Led by a ferocious pass rush, the Niners held Robert Griffin III to 127 passing yards, a season low for the Washington signal-caller, and blew out the Redskins 27-6.
"That was the toughest defense we've gone against this year," Washington head coach Mike Shanahan said after the game, per Cam Inman of the San Jose Mercury News.
Though the 49ers (7-4) had plenty of star performances, the defensive headliner has to be Aldon Smith.
Sackless since his Nov. 10 return against Carolina, Smith had two sacks and several more pressures. He looked like the Smith who had 19.5 sacks in the first 13 games of the 2012 season.
Ahmad Brooks also had two sacks. Justin Smith was credited with a stuff of Griffin III behind the line of scrimmage that could've been scored as a sack.
In total, the 49ers had four sacks, which is their second-highest total of the season. And the Redskins' offensive line isn't chopped liver, either:
The 49ers also held the Redskins to 3.7 yards per rush, limiting Alfred Morris to his lowest rushing total since Week 1. The defense got stronger as the game wore on:
Flashback to 2011, when Alex Smith was the 49ers quarterback. San Francisco had the league's best defense, and Smith dinked and dunked his way to 13 regular-season wins. The 49ers went all the way to overtime of the NFC Championship Game with that game plan before bowing out.
Up until mid-December of last year, the defense was once again the strength of the 49ers. Then, Kaepernick got hot right as Justin Smith and Aldon Smith were battling injuries.
Suddenly, the 49ers were led by their offense. Kaepernick orchestrated big comebacks in the NFC title game and Super Bowl, but he fell just short in the big game.
This season, with Kaepernick going through some growing pains, the defense has once again been the strength of the team. But it hasn't been quite as dominant as the 2011 and early 2012 version. The 49ers entered the game 28th in sacks. They were allowing more yards per carry. They were allowing a higher percentage of third-down conversions.
Monday night brought back memories of the 2011 version of the defense. And a defense like that will take pressure off Kaepernick.
Consistenly given great field position with which to work (S.F.'s starting field position on its five scoring drives was its 45-yard line), Kaepernick took advantage. He tied a season high with three touchdown passes, and other than a dropped interception by a Redskins linebacker in the second quarter, he didn't force passes into coverage.
He took what the defense gave him. Sound familiar?
That's right: Kap doesn't need to be anything more than a game manager for the Niners to win most games. Not with the defense that held Washington to a season low in points.
With Jim Harbaugh suggesting Michael Crabtree will return on Sunday against St. Louis, per CSN Bay Area's Matt Maiocco, the 49ers offense could become much more lethal. However, those expecting Kaepernick to suddenly look like Drew Brees or Peyton Manning will likely be disappointed.
For the 49ers to be a serious contender in the NFC, they need their defense to play at an elite level and their offense to take a step forward.
The offense, which has accumulated only 157 rushing yards against mediocre run defenses in its last two games, has plenty of question marks. It has potential, but it is no sure thing at this point.
The defense, meanwhile, is already playing at a championship level. Consider one side of the formula taken care of.
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