So many of the team's esteemed veterans, new additions and promising up-and-comers—several of whom exceeded expectations—had a hand in the win. As a team, the 49ers took care of business for the fourth week in a row now, moving to 10-4 on the season and inching closer toward locking up a playoff seed in 2013.
And seeing this team walk out of the tunnel these past few weeks and how it has produced, it's clear it knows it belongs. The confidence is beginning to ooze through again. By all means, it looks as if the 49ers have their swagger back.
The players and coaches are having fun and opening things up, and the team is playing dominant football at nearly every position group. Most notably, the kinetic tandem of Colin Kaepernick and Michael Crabtree is headlining the postgame reports again, while the defense has continued bulldozing the competition this year.
When NFL analysts were pushing all their chips to the center of the table, going all in on the 49ers, this was the was team they were betting on. So for individual analysis from this past week's matchup of the real 49ers, complete with letter grades, proceed through the following.
- Expectations: Some players can look really good out there, but how much did they leave on the field?
- Statistics: Whether you were blanked, booming or something in between, this plays a significant role as to how a player is graded.
- Impact: Stats are great and all, but did those yards come in garbage time or on a 3rd-and-long? The clutch value factors in here.
- Consistency: One big play can change a game, but consistency down-to-down can make sure you win it. Who was bringing it on every play?
Statistics provided by Pro Football Reference, unless specified otherwise.
Colin Kaepernick: A
Colin Kaepernick hasn’t finished with nearly as many A’s this season, but this one was rightfully earned. The 49ers signal-caller was 19-of-29 for 203 yards passing and two touchdowns in the air, also tapping his ability as a scrambler by adding 39 yards on the ground.
It was also a clean, turnover-free game.
By the time the clock struck zero in the fourth quarter, Kap had an impressive 108.8 quarterback rating, marking the third time he’s gone over the century mark in the past four weeks (six times all year). It’s as clear as day that he’s become a more efficient passer with his receivers back in the lineup.
He's almost a totally different player, now capable of leading this offense.
And as much as this team feeds off Frank Gore’s 100-yard performances, it also thrives when No. 7 is connecting with his weapons.
This weekend, San Francisco moved to a perfect 11-0 when Kap has a passer rating of 100 or higher, via senior reporter Taylor Price of the team’s official website.
With questions looming about his ability to perform versus rigid defenses and be a playmaker for the team down the stretch, Kaepernick certainly responded, once again reminding the league what the 49ers are capable of. It’ll be interesting to see where this recent ascension takes him.
Frank Gore: A-
Not a big statistical day for Gore, seeing as how he did not break the century mark or find the end zone, but the 49ers got some good yardage out of Frank the Tank. He averaged nearly 4.0 yards per carry and had multiple chunk runs and first-down pickups, including a 13-yarder to start the game.
He also accomplished his seventh 1,000-yard season in nine years, which has only been done by 19 other running backs in league history.
#49ers Frank Gore has made 42 straight starts, the longest streak among active RBs.— Eric Branch (@Eric_Branch) December 15, 2013
Kendall Hunter: A
Rarely does Kendall Hunter get enough opportunities to hit a home run grade, but he managed to do it on Sunday. With just eight carries, the 49ers' No. 2 back was able to pick up 40 yards on the ground (5.0 YPC). This also included a long burst of 15 yards.
Hunter also went outside his the running back position to make a play, scooping up a muffed kickoff to score the walk-off touchdown.
Kendall Hunter don't care... #HoneyBadger— Taylor Price (@TaylorPrice49) October 13, 2013
LaMichael James: B
LaMichael James only had two carries, but he certainly made the most of them, breaking free for 21 yards on one occasion. The 49ers' second-year running back also continued to spearhead the return game, finishing with 74 return yards. He averaged a commendable 10.2 yards on five punt returns.
Bruce Miller: A
San Francisco’s new Swiss Army Knife of 2013 is fullback Bruce Miller—the do-it-all blocker, receiver and special teamer. Outside of clearing lanes for 187 rushing yards, the 49ers' versatile thumper caught four passes for 26 yards (he is currently third on the team with 243 yards in 2013).
Vernon Davis: A+
The 49ers' star weapon has continued to be a force week in and week out.
On Sunday, Davis became the first tight end in the NFL history to register at least 12 receiving touchdowns in two different seasons. This was also his fifth straight game with a TD catch, making him the first 49ers player with a streak that long since Terrell Owens in 2001, per ESPN Stats & Info.
He was a big contributor in this win.
Garrett Celek: N/A
Garrett Celek was a featured player on Sunday, filling in as the No. 2 for an injured Vance McDonald (ankle). He finished with one reception on one target for just eight yards. That one catch was also fumbled out of bounds, luckily.
Additionally, the run game was lacking, which is an area in which McDonald has actually been a contributor. The wham block the 49ers like to run versus these types of fronts was not at their disposal with a leaner Garrett Celek in the lineup.
Anquan Boldin: B
Not spectacular, but effective.
Anquan Boldin continued to showcase his man-sized skills at the wide receiver position, powering through coverage and making tough catches. He also had a one-handed bucket catch for a first down while his left arm was tangled up with the defender.
His grade suffers a bit here because he failed to break 50 yards and score a touchdown and only caught less than half of his targets (3-of-8). He did manage to average 14.3 yards per catch and keep the chains moving for this 49ers offense, so the clutch dynamic factors in here.
Michael Crabtree: A
49ers star wideout Michael Crabtree has looked more and more like himself each week, finally planting his flag Sunday with a touchdown against the Bucs. Crabtree hauled in five of six passes thrown his way, amassing just 45 yards, but he bailed Kap out of trouble a number of times.
Crab's ankle-breaker. Improv with Kap was on today. think that's starting to resonate...that that connection is back pic.twitter.com/ptnuFcUp2o— Dylan DeSimone (@DeSimone80) December 16, 2013
Mario Manningham: D-
Since the return of No. 15, Mario Manningham’s opportunities have been few and far between, but it doesn’t mean they’re not there. He is the primary rotational receiver and the team's go-to in three-plus-wide receiver sets. On Sunday, Manningham only came up with two yards on two targets.
With 29 passing attempts on the day from Kaepernick, Mario Manningham needs to find a way to be a bigger piece of the pie.
Joe Staley: A-
Bucs defensive end Adrian Clayborn did burn Joe Staley for a sack on Colin Kaepernick, but it only happened once on the day, and the 49ers’ starting left tackle is playing hurt (MCL injury). Other than that, the 49ers had their run presence back and Kap’s white jersey stayed clean.
Adam Snyder: B
This was believed to be Adam Snyder’s last start at left guard, and fortunately it wasn’t his worst outing. All things considered, he held up quite well, especially with Gerald McCoy coming into this game as the top-rated pass-rushing defensive tackle in the NFL.
Snyder also had the lead on the long run of the day by LaMichael James.
Jonathan Goodwin: B+
The 49ers had the inside run game going a little more this week than they had the past few games, and it was easy to see Jonathan Goodwin getting to the second level. With the leads and powers this team runs, his timing and ability to get helmets on linebackers is key to any run success.
This week, Goodwin had the challenge of a very nimble Lavonte David.
Alex Boone: B+
Right guard Alex Boone appeared to be in good form, whacking the Bucs defensive front around and setting the physical tone in the middle. While the run game could’ve been more successful with Mike Iupati at the opposite guard position—his fellow bash brother—it seemed like Boone held up nicely.
He had a couple high-impact collisions on some traps and powers.
49ers right tackle Anthony Davis pitched a shutout against these aggressive Tampa bookends. He was also an impact blocker in the run game, opening up that right side with Alex Boone. Showing his grit, Davis even got down the field and pancaked a defender on one occasion.
Moreover, Colin Kaepernick was also rolling out to his right quite a bit and had quite a bit of passing success to that side. Davis did an exceptional job feeling the situation and adjusting to protect him.
Justin Smith: A+
Justin Smith is just a behemoth of a football player, impressive even within the NFL world, where physical freaks are a dime a dozen. He had two tackles, one sack, one tackle for a loss, one QB hit and a litany of pressures. Down after down, he would just dig his way to the ball, using nothing but raw upper-body strength.
It was another impressive performance by the team’s MVP.
Glenn Dorsey: A
In two of his last four games, Bucs running back Bobby Rainey had performances of 127 yards and 163 yards. Versus this 49ers front seven and its run-stopping maven Glenn Dorsey, Tampa Bay’s mini speedster was held to 2.5 yards per carry on 11 attempts. While Dorsey did not register on tackles, he was a presence in the middle.
Ray McDonald: A-
Ray McDonald is a lot like Dorsey in that he plays a big game but it goes unnoticed. On Sunday, the 49ers' left defensive tackle did a great job setting the edge versus the run and applying pressure on the quarterback. McDonald only finished with one tackle, but he also had a pass breakup and a QB hit.
Apparently Week 15 was Patrick Willis’ turn to lead the 49ers in tackles, as he did with six, including a sack. He was flying around, as per usual, but looked particularly dominant versus the run. With 12 carries split between Bobby Rainey and Brian Leonard, Willis and Co. only let up 39 yards.
His sack near the end of the game was just the icing on the cake.
NaVorro Bowman: A
Big bad NaVorro Bowman only logged four solo tackles on the day, which ties him for his season low in 2013. Regardless of the box score, it didn’t take much to see that No. 53 was in the middle of everything, helping force several three-and-outs. And let’s be honest, the 49ers defense was stingy all day because those two inside linebackers were swarming.
Tampa Bay also did not see one tight end make a catch, so that says something.
Ahmad Brooks: A
Ahmad Brooks’ career year slowed up a bit this week; he didn’t register any sacks or pile on the tackles. Nevertheless, he was in lockstep with the rest of the linebackers, encasing the run attempts by Tampa Bay and closing the pocket from the outside. Brooks wrapped up the day with just two takedowns.
Aldon Smith: A+
Outside of Justin Smith, the defensive star of the game was All-Pro rush linebacker Aldon Smith. He was all over the pocket from start to finish, finishing the game with four tackles, two sacks and three quarterback hits. This was also his 12th career multi-sack game, giving him 42.0 sacks in 41 games played.
Carlos Rogers: C
The team’s No. 1 cornerback did not have the best day in coverage and might’ve been exposed on a defense with a lesser front seven than the one the 49ers have. Luckily, the performance by the guys in the box masked a lot of his shortcomings.
Even though the Buccaneer wide receivers were bottled up for the most part, Timothy Wright and Vincent Jackson tested the 49ers down the field, and Carlos Rogers found himself out of position at times.
Even Chris Owusu caught a pass on Rogers.
Tramaine Brock: A-
Believe it or not, Tramaine Brock was actually the team’s second-leading tackler on the day, finishing with five takedowns. He even chucked one of the receivers to the ground like a ragdoll, truly exemplifying what it means to be a featured player in this particular defense.
Brock also had a laudable day in coverage, even breaking up a pass on one occasion.
Tarell Brown: C+
Regular starting cornerback Tarell Brown returned to the lineup this week after missing time with a rib injury. It didn’t mean that he was 100 percent, as he slipped up in coverage versus these receivers, particularly when Mike Glennon and Co. went no-huddle. Brown also functioned in a role as a No. 3, working in the slot.
Eric Reid: A
No negative checks by Reid’s name this weekend—it was a pretty flawless showing by the rookie overall. Reid was hitting hard and busting up throws at the catch point. The 49ers free safety would finish with three tackles, a pass deflection and a game-sealing interception, building on a terrific debut season.
Eric Reid padding stats for possible defensive player of the year honors.— Kevin Lynch (@klynch49) December 15, 2013
Donte Whitner: B-
For the most part, Donte Whitner put forth another strong performance at strong safety for this defense, adding to what could be a second consecutive Pro Bowl campaign. He even finished with more pass deflections than he did tackles, which is not exactly “Hitner’s” style. He’s really grown.
Unfortunately, his grade takes a ding here with the miscommunication with Carlos Rogers on the Vincent Jackson touchdown.
Donte Whitner laying the wood again.— CSN 49ers News (@CSN49ers) December 15, 2013
Andy Lee: A
So, this Andy Lee fella is a pretty consistent player for the 49ers special teams, wouldn’t you say? On the other side of the country, in a different climate, the three-time All-Pro punter had four attempts, pinning two of them back inside Tampa Bay’s own 20-yard line.
His net average was 43.3 yards per (long—50).
Phil Dawson: A
San Francisco once again relied on Phil Dawson’s leg, which has remained as steady as any in the league this year. The All-Pro place-kicker went 4-of-4 from the field, extending his season-long field-goal streak to 24 consecutive. He accounted for 15 of the team’s 33 points, including point-after attempts.
Phil Dawson has now kicked 24 straight field goals.— Matt Barrows (@mattbarrows) December 15, 2013
As we mentioned prior, the return game has been revived by LaMichael James, who has been a stud on punts and kickoffs. With the way he’s been able to set up offense, combined with the way the 49ers coverage team positioned the defense, the coverage/return units have really been able to impact games.
This past week, the Tony Montana Squad had perhaps its best play of the season, recovering a muffed kickoff for a TD.