GLENDALE, Ariz. – Colin Kaepernick took one look to his right, and his mind was made up.
The 49ers' quarterback decided before he received the snap in the shotgun formation that he would give rookie wide receiver Quinton Patton an opportunity to redeem himself.
The 49ers’ previous drive ended when Kaepernick's throw to Patton slipped through his hands. The incompletion on third down meant kicker Phil Dawson had to kick a 56-yard field goal to give the 49ers a short-lived 20-17 lead with 1:45 remaining in regulation.
When the 49ers got the ball again – this time in a 20-20 tie – Kaepernick did not hesitate to throw in Patton’s direction again. Kaepernick said he had a lot of confidence in Patton.
“I do,” he said. “He’s a great player. He has a great future. We just haven’t had the opportunity to get him out there. He’s been injured for a lot of the season.”
Patton got his opportunity Sunday against the Cardinals after veteran receiver Mario Manningham went on injured reserve with a knee injury. Entering Sunday’s game, Patton had just one catch for zero yards. He missed 10 games this season after sustaining a fractured right foot on Sept. 26.
He has not gotten much playing time this season, but he saw his first opportunity for an important get away from him just minutes earlier.
“I should’ve made that ball,” Patton said. “Man, I let my team down. I was talking to Anquan (Boldin) on the sideline, and he said, ‘Look, it’s going to come back to you. Just make a play. ‘”
With 18 seconds remaining and the 49ers with possession on their own 49-yard line, Kaepernick looked outside and saw Arizona cornerback Antoine Cason in single coverage against Patton.
“It was press coverage over there,” Kaepernick said. “We had a double move on, and I liked the matchup. There was no safety on that side of the field. I thought I’d give him a chance. He’s shown he can go up and make those plays in practice, so he came up with it, and it was huge for us.”
Cason had good coverage against Patton, but he failed to locate the ball when it was in the air. Patton jumped and secured the catch with his right hand just above Cason’s helmet. Patton gathered the ball into his body with his left arm and held on as he landed inbounds. The 29-yard gain set up Dawson’s game-winning 40-yard field goal as time expired.
Coach Jim Harbaugh said the play was not necessarily designed for Patton.
“Everybody’s running, everybody’s alert on every pass,” Harbaugh said. “Really, it was a well-thrown ball, as well. He threw a heck of a ball. There’s only one place that ball could’ve been thrown, from my vantage point, because there was good coverage.”
Said Patton, “My natural instinct was to go get the ball.”
Patton caught just two passes for 34 yards in the game, but he provided the 49ers with their best play from a No. 3 wide receiver this season. The 49ers have struggled finding any production in the passing game from anyone other than Boldin, Michael Crabtree or tight end Vernon Davis.
Kaepernick had his best day passing since Week 1, when he threw for 412 yards against the Green Bay Packers -- the 49ers' first-round playoff opponent on Sunday (1:40 p.m., PT). Kaepernick completed 21 of 34 passes for 310 yards with two touchdowns as the 49ers defeated the Cardinals to end the season on a six-game win streak.
Boldin caught nine passes for 149 yards and a touchdown. Davis added three receptions for 45 yards and a touchdown, and Crabtree was also kept in check with three catches for 29 yards. But with Patton stepping up at an opportune time, the 49ers feel like their passing game has more threats than at any point the past three seasons.
“I think we showed a lot of different things in the first quarter and throughout the game,” Kaepernick said. “Hopefully, we’re putting things on film that people are a little worried about.”