The San Francisco 49ers got a huge win in New England this past Sunday, vaulting themselves back into the No. 1 slot on most major networks' power rankings. Tom Brady and Co. gave us a scare there in the second half, coming all the way back from 28 points down to tie it up. But the Niners rebounded to tack on some points and seal the victory.
Colin Kaepernick had one of his best games yet at quarterback, and the defense—aside from a 10-minute rough patch—was absolutely dominant. LaMichael James had another impact game, and Michael Crabtree came up huge again.
You've got to credit Kaepernick for a gutsy win, although his mistakes should not be overlooked. If not for a couple lucky bounces and a dropped interception, they could have been on the wrong side of this game.
Luckily, the minor errors didn't come back to bite the 49ers, as they were able to put together one of their best overall efforts in front of a national TV audience and win 41-34 in Foxboro. Here is the report card for Week 15's huge win against the New England Patriots:
Let's play Good, Bad and Ugly with Kaepernick and the passing game from Sunday's big win.
Um, four touchdowns through the air in Foxboro in December? In a nationally-televised game with huge stakes? The kid was cool, calm and collected as they come.
Kaepernick did show flashes of that youth that many (myself included) are afraid will hold this team back in the playoffs. A couple bad reads, including a deep ball picked off in the end zone are two examples.
For each touchdown pass Kap threw, he fumbled one snap to even it out. Luckily, one bounced right into Frank Gore's hands and he ended up with seven. And the others didn't hurt too much. But I have a hard time believing it was weather-related, since Kap played in Nevada in college.
Overall, it was Kaepernick's best game through the air so far. He made some really ridiculous passes (the touchdown to Michael Crabtree was perfection), and ultimately got the win. You can't complain too much about a 14-of-25, 216-yard, 107.7-rated performance!
The team rushed for a total of 180 yards on the night, including 31 by Dashon Goldson on a perfectly-executed fake punt. Though Kaepernick wasn't busting it up on the ground against New England, he didn't really have to.
With Gore playing a big role (83 yards on 21 carries), and LaMichael James pitching in again, the 49ers were moving the ball in that fashion pretty easily against the Patriots.
I'm starting to like the Gore-James-Anthony Dixon trio more and more as time progresses. Kendall Hunter is a fantastic runner too, but who will be the odd man out at the start of next season?
Oh, and a big high-five to the O-line, which not only allowed just one sack in the game, but were opening up gaping holes for the backs to burst through all night long. All together, a great overall game from the 49ers' backfield.
The big boys up front did their jobs again, even though Aldon Smith's sack record quest hit a speed bump. Smith did pick off a tipped pass that swung the momentum away from New England in the second half and back to the good guys.
Instead of the usual suspects, the sacks came from Ricky-Jean Francois and Ray McDonald (twice). NaVorro Bowman had nine tackles and a forced fumble, and his partner in crime, Patrick Willis, was in on 11 total tackles.
As for the opposing running game, the 49ers were dominant from the outset. They bottled up one of the better runners in the AFC in Stevan Ridley, and only really allowed anything in that crazy second-half run by the Patriots.
New England finished with 95 rushing yards and three rush touchdowns, but one was a QB sneak, and the other two were in that span of 12 minutes when Tom Brady was doing his thing, picking apart the secondary and opening up running lanes for Danny Woodhead.
It's really hard to determine a grade for a unit that was so incredibly stellar for most of the game, but was part of the group that gave up 34 points, including 28 unanswered in the middle of the second half. In truth, Brady was tearing them apart for a stretch of the second half.
That being said, he threw two interceptions (one to Carlos Rogers) and had an overall rating of 68.9 for the game. You can attribute part of the reason for his 443 yards to two things: First, they were playing from way behind. Second, he threw the ball 65 times—what do you expect?
Overall, Goldson, Rogers and Donte Whitner played very well. Chris Culliver, while not as sharp as I'd seen him in recent games, did just fine. Tarell Brown, on the other hand, looked god-awful for most of the game before coming out with an injury.
Let's just get this over with: David Akers screwed up again. I know, I know. Luckily, this one didn't come back to bite the 49ers, as Akers nailed his other two attempts. But it's starting to get very troubling that Akers seems to be good for one shank per week.
On the punting side, Andy Lee continues his bid for another Pro Bowl, averaging over 56 yards on five punts on Sunday. He placed three of those within the 20, and had a long boot of 64.
The coverage units did a great job, as usual. Wes Welker was bottled up as the punt returner, and Devin McCourty was hardly given any room to run as a kick returner. On our side of the ball, James was at it again, averaging over 33 yards per return.
With the good, comes the bad. Ted Ginn Jr. did his best Kyle Williams impression out there, and if I had it my way, James would be the only one returning any type of kick for the rest of the season. We don't want to see deja vu in the playoffs, do we?
I wanted to give a lower grade to Jim Harbaugh and the coaching staff, simply for relaxing the offensive play book in the second half and contributing to the ferocious comeback of Brady and Co. But I thought better of it.
No matter how you slice it, Harbaugh outcoached Bill Belichick in New England in a must-win game. Despite that crazy comeback, Harbaugh kept the team straight and helped them overcome it to win.
I'm still not happy with all the play-calling, but when you execute a win in Foxboro against a Hall of Fame coach and quarterback, all while dropping 41 points and holding said quarterback to a terrible rating...you deserve some major props.
Oh, and the fake punt call? Ballsy. Good work, fellas.
It's hard to find a bunch of faults in a huge road win like this. Still, I'm nit-picky and demand perfection, a la Denzel Washington in Remember the Titans. Okay, really I just know that this team is not fully prepared to face the rigors of another postseason run if they don't shore up a few mistakes.
Overall, I was impressed with Kaepernick's passing game on Sunday. That being said, he needs to make faster, safer reads in certain situations, and could still work on his clock management a tad bit.
I'll give them a pass on the fumbled snaps, because chances are that will be corrected in plenty of time for the next game. You would like to see the secondary step it up a little bit against elite QBs like they have multiple times in the past, but they played well for most of the game.
Lastly, let's hope Justin Smith isn't out this week—that's one thing the 49ers' pass rush and its biggest beneficiary, Aldon Smith, can't afford. To get to Russell Wilson in Seattle and slow down an offense that has scored 50 or more in each of their last two games, they need Smith back fully healthy.
All in all, a very impressive outing by the 49ers, that has vaulted them back into the spotlight as the NFL's best team. Here's to hoping they keep it up and crush the hated Seahawks in Seattle this Sunday night.
Who's got it better than us?