San Francisco 49ers: Grading the Week 17 Win
Well, we can at least say that the 49ers went out on the right note. It wasn't a pretty win by any means, but a win is a win, and it secured the NFC West for San Francisco.
Even better, the Minnesota Vikings beat the Green Bay Packers, assuring the Niners of a No. 2 seed in the postseason. That means no game this weekend, but home games until the NFC Championship, as long as the team sticks around.
Aside from the slow start and handful of mistakes, it was a good win for the Niners, who will wait to see which team visits them at Candlestick Park in the divisional round of the playoffs. Here is my report card for the Week 17 win.
Passing Game: A
Kaepernick had an unspectacular, but efficient day passing, racking up a career-high 276 yards through the air, two touchdowns and zero interceptions. He made a few really nice passes, but we also saw a lot of ugly balls come out of that hand through the course of the game.
The star of the day was Crabtree, who caught eight passes for 172 yards and two touchdowns—by far his best game as a pro. Even more impressive than the yardage was the fact that a good amount of it came after the catch; many of the passes were short to mid-length routes that he caught, made a move on and took off with.
Back to Kaepernick, now. He did look more comfortable against Arizona this week and made some great throws, like I mentioned. But too many times the ball came out wobbly or short of the intended receiver. That's something I haven't noticed with Kap before, but I assume it was a one-game flaw.
My only concern is with his decision making and clock management in crucial situations. As we've seen multiple times since he took over, those little things that Alex Smith always did right are much more glaring with Kap under center. Let's hope he limits those mistakes in the playoffs.
Running Game: A
I was going to give the running backs an A no matter what, simply to celebrate Gore's record-setting mark. He rushed for a touchdown for the 51st time in his 49ers career and cemented his place as the most accomplished scoring running back in franchise history.
The consistency of Gore's success is astounding—he's truly one of the most underrated players in the NFL. And with him getting on in age for a player at his position, I hope his fellow players want him to win that ring as much as this Gore-loving fanbase does.
When Gore does decline, retire or anything else, I'm confident with the trio of running backs that the 49ers will hopefully retain. LaMichael James averaged seven yards per carry in this win, Kendall Hunter has proven himself to be a dynamic backup and every time Anthony Dixon touches the ball, it seems like something good happens.
But undoubtedly, this week of extra rest will help Gore heal up and be ready to bash and bruise his way for another 75 or more yards in the first game of the postseason.
Front 7: A
The front seven finished their season strong, cementing the "official" third-best defense title in the process. For my money, it's the best defense in the NFL, but I won't complain about finishing top three.
In this game, Ray McDonald forced a fumble, and Patrick Willis, Navorro Bowman and Ahmad Brooks all had standout performances. Aldon Smith was quiet, and I'm surprised he didn't record a sack against an unseasoned QB. But finishing the season with 66 tackles, 19.5 sacks and three forced fumbles as a 23-year-old is pretty insane.
The Arizona rushing attack never really got started, as they finished with a total of 55 yards, and the defense was making it look easy. All together, a great note to finish the regular season on for the 49ers.
Surprisingly enough, Tarell Brown was the star of the show against the Cardinals, knocking down a pass and recording the game's only interception. The rest of this unit played pretty well, but seemed to take plays off here and there.
Let's get one thing straight: Brian Hoyer is not very good at football-related activities. So even though 225 yards isn't a huge amount, it's still kind of unsettling that he could put up a number like that on our defense. It's not exactly sound logic, but what will Aaron Rodgers or Matt Ryan do if Hoyer can drop 225?
Michael Floyd was open pretty much all game, as evidenced by his 166 yards and a touchdown. I was most disappointed in Chris Culliver's efforts on Sunday because I've come to set a higher standard for the young corner. We need him to continue to step it up if this team is going to lock down defensively in the playoffs.
Special Teams: C-
Let's play Good, Bad and Ugly with this unit, in celebration of a possible new face at the place kicking spot:
The Good: The coverage unit, as usual. Arizona returners were held to barely anything on eight kick or punt returns. And on the flip side, James racked up a 33-yard kick return, and Ted Ginn, Jr. had a punt return for 28 yards.
The Bad: A rare off-game for Andy Lee. Granted, he didn't have to try that hard. But he was well outplayed by Cardinals punter Dave Zastudil, who averaged 4.5 yards per punt farther than Lee.
The Ugly: The potentially fired David Akers missed two more field goals. They were over 40 yards each, but still very makeable shots. It makes one wonder if Akers is hurt because a slump like this from him is otherwise unexplainable. The 49ers signed kicker Billy Cundiff (who missed a game-tying field goal in the AFC Championship last year for Baltimore...great!) to compete with Akers for the starting job.
The game plan wasn't great (in fairness, neither was the execution), and troubling issues that have plagued the 49ers for the last few weeks don't seem to be corrected.
I think the fanbase is getting frustrated with Greg Roman's lack of go-for-the-jugular play-calling when the 49ers take the lead, but as long as they play a complete game, it's usually a fairly comfortable margin of victory.
That being said, this was a 14-point win against the Cardinals, at home, with huge playoff and divisional ramifications on the line. Being up just 7-6 at halftime was disconcerting to say the least, and I didn't feel comfortable with that score, even against Arizona, after last week's ugly debacle.
I don't doubt that Jim Harbaugh and his coaching staff will have this team mentally prepared for the playoffs, but I wonder if the team will be physically ready to make the plays and if a proper game plan will be put in place before then.
I liked what I saw from Kaepernick in certain spurts, and Crabtree's effort was phenomenal. Both lines played a solid game. Tarell Brown hopefully gained a little confidence and momentum, and Gore's record-setting day set the tone for a dominant running game.
So, overall, it was a good team win for the 49ers. Still, there are some frustrating issues that have the fanbase worried heading into the playoffs.
For one, the game plans have been confusing and as much to blame for late-season miscues as the actual performances on the field. David Akers continues to confound everyone by pushing easy field goals wide left.
And clock management and decision making for Kaepernick under center are scary sometimes. In crunch time in a playoff game, those are the little things that could really kill this team. Here's to hoping everyone is ready to go in two weeks and that the Niners can return to the NFC Championship Game after that.
Who's got it better than us?
You can tweet Jeremy @Jamblinman about your NFC West champion (times two) 49ers. This will be the last installment of my report card, as I only do so during the regular season. Thanks for reading!