In Week 10, there was little to write home about for the San Francisco 49ers, as they turned in one of their most disappointing performances in recent memory, entirely failing to have any sort of offensive presence in the second half on their way to a 10-9 loss.
Even in the worst losses, however, there are some players who stand head and shoulders above the rest, while even in the biggest wins, there are some players who drag the team's performance down. This slideshow will go through which players are the most to blame for the lackluster performance, and which ones get a pass for their outstanding performance in a losing cause.
Quarterbacks get too much credit when their team wins and too much blame when their team loses, but after a performance like the one Colin Kaepernick turned in against Carolina, all the finger pointing must start with him. Kaepernick managed to lead the team to a net total of 46 passing yards, the lowest figure since Alex Smith's rookie season, and the third lowest since the 1970s.
At a certain point, all the finger pointing at the lack of weapons has to stop. Yes, Vernon Davis being forced to leave the game in the second quarter seriously limited Kaepernick's options in the pass game, and yes, he still misses Michael Crabtree. There are other warm bodies out there, however, and Kaepernick seems unable to make any connections. Only one of his 11 completions went more than ten yards past the line of scrimmage, with checkdown after checkdown falling short of the sticks. Kaepernick had only three passes for first downs all game. Two came on short passes to Frank Gore and Bruce Miller in the first quarter, which they turned upfield, and the third came late in the fourth quarter. He failed to complete any deep passes, despite four such attempts. It was an ugly, ugly game.
Is it fair to judge him while so many weapons are missing? It's tough not to; every team in the NFL has injuries and have to make do with the next players up. So far this season, the passing game, and Kaepernick in particular, have not lived up to that ideal.
You can't place the entire blame for the stalled passing game on Kaepernick's shoulders, but he had the most disappointing performance of the week.
Kendall Hunter was involved in 12 snaps against Carolina. How bad of a day could he possibly have?
Well, at the end of the third quarter, with the 49ers in Carolina territory for one of the few times all day, they took Frank Gore out for a rest and put Hunter in. Carrying the ball loosely in one hand, he was hit squarely by Thomas Davis and the ball popped loose. Carolina ball, momentum ended. According to Pro Football Reference, that one play was enough to lower the 49ers win probability by 22.8 percent. On a game decided by one point, every play is extraordinarily important, and Hunter's fumble likely took at least a long field goal attempt off the board.
The rest of his plays weren't outstanding, either. Yes, he had an 11 yard run in the game, but it came on a third down situation when San Francisco needed 17 for the first down, essentially making it a useless play. He didn't catch the one pass thrown his way, either. There's nothing to mark in the positive box to overcome the enormity of that fumble.
It was an unusually bad day for Hunter, who has done a fairly solid job of keeping himself second on the depth chart above LaMichael James and Anthony Dixon. Hunter doesn't normally have fumbling problems, having only fumbled once each season in the NFL. It just came at the worst possible time for San Francisco
With Vernon Davis leaving early in the second quarter, the passing game became reliant on Anquan Boldin's ability to create space and make big plays. Sadly, that's not really part of his skillset these days. Boldin's big performances, such as his Week 1 explosion against Green Bay, come when he can find holes in zones. Against Carolina, Captain Munnerlyn and company made sure those holes never appeared, especially when he became the focal point of the entire pass offense.
Boldin was held to only three receptions for 23 yards, with none occurring in the fourth quarter. Instead, in the fourth quarter, Boldin was flagged twice, pushing the 49ers further back in crunch time. He was flagged for a false start at the beginning of the quarter, and then committed offensive pass interference, negating a 14-yard completion to Mario Manningham, one of the few positive plays the offense was able to generate all day. The 49ers would never cross midfield again.
The 49ers allowed three sacks and nine quarterback hurries on the day, but most of that happened over on the right side of the line. Joe Staley continued to show why he's one of the best left tackles in the league. Despite the losing effort, Pro Football Focus still gave Staley the game ball, stating that he "played every snap, graded out positively in every facet," attributing only one hurry to Staley.
This is the sixth consecutive game Staley has graded out as "green" according to Pro Football Focus' methodology, indicating a significantly above average game. It was the fourth highest tackle grade on Sunday despite the losing effort; keeping your quarterback's pocket clean 97.6 percent of the time will do that for you. He also had a solid day in run support, with Frank Gore gaining 16 yards on three carries in his direction. An all-around solid performance from a perennial all-pro.
Much of the hype for the 49ers defense in this matchup revolved around the return of Aldon Smith after his rehab stint, or the lack of rookie Tank Carradine, who has yet to play this season as he recoveres from a torn ACL.
The player who stole the show, however, was Smith's replacement, Dan Skuta, who got 42 snaps as Smith was slowly being worked in. He certainly made the most of it in his biggest game in a 49er uniform. Skuta didn't manage to sack Cam Newton, but hit him once and forced him to hurry twice more on only eight pass rush attempts.
Skuta also had three tackles on the day, stopping Jonathan Stewart for no gain, and both Stewart and DeAngelo Williams for one yard losses. It was solid all around for Skuta, who likely saw his last significant action for the season, as Smith is sure to take his starting role back as he works back into game shape. Having a player like Skuta for depth, however, allows the 49ers to take their time working Smith in, and provides nice insurance should injuries force him back into the lineup.
It's not a positive sign for a team's performance when one of their top players is a kicker, but in a game where the only offense was generated by the kicking game, you have to give a tip of the hat to the man who made it possible. You can't ask much more than what Phil Dawson was able to produce, as his kicks game from 25, 43, and 52 yards away, with the latter being his season best. They weren't all chip shots, and every single one of them was important, keeping the 49ers out ahead early.
You can't blame Dawson for Jim Harbaugh's poor decision to kick a field goal when the 49ers were on the brink of the end zone; he did what he was asked and had a perfect day.
He also was solid on kickoffs. Two of his four kickoffs ended up as touchbacks, while the other two were only returned by Ted Ginn for 19 and 23 yards each, resulting in an average starting position of the 20.5 yard line. That's the stat line you want out of your kicker, and it's just another day at the office for Dawson. Only Matt Bosher of Atlanta and Josh Scobee in Jacksonville have pinned offenses deeper on the average kickoff.
...you have to dig deep sometimes on a poor overall day for San Francisco.