By: Apurv Baichwal
The 49ers came out strong today, in their usual style, with a strong defensive performance coupled with a solid offense. The entire team seemed to click, especially the defense, as they went out and began the game by forcing a three and out then scoring a touchdown. This three and out involved a nine yard sack by Aldon Smith, on the second play of the game, proving that he is unquestionably back to football and ready to return to his form and play amazingly. He seemed extra quick on the field, working extremely well with his fellow Smith, tackle Justin Smith, to basically hassle Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III through the game. In total, he finished with two huge sacks today, giving him two sacks in his first two games of the season. He looked great on the field, and fortunately seemed to work well with Ahmad Brooks, who was benched for the second half of last week’s win over the Giants, because he felt that his playing time was being cut into too much by the returning Smith. Today, however, both players managed ample field time, and they were both strong points in the 49ers’s overall stellar defense.
After Aldon Smith’s sack and Washington’s three and out on the drive, the 49ers picked up the ball with great field position on their own 41 yard line. From there, Kaepernick looked stellar leading the offense, as he managed to get the 49ers into the end zone with only five plays: three passing and two rushing. On this drive Kaepernick connected with Anquan Boldin twice, for 18 yards and then a beautiful 30 yard score to give the 49ers a 7-0 lead. This touchdown came on a gorgeous corner route, where Kaepernick perfectly landed the ball in Boldin’s hands for the easy score. You can view this touchdown below:
After this score, the game was quiet for a while, as neither team scored until the second quarter. Until Washington’s score, the 49ers defense was perfect, as they forced RGIII and the ‘Skins to punt to end all four of their offensive drives. Unfortunately, this perfection had to come to an end, as the defense allowed Washington’s rushing attack to get going, allowing a one-yard rushing touchdown to tie the game 7-7.
The 49ers looked like they might lose the game momentum with this score, but they were extremely efficient to end the first half. With 5:33 to go in the half, they began a long drive from their own seven yard line that eventually resulted in a field goal. They ran twelve plays to pick up 70 yards, including six pass plays, four rush plays, and one sack. The highlight of this drive came on fourth and two at Washington’s 48 yard line. Vernon Davis was only able to pick up 12 yards on the previous play, even though the 49ers needed 14 for the first down after the sack. However, in his usually aggressive style, coach Jim Harbaugh decided to go for it on fourth and two, with only eleven seconds remaining. Kaepernick executed another brilliant pass on this play, this time a 25 harder to Michael Crabtree for the first down at the Washington 23. In a beautiful feat of athleticism, Crabtree rose up, snagged the ball, and managed to land both feet barely inbounds before tumbling to the ground out of bounds, keeping possession of the ball all the way. This play may have been the highlight of the game, due to both its importance and sheer athletic beauty. You can watch the brilliant catch below, beginning at 1:10 in this highlights video:
Going into halftime, the 49ers had now regained the momentum, and the lead, with a 10-7 score. Unfortunately, as has been the theme this whole year, they came out of halftime looking a whole lot worse than they did going in. The 49ers were held scoreless in the third quarter, with three rather ugly possessions. The 49ers were forced to punt twice, the first on a three-and-out, and Kaepernick threw an interception on a questionable pass intended for Boldin. To his credit, Washington had just put a rookie cornerback into the game, so Kaepernick wanted to test him, and see if Boldin could power through him for easy yards. However, he overthrew this specific ball to Boldin, allowing the rookie defensive back to come up with his first career interception. Also, on a side note, this interception was Kaepernick’s first in 129 passing attempts, as he has been really good as of late at not making errant throws. Hopefully, this one interception can be chalked up to a little bit of overeagerness in going after the rookie, and it should be a single mistake that is not repeated, as Kaepernick has made great strides in his control this year.
To begin the fourth quarter, this trend of fruitless offense continued, as the 49ers almost immediately punted again on a three and out. On the next offensive drive, Frank Gore actually fumbled the ball, in an incredibly unexpected moment. This is Gore’s second fumble of the season, with his first happening last week against the Giants. Once again this fumble was very unusual, as Gore is usually a very sure-handed back, and all of the laudatory comments made last week about the veteran still apply. Last week, I wrote:
“[Frank Gore’s] fumble was his first of the season, and it is very possible that it will be his last, simply because he has averaged 2.5 fumbles per season in his last four. Frank the Tank is called a tank for a reason: he is strong and sturdy. So, the 49ers coaches and their fans should put this fumble behind them if they have not already, as Gore is still a stellar running back and the workhorse for the 49ers.”
Obviously, Frank Gore just fumbled again today, therefore he did fumble again this season, but he is still Frank the Tank, and he is still an extremely strong and sturdy running back, and one of the most reliable in the league.
Gore’s fumble today, was also the 49ers’ second fumble of the game, as Carlos Hyde had one on the first play in the second quarter. Both running backs fumbled today, but Hyde’s fumble is the only one that deserves any worry, as he is a rookie running back and each and every one of his moves needs to be scrutinized, to make sure he can really be the future franchise rusher for the 49ers. Fortunately, this fumble was Hyde’s first of the season, so there is no need to worry about his fumble either. Overall, neither of these fumbles were very noteworthy, as neither Gore nor Hyde’s playing time will be affected, and the 49ers still managed to come away with a win.
Also, on a positive note, Washington were extremely inept at capitalizing on the three turnovers they forced. Simply the fact that they forced three turnovers off the 49ers was surprising, for two reasons, however. Firstly, this is the largest number of turnovers the ‘Skins have forced this season. Secondly, the 49ers were +10 in their turnover differential coming into today’s game, and only +8 leaving it, due to the fact that they gave up three turnovers, and only earned one of their own. Hopefully this sloppiness was just a fact of today, as the 49ers prey on turnovers, and their season is made or broken based on this statistic. Back to the positive note, Washington only managed three points total off of their three turnovers. More specifically, they only earned one field goal that came after a long drive following Gore’s fumble. So, although the turnovers hurt the 49ers statistically, they were not too big of an issue in the game, especially seeing as the Niners still came away with the win.
After the ‘Skins field goal, they went up 13-10 on the 49ers. This score fortunately did not last long; however, as the 49ers scored on their next offensive drive. This drive was 75 yards long, and it took eight plays, four passing, three rushing, and a sack. This sack came on the first play of the drive setting the 49ers back six yards. An interesting statistic is that Colin Kaepernick has been sacked 15 times on first down this season, the most in the league. Although this number sounds menacing, its simply an interesting fact, and nothing to get too worried about. From here, the 49ers managed to create a slow and steady, but successful offensive drive, as they broke into the end zone on a Carlos Hyde four-yard touchdown run, in a little under five minutes. This score gave the 49ers a 17-13 lead, and the final score for the game.
After this touchdown drive, the 49ers defense was strong again, as it prevented the ‘Skins from scoring. They forced one punt, but unfortunately the offense was not able to completely drain the clock due to the fact that Washington had and used all three of its timeouts. However, they very quickly ended Washington’s final drive, with a resounding defensive play. Justin Smith sacked RGIII hard from the back, forcing him to cough up the ball, right into the waiting hands of Ahmad Brooks. Brooks caught the ball to recover the fumble at the Washington seven yard line, sealing the game for the 49ers. This play was huge as it gave the 49ers the win, but it also gave Brooks a large role in the win, showing that the 49ers administration still trusts him, even after his questionable sideline antics last game. This fumble was also a sack, and it was the fifth one that the 49ers managed on Griffin III, as they completely dominated the ‘Skins offensive line.
From a statistical point of view, the 49ers completely dominated the game today, except in turnovers and rushing. They managed 246 passing yards to Washington’s meager 77, and their offense was generally more fruitful. However, Washington’s star running back Alfred Morris had a field day as he picked up 125 rushing yards and a touchdown on 21 carries. Even so, if you add up all of the ‘Skins’ offensive yards, you only get to 213, as they were generally held in check.
Colin Kaepernick was pretty good today, and probably better than his stats show, as he finished the game 20 of 29 for 256 passing yards, a touchdown, and an interception. He also rushed for 14 yards on nine attempts, but the Washington secondary mainly kept his rushing game in check. Anquan Boldin was the favorite target of Colin Kaepernick today, as he was a monster on the field. He recorded 137 yards and a touchdown, catching nine of his twelve targets, including one where he took a helmet-to-helmet hit, where the safety fell down dazed, but kept running to pick up five more yards. Boldin is a monster, and almost super-human when he gets going, and today was one of those days as he put on a showcase on the field. Michael Crabtree also had a reasonably good day today, although it pales in the face of Boldin’s, as he caught five of seven targets for 58 yards, including his stellar one mentioned above. Fullback Bruce Miller also had a respectable day, working hard as the all-around player that he is, and picking up 40 passing yards while catching all three of his targets.
On the other hand, the rushing attack was rather weak today, as Frank Gore only picked up 36 yards on 13 carries, and Carlos Hyde had a similarly poor day with 16 yards on seven attempts. Add to the fact that they each fumbled the ball once, and you get to a really quite poor day for the rushing attack today. Hopefully, they can get back to running the ball well, without fumbling at all, as they will need their rushing attack to be strong this Thursday, for the Thanksgiving matchup against the division rival Seattle Seahawks.
The Seahawk’s beat another division foe, the Arizona Cardinals today, giving them the same 7-4 record as the 49ers. Currently as it stands this is the NFC West standings:
1 Arizona Cardinals 9-2
T-2 Seattle Seahawks 7-4
T-2 San Francisco 49ers 7-4
4 St. Louis Rams 4-7
The Rams are effectively out of the playoff chase, but all of the other NFC West teams have a legitimate chance at making it. Today, the Seahawks proved that even the Cardinals, who are tied for the best record in the NFL, are mortal, and they pushed them down to a still stellar 9-2 record. The Seahawks and the 49ers play this Thursday, and the winner of this game will most likely be in the lead for a wildcard spot in the NFC. Currently, both teams are tied for the second Wild Card spot, and it is very possible that three teams from the NFC West make the playoffs, with both Wild Cards in this division. Above all, it is imperative that the 49ers win this Thursday, as a loss will make the road to the playoffs exponentially harder. So, hopefully, they can win this Thanksgiving, to keep their playoff hopes alive, while also defeating the hated Seattle Seahawks.
NOTE: We will not be addressing the Washington football team by their current official name due to its highly offensive nature. We will instead by addressing them by their city or a nickname, until the organization changes its name. This move is part of a boycott effort that is being followed by many people and organizations, including entire television stations, like CBS, and ex-football legends. We respectfully ask that the Washington team changes its name, due to the fact that it is currently a racial slur against Native Americans.
Cover Image: By Daniel Hartwig [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
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