SAN FRANCISCO — It could be the Colin Kaepernick show in San Francisco. Or, perhaps, Cam Newton’s big day for Carolina at Candlestick Park.
You name it, there’s no debating that two of the NFL’s top young, strong-armed quarterbacks — with their speedy legs and running ability to boot — will be on display Sunday, each trying to keep his team on a nice roll.
The football world is watching this one with high interest.
Kaepernick could easily stand in for Newton on the 49ers’ scout team this week.
“That’s a very good idea, because they are so similar,” coach Jim Harbaugh said. “My son, Jack Harbaugh, who’s now a little over 14 months old, I mean, on the (growth) curve he’s above the 100th percentile now. He’s big, growing very well. Cam Newton would be further outside the graph. He’s in a world by himself. He’s tremendously talented.”
Yes, these mobile quarterbacks present an awful lot of similarities. They are a key reason their teams are riding long winning streaks at the season’s halfway point, too.
The 49ers (6-2) have won five straight games since dropping two in a row in Weeks 2 and 3, scoring 31 or more points in each of those victories. Newton’s Panthers (5-3) are unbeaten in their last four games and have scored 30 or more points in their five wins.
Both teams are in second place in their divisions and trying to make a run.
In a 34-10 win against Atlanta last week, Newton threw for 249 yards and ran for a touchdown.
Sound a little familiar, San Francisco?
“We have similar attributes but we’re both two different players,” Kaepernick said.
Kaepernick and Newton were roommates at the scouting combine in 2011, then Newton was drafted No. 1 overall out of Auburn and Kaepernick dropped to the 49ers in the second round as the sixth quarterback selected at 36th.
“He’s an explosive player and a dominant player and I’ve kept up with him ever since,” Newton said. “I have respect for him and I think he does for me.”
Panthers wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. knows his share about both QBs. He played for the 49ers last season when Kaepernick took over as the starter in November from Alex Smith.
“They both have something a lot people don’t have, and they use it: speed,” Ginn said.
Here are five things to know about the Panthers-49ers matchup, The Associated Press Game of the Week:
The 49ers are expected to have some key faces returning on both sides of the ball. Not only is linebacker Aldon Smith back following a five-game absence to undergo treatment for substance abuse, wide receiver Mario Manningham could make his season debut nearly 11 months after a serious left knee injury that required surgery. Yet Harbaugh isn’t playing his hand prematurely. “I’d like our opponent to think of all those options being open,” Harbaugh said.
Consistency from Newton
Newton cannot afford mistakes against this opportunistic defense. He completed 23 of 37 passes for 249 yards in last week’s win against Atlanta with a touchdown, two interceptions and a sack. The 49ers have forced 13 turnovers during their winning streak and have scored off each of those takeaways, getting nine touchdowns and four field goals. Still, the 6-foot-5, 245-pound Newton presents challenges. He has passed for 200-plus yards in all but the season opener against Seattle, and has one 300-yard game. “They’ve got a big quarterback. I didn’t know he was that big,” 49ers linebacker Ahmad Brooks said. “He’s strong, he’s athletic, he’s fast.”
Ginn Jr. gets his chance
Ginn is getting some chances with Carolina that he had hoped for during his three-year tenure with the 49ers through last season’s Super Bowl run. Last year: Two total catches for 1 yard. This season: 21 receptions for 367 yards and two touchdowns. “My goal is to go out, whoever I’m with, to have a feature Ted Ginn,” he said. “I play it, I enjoy it, I wanted a better opportunity.”
Frank Gore has scored two touchdowns in each of his last two games, the first time in his career he has done so. So much for the questions about Gore having tired legs at age 30. “I play hard,” Gore said. “I’m glad we as a team have gotten on a run, a winning streak. We’re looking good as a team. I try to be successful and do whatever it takes to help my team be successful.”
Keeping the momentum
After a road trip to Tennessee and on to London from there, the 49ers earned a week of rest for their bye last week. But everybody is determined to keep the momentum from this impressive winning streak. “We’ve got a lot of guys coming back, so that’s a plus for us, on top of what we’ve already been doing,” Brooks said. “People probably thought we couldn’t be one of the premier defenses in the NFL with Aldon being out, because he’s that good of an athlete, but we’ve done a very good job.”