As painful as the San Francisco 49ers loss to the Baltimore Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII was, the team has plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the future and its chances of not only getting back to the big game but walking away with the Lombardi Trophy.
Of course, the biggest reason for optimism in the Bay Area is quarterback, Colin Kaepernick.
Even though the 49ers have been regarded as a defensive team for the last two years under head coach Jim Harbaugh, we didn't see what this team is truly capable of until Kaepernick took over for Alex Smith permanently in Week 11.
In the nine games that Smith started this season, the 49ers averaged 23.6 points per game. After Kaepernick took over, that number jumped up to 28.8 if you include the three playoff games.
The offense just looked more explosive with Kaepernick at the helm, as well. It is obvious that his ability to throw the ball down field and make plays with his legs were the two biggest reasons that Harbaugh stuck with him as the starter when Smith got hurt.
Now just saying that Kaepernick looked great in a small sample size of games is great, but what did this season really tell us about what the 49ers can expect from him going forward?
For starters, we know that the 49ers have found the true, potentially elite, franchise quarterback they have been looking for ever since Steve Young retired at the end of the 1999 season.
More important than that, however, are the strides that Kaepernick made as the season moved along. NFL teams are incredibly smart and loaded with advanced scouts who can pinpoint a weakness, then exploit it to no end.
In the case of Kaepernick, who started 10 games this season if you include the playoffs, he never really got beat up like you would expect a player with so little experience to do.
Sure, there was the game against St. Louis where Kaepernick made a mental mistake in the end zone. Yes, the blowout at Seattle was embarrassing for everyone involved.
But the key to those games was the problems never lingered. Kaepernick never let the emotion of the stage take over completely. After throwing an interception that was returned for a touchdown against Green Bay in the playoffs, he still managed to lead a 45-point attack with four total touchdowns.
Even in the Super Bowl, when he was obviously nervous early, he settled down and reminded us in the second half why he was the best player—maybe not best quarterback—on the field.
Instead of another offseason spent wondering what kind of production the 49ers are going to get out of the quarterback position, they can focus on whether or not they want to keep Dashon Goldson, figure out what happened to the secondary in the playoffs and make a few moves to better position themselves for next season.
The road to the Super Bowl next season won't be easy, especially with the NFC West looking a lot more formidable with Seattle and St. Louis, but the 49ers look ready to take that next step they nearly took this year.