Week 1 of the NFL has even the most passive football fans at the edge of their seats, eager to see what their teams will look like for the rest of the year. With free agency, the draft, training camp stocks, injuries and more, there are annual variables that affect the look of a team season to season, leaving outsiders to puzzle over what the finished product might be.
For this new-look San Francisco 49ers team, its first game of the season was always going to be very revealing, particularly with all of the changeover it experienced in the offseason.
In an explosive debut matchup versus the Green Bay Packers, several questions were answered, while new things were brought to light.
In a convincing 34-28 win to start the season, here are the top things we learned about the 2013 49ers.
In a mighty effort by the Green Bay Packers, which displayed vast improvement on the defensive side of the ball, quarterback Colin Kaepernick was limited to only seven rushing attempts for a mere 22 yards and no scores. The defense played the few read-option handoffs very shrewdly and did not let Kap break contain.
However, for all his hype as a runner, Kaepernick can flat-out play football from the pocket. In an aerial assault versus 2011 league MVP Aaron Rodgers, the third-year QB emerged victorious, putting up career numbers in the air.
Kap finished 27-of-39 for 412 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.
He has the makings of an elite passer and may challenge for MVP candidacy.
Too old, too slow and past his prime—that’s what the critics said about Anquan Boldin this offseason.
San Francisco acquired him from Baltimore for merely a sixth-round draft choice, largely because it agreed to take on his $6 million contract. Boldin was fresh off of a 900-plus-yard season, proceeded by a dominant playoff performance that resulted in his first Super Bowl ring in what is close to a Hall of Fame career.
The word from Santa Clara this offseason was that Boldin still had the hot hand, but the results on the field were yet to be seen. In the NFL, word of mouth only means so much.
Well, on Sunday, his first regular-season game in a 49ers uniform, Boldin sent the doubters home with their tails between their legs. In utter beast mode, the 11-year pro receiver hauled in 13 catches for 208 yards and a touchdown (his second 200-yard game in his career).
He seems to be at a point in his career where experience and talent meet, working in confluence, giving him this unstoppable factor. This was the same sort of commanding performance he displayed over the postseason, en route to hoisting a Lombardi Trophy.
So, for a team that had questions about what it’d do for passing production without Michael Crabtree, it is awfully scary how good it looked in that aspect on Sunday. In fact, wide receiver may be a position of strength this year, considering No. 15 will eventually return, adding to what San Francisco currently has in place.
That was a grown mans football game. Happy to get win number one, but we're just getting started here. Fans were awesome today at the Stick.— Anquan Boldin (@AnquanBoldin) September 9, 2013
Granted, San Francisco played a tough, tough football team—one of the truly elite pass attacks in the National Football League today.
That being said, the 49ers secondary has still had much better games against Aaron Rodgers and Co. The group noticeably struggled, which entailed getting beat by the receivers, misjudging throws and missing tackles. It was one of the most alarming things about San Francisco’s overall performance.
Nnamdi Asomugha, Tarell Brown and Carlos Rogers all looked cold.
This is a group that is capable of playing much better, but right now, it is safe to say that they’re on notice. This should be a position group to watch until it shows improvement—largely because of its importance for a deep postseason run.
There was a lot of talk about 49ers Pro Bowl tight end Vernon Davis possibly being in for career highs in his eighth season.
With the evolution of the system, the loss of Crabtree and the insertion of Kaepernick, there were a lot of indicators that made this look like a winning situation for No. 85. He is a veteran in the prime of his career, in the best shape of his life and fits a mold of player who is quite rare in today's league.
He brings immense value to this 49ers offense, able to attack defenses in a variety of ways.
While no one has ever really questioned his physical ability, people were skeptical to say the chemistry was there with Kaepernick—even ex-teammate Randy Moss.
On Sunday versus the Packers, this tandem was humming—and it looks to be just the beginning. After racking up six grabs for 98 yards and two touchdowns, it appears as if Davis is on track for a career year.
The Packers have been a top-rated offense in the league for some time now, but they’ve been outscored by the 49ers for three games straight now. And this is not because of San Francisco’s defense, because the unit as a whole has allowed an average of 27.0 points per game.
The ‘Niners are scoring a lot more.
And more than that, they’re well conditioned and know how to finish games now. There is a ton of explosiveness and creativity, as well as raw horsepower on this offense, which provides it with a unique identity. The star power is there, too, coupled with numerous up-and-comers with high upside.
So, considering the three main contributors Sunday—Boldin, Davis and Frank Gore—prevailing in the fashion they did, it will be interesting to see where this offense is at once it’s a few weeks into the season and in a groove. Moreover, it will really be something else when all of the playmakers are present and accounted for.
This is a team that still did not really incorporate Vance McDonald and Quinton Patton into the passing game. Wideout Kyle Williams also played but was only a supplemental weapon in Week 1. LaMichael James was also out with a knee injury, listed as one of the team’s inactives.
On top of that, San Francisco is waiting on two season milestones, expecting to return wide receivers Mario Manningham (ACL, PCL) and Crabtree (Achilles) to the lineup periodically. This offense has potential to be even more dominant than it was on Sunday.
In three drafts under coach Jim Harbaugh, free safety Eric Reid is the only rookie first-round pick to receive a starting role in his debut year. The hard-hitting safety from LSU made his presence known on Sunday, looking a lot like the All-Pro banger who left for the Sunshine State in free agency.
Reid landed several high-impact blows on Sunday and played fairly well when asked to defend the deep part of the field.
Considering this was the barometer for the rest of the season, the 49ers coaching staff has to be elated with what it saw. Reid is only going to get better week to week, so that position—which was a question mark—looks promising if and when San Francisco lands in the playoffs again.
McCauley (@JanieMcCAP) September 8, 2013
Gore got his first carry with seven minutes remaining in the first quarter.
While he finished with over 20 carries and a score, the 49ers premier tailback did not appear to be a big part of the game plan, which might’ve made longtime fans of the team uneasy. More often than not, when Gore doesn’t get his carries, San Francisco tends to lose.
However, Gore turned 30 years old this offseason, and slowly but surely, this is becoming Kaepernick’s football team.
Now, this was only one week, but it goes to show whom the coaches want touching the ball on most offensive downs. Not to mention, when James returns and the three-headed backfield is finally in full swing, this may develop into a true attack by committee, which sees Gore’s role lessen further.
49ers outside linebacker Aldon Smith officially pulled himself out of his five-game sack drought in Week 1 of 2013, walloping quarterback Aaron Rodgers on two occasions. It only took Green Bay’s second offensive play for him to register his first QB takedown of the NFL season.
He and running mate Justin Smith are both returning from injuries—a torn labrum and torn triceps—which hindered their collective production toward the end of the season last year. However, it looks as if these two are back in action, and that is a great sign for this defense.
The pass rush generated by the Smiths almost negates the need for any other blitzers.
Having these two healthy affords the 49ers defense quite a luxury, especially for coordinator Vic Fangio, who may want to spice up the play-calling on game day. Not to mention, things should get easier for Smith down the line as rookie Corey Lemonier is introduced into the lineup.
The 49ers also expect Tank Carradine to get involved at some point, once cleared and removed from the non-football injury list. His return to health, combined with a plethora of adept pass-rushers, could help Smith reach career highs for a third straight season.
It wasn’t a pretty weekend for a lot of competitive teams.
The Baltimore Ravens defense was exposed on Thursday Night Football, giving up seven touchdowns to Peyton Manning and failing to score many of their own.
Meanwhile, the San Francisco 49ers showed up against the Green Bay Packers and went shot for shot with one of the better teams in the league. Even when it looked bleak at times and the defense struggled on the backend, the ‘Niners found a way to pull through and finish.
This is a trademark of their coaching, player talent and overall resiliency.
Honestly, it looks as if the 49ers can run the table in 2013.