49ers key matchup No. 1: Kaepernick vs. Belichick

49ers key matchup No. 1: Kaepernick vs. Belichick
December 16, 2012, 6:45 am

This is the final part in a series that spotlights three 49ers-Patriots matchups to watch Sunday, 5:20 p.m. (NBC-TV), at Gillette Stadium, Foxboro, Mass.

49ers QB Colin Kaeperick vs. Patriots coach Bill Belichick

Tale of the tape
Kaepernick (7): 6-foot-4, 230 pounds, second season, Nevada
Belichick: 165-62 (.727) record in 13 seasons with Patriots

When 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh made the decision to replace veteran Alex Smith with Colin Kaepernick as his starting quarterback, this game on the schedule loomed large.

It's not necessarily that Kaepernick gives the 49ers the best chance of going on the road and defeating the New England Patriots. And it's not that this a "must-win" for the 49ers, who own a 1 1/2-game lead over the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC West with three games remaining.

In making the switch at quarterback, Harbaugh's actions said he believes Kaepernick will give the 49ers the best chance to win in the playoffs after gaining experience with seven regular-season starts to finish the year.

And Sunday night's game in Foxboro, Mass., should provide Kaepernick with the best learning opportunity any young quarterback can experience.

"It's a big challenge," Harbaugh said. "(It's a) big task for our entire football team. I think everybody looks at it that way."

There's no other way to look at it.

Kaepernick has made four consecutive starts, during which time the 49ers have compiled a 3-1 record. Kaepernick lit it up in his first NFL start, a 32-7 victory over the Chicago Bears. He completed 16 of 23 passes for 243 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions.

Kaepernick's passing yards have fallen in each start to 231 at New Orleans, to 208 at St. Louis, to 185 against Miami. He did not throw a touchdown pass in the past two games. But he also did not throw an interception, either.

He has proven to be as much of a threat with his legs. Kaepernick has rushed for 351 yards (7.6 average) and five touchdowns on the season.

"He's an explosive player, he can make big plays," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. "The offensive system they run with him in there has the element of the option, the pistol offense, that type of thing. It's another thing to prepare for."

And there is little doubt the Patriots (10-3) will be prepared. In fact, the 49ers need New England to be at its schematic best on Sunday to prepare Kaepernick for anything he could face once the playoffs begin.

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

"It'll be a great challenge. It's a great opportunity to show what we're capable of."

After averaging 14.8 yards per pass completion in his first two starts, Kaepernick was limited by the Rams and Dolphins to mostly underneath pass that averaged only 10.1 yards per completion.

The Rams pressured Kaepernick, preventing him time in the pocket to showcase his powerful arm with passes down the field. Belichick is sure to come up with a plan against Kaepernick that will provide a valuable lesson for the remainder of the season.