In an NFC West showdown—featuring a second half that Jim Harbaugh described as "the most physical 30 minutes I've ever seen"—between two 4-2 teams, both gunning for the playoffs, San Francisco made just enough plays to push their record to 5-2.
Here is this week's Upon Further Review, a brief recap of what stood out on film. Again, feel free to add your own observations to the comments below.
1. Frank Gore has a lot left in the tank, after all.
Remember when we worried over how much was left in the veteran's tank?
I mean, eight productive seasons as a running back in the NFL is almost unheard of these days—note: the average career of a running back spans just 2.57 years. Well those worries can be put to rest, for now at least.
Gore, known to be a Seahawks killer, had perhaps his best game of the season on Thursday. He had 16 carries for 131 yards and five receptions for 51 yards, upping his season totals to 601 yards rushing and 110 yards receiving through seven games.
While he has clearly lost a few steps along the way—gone are the days of 80-yard touchdown runs—there is still nobody better in the business at hiding behind blockers to maneuver through the line for significant gains.
The 49ers returned to their roots and relied on a physical rushing attack—often lining up extra blockers—to milk the clock and wear down the Seahawks. And Gore remains the clear leader of the attack.
2. Is Alex Smith regressing?
For the second straight week, Smith underwhelmed and made uncharacteristic decisions—he is characteristically uber-conservative with the ball, more inclined to throw it away or take a sack than force the issue.
He completed 14 of 23 attempts for 140 yards with one touchdown and one red zone interception—his second since 2006—on a fourth-quarter pass intended for Randy Moss. Though it didn't affect the outcome, the turnover has raised concerns about a possible regression for the quarterback.
Before we call for Smith's head, or break out in "We want Carr!" chants again, let's take a look at how other quarterbacks have fared against the Seahawks this season: John Skelton, 51.0; Tony Romo, 74.1; Aaron Rodgers, 81.5; Sam Bradford, 63.3; Cam Newton, 56.8; Tom Brady, 79.4; and Alex Smith, 74.5.
No doubt Smith has hit a bump in the road—who hasn't?—but he is still completing 66.8 percent of his throws this season and owns a 93.9 rating, both career highs.
The return of Mario Manningham to the lineup and more designed plays for Vernon Davis (zero catches for zero yards) should help steer Smith back on the right track.
3. What about Aldon Smith?
Upon further review, Smith is not quite ready to be an every-down linebacker—nor should he be, really. As a rookie sensation he racked up 14 sacks, four passes defended and two forced fumbles; all while playing limited snaps.
Yet despite an increase in snaps this year—Smith is now starting at outside linebacker—the production has stagnated: 5.5 sacks and one forced fumble.
He is clearly at his best when rushing the quarterback, but struggles to set the edge and often looks lost when dropping into coverage.
In other words, he is simply experiencing growing pains. I say let him continue to learn on the job, while also exploring other options—trades, free agency and the draft. That way, if another linebacker is added, Smith can focus on what he does best: hitting the quarterback, whether as an outside linebacker or defensive end.
4. Best division in the NFL?
The NFC West is no longer a cakewalk; it is arguably—along with the NFC North—the best division, from top to bottom, in all of football.
So think twice if you think San Francisco will cruise to back-to-back titles. Quite the contrary. Each team is dangerous; each team has at least three wins, and at least one signature win; and each team boasts a top-10 defense.
The Seahawks made it very clear on Thursday that the 49ers will need to play at a high level—week in and week out—to stay atop the division.
Next up: at Arizona Cardinals, Oct. 29 at 8:30 PM ET
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