Dolphins until a late flourish of offense produced two fourth-quarter touchdowns.

Kaepernick led the charge and sealed the win with a 50-yard touchdown dash with 2:10 to play, his second consecutive game with a 50-yard run, the longest by a quarterback in franchise history. He also completed 18 of 23 passes for 185 yards, though it seemed he was somewhat restrained by the team's offensive game plan.

With the Patriots on the other side of the ball this week, the 49ers may open up their attack more and rely more on the big-play ability that convinced coach Jim Harbaugh to give Kaepernick the starting job over Smith.

"There are definitely things that we're doing that tailor the offense to his skill set," Harbaugh said.

And the Patriots and their defensive guru of a head coach, Bill Belichick, are certain to throw plenty at Kap to confuse the young quarterback.

"They're going to give you a lot of different looks on defense," Kaepernick said. "You just have to be ready for it, for their disguises and different coverages, different fronts they're going to give you."

Kaepernick was ready for much of what he saw during his first month as a starter. He's completing 67.4 percent of his passes and is averaging 217 yards passing per game and 8.3 yards per pass attempt as a starter. He's thrown just one interception in 129 attempts this year and has a passer rating of 97.4.

And despite not playing in three games and having 13 combined carries in five others, Kaepernick is third among NFL quarterbacks with 351 yards rushing and five touchdowns on the ground. Only season-long starters Robert Griffin III of Washington and Cam Newton of Carolina have rushed for more.

The 49ers figure to need everything they can get from Kaepernick and the NFL's second-ranked rushing attack to match bullets with the Patriots.

"You have to rise to the occasion and play your ‘A' game," said left guard Mike Iupati, a key player in San Francisco's power rushing attack who currently leads all NFC players at his position in fan voting for the Pro Bowl. "They have a great offense so they're going to score points. What we need is to match their points. Our offense has to go out there and execute our plays and do what we do best."

San Francisco's second-ranked defense leads the NFL in fewest points allowed, surrendering just 14.2 per game. But the Patriots lead the league with an average of 36.3 points a game, with games of 45, 59 and 49 points in the past six weeks. New England put up 42 points on Monday night against a Houston defense that was considered among the league's best. The Patriots also are averaging a NFL-high 425.7 yards per game.

That has even San Francisco's stoic defenders anticipating they might need more help this week from a 49ers offense that's averaging 24.3 points per game.

"We're going to need a lift from our offense," cornerback Carlos Rogers said. "That's what it's going to take. It's going to take our offense moving the ball on them, running the ball, keeping Brady off the field. However it turns out, as long as we keep Brady on that sideline and not on the field, it's going to help us out a lot."

That would give the 49ers and their young quarterback an opportunity to hit their stride against New England's 26th-ranked defense.

"(The Patriots) have a very disciplined offense and a great quarterback," Iupati said. "We have a great quarterback and a disciplined offense, too. It's going to be a great game. In the end, the great team wins, you know?"

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