The NFL is the greatest show on earth for a reason. With touchdowns, big hits and heated rivalries, there is a full-scale drama occurring week-to-week from August to February.
The San Francisco 49ers (10-4-1) have had some major ups and real downs in the 2012-13 season. But overall, with a winning record and a playoff berth, it’s hard to frown on this year's campaign if you're a Faithful.
This 49ers team has gone through some serious change this year, in its second under head coach Jim Harbaugh. But a lot of the time, change comes for the better. The Niners have been looking to build upon the foundation they laid in 2011.
For a second consecutive year under the Harbaugh regime, the 49ers have put together double-digit wins in a season.
The team will cap off this season with a match against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 17. The Niners have already locked up a postseason spot but can still claim a first-round bye. The season is not over, but it has already been defined.
In this piece, we'll take a look at San Francisco's season, reflecting on the moments that made it unique.
This game brought us the debut of Randy Moss in scarlet and gold. After a brief retirement, the future Hall of Famer signed a one-year deal to play for San Francisco. The team was hoping to add veteran experience and leadership, while shoring up personnel issues and adding an extra red-zone threat.
There were some serious questions as to whether the 49ers were going to be able to become more threatening offensively. San Francisco’s unit addressed those concerns immediately, scoring their first points of the season on a 14-yard red-zone touchdown to No. 84.
San Francisco’s offense showed up big that day, playing cohesive, balanced football. They pounded the ball and executed high-percentage plays to move the chains and convert points. The league’s 28th-ranked offense from 2011 outscored Rodgers and the Pack at Lambeau—no easy task.
At one point, they put together five straight scoring drives.
But it was a total team effort—everyone had a hand in. On special teams, kicker David Akers drove a 63-yard field goal to add three points to the Niners' lead before halftime. The 49ers were also sharp defensively, pressuring Rodgers and taking away throws downfield.
It was a three-phase win from San Francisco to make a statement in Week 1.
For some reason, the 49ers had some serious trouble with the St. Louis Rams in 2012. One could point to the arrival of Jeff Fisher and a new crop of fresh talent, but either way, the team has been much more competitive.
Alex Smith had a slow start against the Rams in Week 10, as the offense stuttered at the beginning of the game. Eventually, Smith took a keeper, went down awkwardly and got whacked by linebacker Jo-Lon Dunbar. The 49ers QB sustained a concussion on the play, and though he would follow it up with a touchdown, Smith sat for the remainder of the game.
That moment will be remembered as the beginning of the end for Alex Smith in San Francisco. The former first overall pick had to watch from the sidelines as the younger, higher-ceiling player stepped in. Colin Kaepernick wound up finishing the game, but the match ended in a tie.
But it would not be Kap’s last chance to showcase his skills for the 49ers.
With Niners quarterback Alex Smith still not fully recovered from his head injury sustained the week before, Colin Kaepernick would get his first career start.
His first time out would be no picnic, either. The Niners were scheduled to play the Chicago Bears and their fly-around defense in Week 11. On top of that, the game was set for Monday Night Football, where Harbaugh would need his young passer to win a pivotal conference game under the national spotlight.
In miraculous fashion, Kaepernick lit up a Bears defense that had been on an absolute tear—they didn’t know what hit them. San Francisco and Chicago were said to have had the two best defenses going into this one, but at the end of the day, the 49ers looked to be in a league of their own.
Kaepernick looked incredibly poised for someone who had never started a game at the pro level. He was in total command, making pre-snap adjustments and reading the defense. And even though his athletic ability was well documented, Kaepernick won this game with his arm.
The second-year man finished 16-of-23 for 243 yards and a pair of touchdowns. This would be the game that launched Kaepernick's career as a pro passer.
There is the sports myth that a player cannot lose his job to injury, but that’s what fans saw with Alex Smith and the 49ers in 2012.
The team could not delay any further and had to clarify who would be “the guy” in San Francisco. The Niners had to contemplate a change at the most important position in all of sports.
In what must have been an extremely difficult decision for a head coach to make midseason, Jim Harbaugh announced the team would move forward with Colin Kaepernick.
Despite Smith being healthy and ready to go, the 49ers thought it would be in their best interest to “go with the hot hand.”
With limited reps, Kaepernick showed he could be as safe with the ball as Smith but at the same time provide a more explosive element from the quarterback position.
All the while, Smith did not do anything to lose his job. In fact, in his last full start at QB, Smith finished 18-of-19 for 232 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions in a clean sweep of the Cardinals on prime time.
However it ends, this move would define San Francisco's 2012 campaign.
It would be awfully difficult to run through San Francisco’s biggest moments of the 2012-13 season without mentioning this one. In Week 15, we got to see the No. 1 scoring defense versus the No. 1 scoring offense when the 49ers went on the road to face the Patriots.
But it turned out to be an evening highlighting Colin Kaepernick's abilities as a quarterback.
In his second prime-time contest as a starter, Kaepernick threw four TDs—something Alex Smith has never done in his eight-year career. San Francisco dropped 40-plus on New England, outscoring Brady and the Pats at their own house.
At the conclusion of this game, the 49ers had officially knocked off Green Bay at Lambeau, New Orleans at the Super Dome and New England at Gillette. In a fairly remarkable feat that went unnoticed, San Francisco bested the top-three offenses from 2011.
Former New York Giants running back Brandon Jacobs signed a one-year deal with the Niners in the offseason after the G-Men neglected to retain his services. Even though the back inked with a former rival, the 49ers had little to no use for Jacobs.
Being the troublemaker that he is, Jacobs was very vocal via social media regarding his displeasure with the team. He wanted to be active and contributing, but the 49ers were more than happy with Frank Gore, Kendall Hunter and Anthony Dixon.
The team reached their breaking point with Jacobs, and the veteran was eventually suspended for the remainder of the season. The greatest part of Jacobs’ suspension is that it was not an outright release—he could not sign with another team, and it allowed for the activation of rookie LaMichael James.
Rushing to History…
San Francisco 49ers outside linebacker Aldon Smith became a regular starter at right outside linebacker this year. In his second year in the NFL, Smith has quickly become a household name. He has been the league’s sack leader with 19.5 and is chasing history.
With one game remaining in the regular season, Smith is three sacks shy of Michael Strahan’s single-season record (22.5).
A Disconcerting Pattern…
From the beginning of the 2012 NFL season, the 49ers have lost or tied every third game on the schedule. For a team with 10 wins, the Niners have yet to put together more than a two-game win streak this year.
If this pattern continues, the 49ers are on track to lose in the NFC Championship for the second year in a row.