Winners and Losers from San Francisco 49ers' Week 1 Win vs. Green Bay Packers
The 49ers defeated the Green Bay Packers 34-28 in Sunday's much-hyped rematch of the 2013 Divisional Round matchup. Several key players exceeded expectations, while others failed to step up as previously hoped.
For all the trash talk and bad blood, this contest somehow managed to live up to its immense billing. While the 49ers eventually came out on top, the game proved to be a back-and-forth thriller.
Here's the best and worst from the 49ers' impressive victory on opening weekend.
All statistics used in this article according to ESPN.com.
Winner: QB Colin Kaepernick
Clay Matthews finally got his hit on the quarterback, but Kaepernick earned the last laugh. In the end, Kaepernick completed 69 percent of his passes to the tune of 412 yards and three touchdown passes.
Ironically, given the read-option focus surrounding this game, Kaepernick very rarely rushed by design. The running game struggled throughout, so the 49ers relied on their young quarterback to beat the Packers with his arm.
To put it simply, he more than answered the call.
Kaepernick had never thrown for even 300 yards in a regular-season game before Sunday, a figure he reached by the third quarter. Whenever the 49ers needed a play, Kaepernick seemed to deliver with strong decisions and crisp, deep passes.
This was a dynamic 49er offense, and Kaepernick surely proved a lot of doubters wrong with his Week 1 performance.
Loser: 49ers' Clock Management
It's hard to pinpoint the exact cause, but the 49ers ran down to the end of the play clock early and often on Sunday. It was the kind of pace that would have driven Chip Kelly off the deep end.
Now, the 49ers weren't trying to play with a frenetic style. But they were flagged for a delay of game and three false starts on offense, which isn't going to help on the road in Week 2 against the Seahawks.
The 49ers also blew more than one timeout to avoid a penalty, another less-than-positive sign.
B/R's own Dylan DeSimone wrote about Kaepernick's clock management during the summer, and this was an issue last season. Of course, this was also a Week 1 matchup, and rust could account for some of the miscommunication.
However, if the 49ers are going to avoid another meltdown in Seattle, this issue must be sorted out immediately.
Winner: FS Eric Reid
Several 49ers players were applauding Reid after an impressive debut, according to ESPN's Bill Williamson. The rookie safety recorded seven solo tackles in his first NFL appearance, as well as his first career interception.
It's clear that Reid was brought in to fill the role of Dashon Goldson, an All-Pro playmaker at safety. Several of Reid's hits were Goldson-esque, displaying great pop and hard-nosed physicality.
The interception came off of a deflection. Reid's ballhawking style forced a big play, and it even had Coach Harbaugh speaking out.
"I thought Eric Reid, he showed he belongs out there," Harbaugh said after the game, according to the 49ers' official Twitter account.
Overall, a very solid debut for this year's first-round pick.
Loser: 49ers Secondary
As B/R's Phil G pointed out in his live analysis, the 49ers did not defend the pass very well on Sunday. Reid proved to be a rare bright spot in an otherwise inconsistent performance by the secondary.
Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers posted 333 yards and three touchdowns, connecting on some big plays whenever the pass rush failed to take off. In particular, cornerbacks Carlos Rogers and Nnamdi Asomugha appeared to get burned a few times.
According to ESPN.com (found in the Research Notes section), Rodgers was 20-of-30 for 330 yards when the 49ers sent a standard pass rush. The Packers protected Rodgers fairly well, but the secondary has to hold up better without blitzing help.
Until the very end, the Packers managed to march down and even the score or trade leads with the 49ers. Rodgers is an former MVP, but this is a top-notch defensive unit that is capable of better.
With Seattle QB Russell Wilson on deck, the defensive backfield must tighten up.
Winner: WR Anquan Boldin
Baltimore Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome very rarely looks bad, but a sixth-round pick is looking like a liquidation price for wide receiver Anquan Boldin.
Covering Boldin was like a "Where's Waldo?" nightmare for Green Bay, with 13 catches for 208 yards and a touchdown. Boldin also caught five passes that traveled 15 or more yards in the air, opening up the offense.
Boldin wasn't necessarily brought in to stretch the field, but he made the Packers pay no matter where his routes took him. Kaepernick's instant chemistry with his new weapon is a great sign for the 49ers going forward, especially since they made several key connections on third and fourth down.
Wide receiver Michael Crabtree was clearly Kaepernick's favorite target in 2012. Boldin stepped up to the plate in his absence, making some tough plays to keep the chains moving.
Loser: The Running Game
The 49ers ran the ball for 323 yards on 43 carries when they met the Packers in last year's playoffs. Unfortunately, history did not repeat itself for San Francisco in Sunday's rematch.
As a team, the 49ers averaged just 2.6 yards per attempt in Week 1, finishing with 90 yards rushing. Running back Frank Gore scored the go-ahead touchdown, but totaled just 44 yards on 21 carries.
Reserve back Kendall Hunter fared slightly better with 24 yards on six carries, but 23 of those yards came on one run.
The 49ers ran only seven read-option plays, according to ESPN's Research Notes, gaining a meager 10 yards. However, the Packers were clearly committed to stopping the run, and Kaepernick took advantage, going 9-of-11 for 152 yards and two touchdowns on play-action passes.
Chalk this one up as an anomaly for now, considering the Packer defense's desire to prevent a repeat of last year's playoff debacle. The 49ers run their offense through a dominant ground game, which should correct itself in the weeks to come.
Winner: LB Aldon Smith
Aaron Rodgers was excellent when he had time to throw, but Aldon Smith made that difficult in Week 1.
Smith hit the quarterback a team-high four times, in addition to collecting 1.5 sacks. This included disrupting the final play of the game, an short incomplete pass when Rodgers was looking to throw a Hail Mary to the end zone.
Smith was a wrecking crew with 19.5 sacks in 2012, and he seems to be off to a similar start this season. He rounded out his day with five tackles (two solo), with one for a loss.
Smith faced some criticism after a slow finish to last season, though a torn labrum he suffered late in the season coincided with Justin Smith's late-season injury. A big opening game should quiet those critics for now.
After all, the defense held on when it mattered most, and Aldon Smith had a lot to do with that.
Loser: WRs Quinton Patton and Marlon Moore
Patton became a preseason darling of sorts after scoring touchdowns in each of the final two exhibition games.
However, neither Patton nor Marlon Moore saw much action in the regular season opener.
Wideout Kyle Williams was given the start at the No. 2 receiver spot and responded with three catches for 36 yards. He was targeted six times, including a potential big play down the sideline in the fourth quarter that was poorly thrown.
By comparison, Moore was targeted once and Patton saw no action from Kaepernick.
Neither played poorly, but this is more of a reflection on expectations. Boldin ultimately dominated the number of targets, but Kaepernick will have to spread the ball around more going forward.
The jury on Patton is obviously still out after one game.
Winner: TE Vernon Davis
Davis and Kaepernick hit it off in last year's postseason, and that momentum carried over into 2013.
The 49ers' Pro Bowl tight end scored only once in Kaepernick's seven regular-season starts in 2012, but he's already doubled that output after Week 1. Davis reeled in six passes for 98 yards against the Packers, including two touchdowns.
Davis has always been a big-play tight end, and Kaepernick has the arm to deliver. With some apparent chemistry now, this has the makings of a dangerous duo.
With Boldin and Davis running on all cylinders, the passing game looked unstoppable against Green Bay. As the younger reserves get acclimated to the demands of the NFL, there's no ceiling on what San Francisco can do offensively.
All in all, one thing does remain clear: the defending NFC Champions are picking up right where they left off.