SAN FRANCISCO -- They looked quite familiar and quite recognizable. If anything, they might have looked better than a year ago in some areas. Especially in the starting quarterback area. In the National Football League, that is never to be taken for granted.
The 49ers kicked off the season Sunday, their last one at Candlestick Park. And quarterback Colin Kaepernick kicked off his campaign to show the world that he was not just a one-season wonder. He steered his team to a 34-28 victory over the Green Bay Packers -- or, as 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh analyzed it, Kaepernick did a good job "managing the chaos of the game."
Chaos was indeed visited upon Kaepernick. Chaos was welcomed by Kaepernick. With the Packers clearly out to take every possible physical shot at him and prevent Kaepernick from running the ball on his favorite read-option play, he responded with the best passing game of his career.
He also responded with a postgame quote that sounded like dialogue from a Clint Eastwood western.
"If intimidation is your game plan, I hope you have a better one," Kaepernick said.
(Give that man a duster and a rifle, and we've got a "Hang 'Em High" sequel, yes?)
This was only one game. Only the first game. There are 15 more in the regular season, including an extremely significant one next weekend at Seattle. But while the 49ers were hardly perfect Sunday, they were impressive in the overall picture.
Consider that the 49ers could have drawn few tougher opening day assignments than the Packers. Sunday was a rematch of a playoff game last January, which the 49ers won by a score of 45-31.
What does that mean? It means that a good Packers team had 239 days to think about that playoff game and make certain it didn't happen the same way again. The Green Bay coaching staff had 239 days to break down video. The Green Bay players had 239 days to stew about the loss and study what they'd done wrong.
Yet after all of that breaking down and stewing and studying, the Packers could not crack the Kaepernick code or come up with any method to produce a different result.
The Green Bay defensive strategy was as plain as a cheesehead on a Sheboygan fan's skull. The Packers did not want Kaepernick to burn them with his legs, the way he did for 181 yards last January. So they focused on containing Kaepernick in the pocket, and whenever he rambled, they tried to knock off his block -- at one point even tackling him out of bounds and drawing a penalty flag.
Basically, the Packers dared Kaepernick to beat them with his passing game, his most unproven asset. You could probably now move it into the "proven" column. Kaepernick was held to 22 yards in seven carries as a rusher. But in the air, he completed 27 of 39 passes for 412 yards and three touchdowns.
"Their game plan was to not allow him to run, so he beat them with his arm," said 49ers safety Donte Whitner. "When we face a team that wants to take the pass away from him, he'll use his legs. That's what you get with a dual quarterback ... make defensive coordinators have nightmares."
Of course, that's only true if Kaepernick has enough receivers at the other end of his passes. And that was Sunday's even more encouraging development. The 49ers' top receiver last season, Michael Crabtree, underwent surgery last spring for a torn Achilles' tendon and won't be back until December at the earliest. So there were questions about who might fill his role.
Anquan Boldin answered that casting call Sunday. Obtained in a trade from the Baltimore Ravens during the offseason -- for a sixth-round draft choice, a deal that now looks like a dastardly crime in another Clint Eastwood movie -- Boldin was spectacular Sunday. He caught 208 yards worth of passes, scored a touchdown and had absolutely no one in the stadium saying to themselves: "If only we had Crabtree today."
Vernon Davis, the 49ers tight end who caught Kaepernick's first touchdown of the afternoon, shrugged off any surprise over Boldin's game.
"Just because one guy's down, it doesn't mean that the team can't win," Davis said. "It's never about one guy. We've got tons of talent on this team. You saw it today. Tons of talent. And I think we've only scratched the surface."
There is work to do in certain parts of the 49ers effort, of course. The Packers did roll out 385 yards worth of offense against the 49ers defense, which did not make linebacker Patrick Willis happy.
"I don't think we played our best," Willis said. "We missed some tackles out there and gave them some first downs. ... It's the first game. We don't condone mistakes, but we know that they're part of the game. Some of them are ones that we can't allow to happen."
Next weekend in Seattle, where the Seahawks are waiting, fewer mistakes will be a must. But the reassuring outcome against Green Bay is a good base upon which to build. The 49ers were supposed to be a good football team this season. But until the first whistle blows and the violence begins, there are no guarantees.
Sunday wasn't a certified guarantee that the 49ers will return to the Super Bowl. We're a long way from that. But it was certainly a moderately significant down payment.