Well hello there, Week 1 of the 2012 NFL season—we’ve been awaiting your arrival.
It was a battle of Alex Smith, the 2005 No. 1 overall pick, versus Aaron Rodgers, the quarterback who many thought deserved the honor; a battle of arguably the league’s best defense versus the league’s most prolific offense; a battle of retribution amongst teams that suffered an offseason predicated on what could have been.
But those storylines were pre-snap—well, for that matter—post-snap as well.
In a game nearly decided by the men sporting those officials’ stripes, there was a battle decided by so much more.
The 49ers won by a score of 30-22. That score, though, does not reveal the inordinate amount of suspense that transpired within this opening weekend matchup. It also doesn’t say who deserved the honors of the most valuable, least valuable and—in concert with the offseason acquisitions—the most noteworthy rook.
With all that in mind, let’s hand out the awards for MVP, LVP and top rookie for the 49ers in their Week 1 win over the Packers.
Defensive MVP: Navorro Bowman
The 49ers pass defense was thoroughly impressive against Rodgers and his passing arsenal.
Unlike most teams, however, it wasn’t a cornerback or safety that represented the best of this unit.
It was a linebacker—and his name isn’t Patrick Willis.
Navorro Bowman put on a clinic against the Packers on how to handle freakishly athletic tight ends and perform as a coverage linebacker. Forget what the negative box score might portray otherwise—Bowman blanketed Jermichael Finley and locked down his assignments.
The 49ers frequently sent out their nickel and dime packages. While defensive backs numbered five or six, Bowman was the sole backer patrolling the middle. He—and not Willis, mind you—handled it with remarkable efficiency, breaking up multiple passes and picking off Rodgers to cap it off.
That interception was also off a pass intended for a wide receiver (Greg Jennings). Better yet, it set up a touchdown that sealed the game for the 49ers.
San Francisco’s leading tackler also stifled any attempt at a run game that the Packers mustered. Nine attempts for 18 yards by a running back are fairly indicative of his proficiency in this regard.
(Aaron Rodgers was Aaron Rodgers; placing the blame on Bowman for the quarterback’s rushing success wouldn’t be apt.)
Those who didn’t recognize Bowman as at least the near equal to Patrick Willis might want to take a gander at one of the best to emerge from “Linebacker U” in recent memory.
Willis is one proud mentor.
Offensive MVP: Frank Gore
It couldn’t possibly be underscored enough: Frank Gore is the most valuable player on his team.
And as of now, substituting “his team” with “the league” wouldn’t be out of the realm of good judgment.
The man once flagged as a “career-ending-injury-waiting-to-happen,” put forth an effort of fine proportions on Sunday. Gore ran for 112 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries against a re-tooled Packers defense.
Most notable, however, was not his average of seven yards per carry, but his patience, will and determination. Yes, the “big three cliché” of motivational speeches actually has practical application.
Gore is one of the more underrated running backs because of his lack of flash. He waits for his offensive line to move into position, set their blocks and create the ideal running scenario. If something appears unsatisfactory, he finds an opening that would otherwise go unnoticed and burrows his way through.
Bouncing to the outside is also in his repertoire. On perhaps the most significant play of the game, Gore bounced off the right end and maneuvered his way 23 yards to the proverbial house—the literal being the end zone and seven points for the visiting team.
In a responsibility so often neglected by other running backs in the league, well, Gore excels at that too.
Green Bay’s Clay Matthews became obsolete last season when the pass-rushing capabilities around him were nonexistent down the stretch. For this matchup, though, Matthews was sufficiently unleashed to do his thing.
Gore, for his part, fulfilled his blocking obligations in his usual effective matter. He mitigated the USC pass rush—rookie Nick Perry included—and any sack incurred was not a product of a failed assignment.
One of the longest-standing 49ers was functioning at his best on opening weekend.
Honorable Mention: Randy Moss. Any doubters still on his NFL viability?
Special Teams MVP: David Akers
Akers was responsible for three field goals and three extra points.
Oh, and if that wasn’t enough, a 63-yard field goal.
Twelve points and record-tying feats—not bad.
LVP: Joe Staley
Fair or unfair, every game deserves a winner and a loser. In this particular case, the least valuable actually represents the winning side.
Joe Staley is unfortunately the man deserving of this label.
One of the NFL’s top-rated left tackles was nothing of the sort on Sunday. Staley failed his quarterback to the extent of three sacks and four QB hurries.
He surrendered six sacks all of last year.
Staley repeatedly dropped his hands at the inopportune time and succumbed to the pass rush of Matthews. Allowing one sack—or QB hurry or QB hit—to a dominant linebacker is one thing; permitting seven is something else entirely.
Run blocking was an area of competence for Staley. Pass blocking, regrettably, was not.
Honorable Mention: Referees. Even the most casual observer would deem this as purely shameful.
Top Rookie: N/A
49ers rookies did not play a significant role in this game.
Trenton Robinson, the sixth-round draft pick, was active for game day and provided support mostly from the sideline.
The 49ers could not have had enough defensive backs against Rodgers and his set of receivers. Robinson was at least there for the cause if need be.
To his credit, he certainly took a bone-crushing hit in stride and moved forward after the fact.
And—take it or leave it—the 49ers won a pretty epic matchup.
Defense, offense, special teams—they do it all well.
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