Here Comes San Francisco
Tearing through feeble Washington on Monday night, the 49ers looked very much like the defending NFC champs and a club that could be hitting its stride at just the right time. Plus, mailbag questions, including one that will sour some in Seattle
There are only a few occasions Colin Kaepernick opens up to the outside world, and early this morning, in the wake of his most encouraging performance at quarterback since opening day, wasn’t one of them. “This was a good step for us in the right direction,’’ Kaepernick said after San Francisco dismantled Washington 27-6.
He can say that again. This was a game the 49ers needed badly. They’d lost narrowly to good teams the past two weeks—Carolina and New Orleans. They’ve likely lost any realistic chance to catch Seattle in the NFC West; the 10-1 Seahawks have a three-game lead with five to play, and now the Niners have to worry about hard-charging Arizona, tied with San Francisco at 7-4 for second place in the division. But on Monday night, there were three pieces of very good news for the San Francisco playoff stretch drive:
1. Kaepernick, the embattled quarterback, was late-2012 Kaepernick. He entered the game piloting an offense with the lowest passing yards per game in the NFL. Not good for a passer Ron Jaworski said in the offseason could one day be the best ever to play. But after a slow beginning in his 21st NFL start, Kaepernick was confident, accurate and in control of the game for the final 50 minutes. He was 15 of 24 for 235 yards, with three touchdowns and no interceptions for a season-high passer rating of 134.5. He hit tight end Vernon Davis down the seam in stride for 40 yards. On the drive that put the game away in the third quarter, he threw a perfect out to backup tight end Vance McDonald while the Washington D focused on Davis. He followed on that drive with these three plays: a simple bootleg run for eight yards, knowing when not to press upfield for extra yards and absorb an extra hit; a perfectly executed surprise draw to Frank Gore; and another well-played play-action fake to Gore, followed by a one-yard throw to a wide-open Davis that left the defense flat-footed. If Kaepernick repeats this game over the next two months, the Niners will be tough to beat.
2. Reinforcements are on their way. Wide receiver Michael Crabtree, out since May with a partially torn Achilles, is likely to return Sunday when the Rams play at San Francisco, according to a post-game pronouncement from coach Jim Harbaugh. Very good news for a team that’s been playing with maybe the worst wide receiver depth in football in the first three months of the season. Crabtree was Kaepernick’s favorite target in 2012 and would have been this year but for an injury in off-season training. With Crabtree and Anquan Boldin (on pace for a 76-catch season) playing in tandem, there shouldn’t be any excuse for some of the feeble games this offense has been playing this season.
3. Aldon Smith found his form. He finally looked like Aldon Smith in demolishing Washington left tackle Trent Williams for most of the night. Smith had two sacks of Robert Griffin III, two additional knockdowns and was buzzing around the backfield consistently. Smith’s last sack came Week 3 against Indianapolis, and his dominating presence was missed in the two losses since his return from substance-abuse rehab; Smith played just 56 snaps in those two games. But Monday night, his full repertoire of speed and power was on display. Smith made Williams look like he was playing in slow-motion.
Lots of teams had good games in Week 12. But Monday night, San Francisco got the kind of good news on three fronts that strong playoff teams need. The 49ers are going to be a tough out in the playoffs. Presuming, of course, they can make it in a top-heavy NFC.
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