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Passing struggles not worrying Kaepernick

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Colin Kaepernick strolled through the 49ers' locker room with about a dozen or so reporters, then made his way into a small nook where several offensive linemen sat in front of their stalls.

After some lighthearted protests and ribbing from his teammates left the 25-year-old quarterback chuckling quietly, Kaepernick turned stone-faced serious when questioned about San Francisco's passing game.

A season-opening win against Green Bay in which he threw for more than 400 yards and three touchdowns was supposed to have raised the bar for Kaepernick.

Instead it's turned out to be the high-water mark, and the 36th overall pick in 2011 has had a difficult time getting back to that point.

On the flip side, the 49ers have won three of four since defeating the Packers and they've done it behind a resurgent running game that has made passing the ball almost an afterthought in recent weeks.

"The only stat I really care about is whether we won or not," Kaepernick said Wednesday. "I'm happy with wins, consecutive wins. That's the biggest thing for us. As long as we're winning, that's all that matters."

That hasn't stopped the critics, who point to Kaepernick's increasing low passing totals over the past month.

He has passed for more than 150 yards just once in the past four games.

Against Houston last week, Kaepernick threw seven consecutive incompletions during one stretch and finished with a 40.0 percent completion rate that is the lowest of any of the 12 games he's started since replacing Alex Smith as San Francisco's starter a year ago.

The 49ers entered the week 31st in total passing while Kaepernick had the fifth-lowest completion percentage among all starting quarterbacks.

A successful running game led by Frank Gore is partially to blame. Kaepernick threw just 15 times last week against Houston while San Francisco piled up nearly 200 yards on the ground.

Opponents have also geared up more to stop San Francisco's passing game while at the same time trying to keep Kaepernick from escaping the pocket.

"Defenses are going to change every time we see them," Kaepernick said. "They're going to have new wrinkles so it's just something you have to be ready for."

Since his big game against Green Bay, Kaepernick has thrown more interceptions (four) than touchdowns (three). He's completed more than 13 passes just once in the past four games, and more than half of his passing yardage against Houston came on a 64-yard completion to tight end Vernon Davis.

Not even that was enough for Kaepernick, who scoffed at a suggestion that the play to Davis might provide a spark for the offense.

"It was another pass play," Kaepernick said. "As far as momentum for the passing game, you really just have to play it play to play depending on what the defense is doing."

It hasn't helped that Kaepernick's been throwing to a receiving group still without its top two players.

Michael Crabtree has been out since undergoing surgery in June after tearing his right Achilles tendon in the offseason. Mario Manningham hasn't played since injuring his knee in a loss to Seattle in December and undergoing surgery.

Manningham is expected to return to practice next week while coach Jim Harbaugh hinted Crabtree could be back sometime in November.

The drop-off without the two has been clear, however.

Over the past three games only one wide receiver — Anquan Boldin — has caught more than two passes in a single game. Tight end Davis had three receptions against the Texans, but had just five for 38 yards in the three previous weeks.

"I think our guys are coming along fine," Harbaugh said when asked about the receivers. "I feel good about the way they're working, the way they're preparing. When you work that hard, good things are going to happen."

Note: The 49ers claimed QB McLeod Bethel-Johnson off waivers from the Minnesota Vikings and released journeyman backup quarterback John Skelton. A native of San Francisco, Bethel-Thompson has not played in an NFL regular-season game.