Defense. Defense. Defense. If defense wins championships, the 49ers sure look like they could win one this year. Maybe there was a little bit of offense in today’s 28-17 win, but the majority of the game was focused on the 49ers defense. The 49ers forced FOUR turnovers today, and yes that did actually just say four. Even more incredibly these four turnovers all occurred in the 49ers’ dominant first half, where they scored all 28 of their points. They had three interceptions in this half, along with a fumble return for a touchdown, and one of these interceptions was a pick six.
On the third play from scrimmage, linebacker Dan Skuta forced Cowboys’ running back DeMarco Murray to fumble the football, and cornerback Chris Culliver picked it up and jogged in for a 35 yard touchdown. Basically, the 49ers scored in the first minute of the game, without running any offensive plays.
After the Cowboys managed to put together an actually quite decent drive and grab a field goal, the 49ers had their best offensive drive of the game. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick threw a quick screen pass to the physical wide receiver Anquan Boldin for seven yards, followed by an incomplete pass to the 49ers’ other star receiver Michael Crabtree, that luckily drew a defensive pass interference call. Kaepernick then completed another pass to Anquan Boldin, a 37 yard post, right down the middle of the field. Kaepernick then scrambled to the right on the next play, got his leg grabbed as he was almost sacked, then launched a rocket to Vernon Davis, who bobbled but fortunately caught the 29 yard touchdown pass. The 49ers were now leading 14-3 after running only four offensive plays.
In case the defensive theme of the game was not obvious enough yet, sophomore safety Eric Reid, who played in the Pro Bowl last year, came up with a perfectly timed interception on a poorly judged Tony Romo pass intended for his favorite target, Dez Bryant. Eric Reid caught this ball at midfield and then ran it back 48 yards and almost into the end zone. Kaepernick immediately sealed the score with a two-yard touchdown pass to Vernon Davis, his second of the game, in the back right of the end zone. This game marked the seventh of Davis’s career with multiple touchdowns.
Unfortunately, the 49ers thought they had stopped the drive earlier as Pro Bowl linebacker Patrick Willis seemed to have forced a fumble that fellow linebacker Corey Lemonier returned for a touchdown. This play was overturned, however, as DeMarco Murray’s left knee had touched the ground prior to the fumble. Fortunately the 49ers still scored off the drive on Eric Reid’s interception to give them a 21-3 lead, all in the first quarter.
Finally, to make this defensive theme as blatantly obvious as possible, in the second quarter, Patrick Willis made an interception in the end zone on another late Tony Romo pass for a touchback that prevented the Cowboys from scoring a touchdown.
Unfortunately the 49ers could not capitalize on this opportunity, but they did manage to score later in the quarter.
This score came after a long 49ers drive that ended with two decisive runs by the 49ers second-round draft pick, rookie running back Carlos Hyde. He had a thirteen yard off the right guard for the first down, then he sealed the score with a four yard plunge up the middle to give the 49ers a lead of 28-3 into halftime.
The 49ers then failed to score in the second half, although to be fair they had no need to. They allowed a Cowboys touchdown in the third quarter on a two yard run by DeMarco Murray after a seven minute drive. The 49ers also allowed another touchdown in garbage time in the fourth quarter on a two yard pass from Tony Romo to his second favorite wide receiver Terrence Williams. The 49ers came out of this game with a still solid 28-17 win, although the game was a lot closer to the 28-3 halftime score than the final one.
Colin Kaepernick finished the day with a quarterback rating of 93.5 after completing 16 of 23 passes for 201 yards and two touchdowns to Vernon Davis. He also ran for eleven yards on five carries. Veteran Pro-Bowl running back Frank Gore eclipsed the 10,000 rushing yards mark today with his 16 carries for 66 yards. Rookie running back Carlos Hyde also picked up some significant work with 50 yards and a touchdown on seven carries.
Anquan Boldin led the team in receiving with 99 yards on eight receptions. Notably, his hands were great today, as they usually are as he managed to catch eight of his nine targets. Vernon Davis followed Boldin with 44 yards on four catches, although he made his catches count for more with two touchdowns in the first quarter. Stevie Johnson, newly acquired from the Bills, and Michael Crabtree had two catches each, for 33 and 25 yards respectively.
On the other side of the ball, defensive end Justin Smith had a couple of sacks, and outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks added another to go along with the other great defensive plays in today’s game.
Somewhat notably, Phil Dawson actually missed his only field goal attempt today, something that almost never happens in games. The missed field goal was in the fourth quarter and was only 37 yards, well inside Dawson’s range. Hopefully he doesn’t make a habit of missing these short kicks as in future closer games they could be very necessary.
Overall today will hopefully be remembered as the hot start to the 49ers great season, and they hopefully can keep up the defensive intensity of the first half through the season. The defense was stellar and the offense looked good as well, with Colin Kaepernick throwing very accurately and rookie Carlos Hyde providing good change of pace action for Frank Gore, as a bigger running back. The 49ers have put their lackluster preseason behind them with this win, and hopefully they can start a winning streak next week on Sunday at 5:30 PDT, agains the Chicago Bears, in Levi Stadium’s regal season debut.
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Cover Image: By Steven Bowles (File:49ers players pregame Aug 30 2012.jpg) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons