10 Best Performances of the San Francisco 49ers' 2013 Season
With their eyes set on another postseason berth, the 2013 San Francisco 49ers have enjoyed plenty of awe-inspiring performances in the regular season thus far.
In a way, this team was built to have such moments.
The defense, studded with stars like Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman, Justin Smith and Aldon Smith, has once more been at the forefront of San Francisco's success.
The offense has also generated plenty of stellar moments—emanating from the sturdy work of running back Frank Gore, the abilities of tight end Vernon Davis and the veteran abilities of wide receiver Anquan Boldin.
These athletes, and more, have heralded some of the top performances of San Francisco's 2013 campaign thus far.
In order to make this list, we must establish certain criteria.
First, a performance must have been paramount to the 49ers' efforts. While they do not necessarily need to be considered game-changers, they should at least have played a significant role.
In addition, performances need to be taken into context with what the team is facing. For example, 150-yards rushing is always impressive, but if it came against a team that ranked towards the bottom in stopping the run, the performance is not as exemplary as it would be against a top-ranked run defense.
Further consideration is also given to any accolades given to individual efforts—for example, Boldin receiving an award for NFC Offensive Player of the Week after his Week 1 showing.
Let us review some of these stellar moments and performances that 49ers fans have enjoyed over the course of the 2013 season so far.
Just Missed the Cut
It is almost impossible to keep a list of impressive performances to just 10 choices.
But, for the sake of not overlooking other great moments, let us not forget some of the performances that barely missed the cut.
Ahmad Brooks' Performance in Week 10
It is safe to say the 49ers defense kept them in the game versus the Carolina Panthers in Week 10. Despite a 10-9 loss at home, San Francisco's defense was a primary reason the 49ers even had a chance.
Linebacker Ahmad Brooks was a primary reason behind this.
Brooks finished the game with four tackles, two sacks and one assist. This author was present at the game and watched as Brooks was all over the field, creating havoc for Panthers quarterback Cam Newton.
David Fucillo of Niners Nation backs up his performance by writing:
Ahmad Brooks imposed his will in a manner that we haven't frequently seen. Brooks has been a very solid linebacker for the 49ers, and he does get sacks. However, Sunday, he was all over the place, making sure Cam Newton knew he was after him.
Fucillo also writes that had the 49ers won that game, Brooks may have received a nomination for NFC Defensive Player of the Week over Luke Kuechly who received the award.
It is too bad he did not get the accolade as that would have put him further up this list, but the performance has to be mentioned, nonetheless.
Kendall Hunter's 41-yard Rush Against Jacksonville
It is nice to see backup running backs having a significant impact.
Such should be said of Kendall Hunter, who put together a nice performance against the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 8.
Hunter led all 49ers rushers that game with 84 yards on the ground. His longest—and subsequently largest gain of his season so far—went for 41 yards from scrimmage in the third quarter and helped set up Frank Gore's second rushing touchdown of the game.
Of course, we cannot overlook the fact that San Francisco was up big by this point in the game—leading 28-10 before Gore's touchdown. We also cannot forget the Jaguars defense is currently ranked 30th in the NFL, allowing an average of 28.5 points per game.
Still, it was an impressive run and showcases the fact that the 49ers have a more-than-capable backup in Hunter.
Eric Reid's Interception Return for 53 yards against Arizona
Rookie safety Eric Reid is making quite a showing for himself thus far into his inaugural NFL season.
One of those moments came during the 49ers' Week 6 victory over the visiting Arizona Cardinals.
Reid's pick of Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer came at the 10:50 mark of the first quarter and Reid subsequently ran the ball back 53 yards making it all the way to Arizona's seven-yard line.
The interception was Reid's third of the season by that point and the return was the longest out of his four so far.
Unfortunately, San Francisco was unable to find the end zone after the turnover and had to settle for a field goal. With the game still in doubt at this point, it is hard to say the interception was a game-breaker.
Still, fans have to like what they are seeing out of Reid this season. There will assuredly be plenty of more big moments to come.
49ers Produce Longest Drive of the 2013 Season
It was an 18-play, 89-yard scoring drive that took 9:32 off the clock and put a cap on San Francisco’s 32-20 win over the Arizona Cardinals in Week 6.
"[We] grinded some meat,” Jim Harbaugh said of the drive via Taylor Price of 49ers.com.
At the time, the drive was impressive. After 15 weeks, it remains so.
The drive featured a number of critical conversions, including a fourth-down conversion which featured fullback Bruce Miller gaining three yards on a critical 4th-and-1.
The drive also ensured San Francisco dominating the time-of-possession game over Arizona and was a key factor to the victory.
While it was impressive—as long as it ended in points—the 49ers probably were on pace for a victory in this game regardless of the drive.
Colin Kaepernick's 87-Yard Rushing Performance Against Seattle in Week 2
From an offensive standpoint, San Francisco's Week 2 performance in Seattle against the Seahawks is probably a game that most would like to forget.
The 49ers posted a mere field goal during the game and netted only 207 offensive yards.
While San Francisco's defense attempted to keep the game close, the offense flopped in nearly every aspect except one—Colin Kaepernick's mobility.
In a game when the 49ers' No. 1 running back Frank Gore gained only 16 yards on the ground, 49ers fans have to be thankful that they got something, anything, out of their offense.
If Kaepernick did not deliver through the air, he at least did his job on the ground against Seattle's top-ranked NFL defense.
Sure, some of his attempts came when the pocket had either broken down or there were no passing options open, but still, Kaepernick took good advantage of these opportunities and averaged 9.67 yards per attempt.
Unfortunately, most of the focus from this game heralded from Kaepernick's inability to move the ball through the air, as well as the lack of production from the 49ers' other runners.
In a way, this started a new wave of Kaepernick criticism.
Tight end Vernon Davis was quick to defend Kaepernick though and stated such via Lindsay H. Jones of USA Today:
I know Colin. I know he's one of those guys that will go out and work, and play his hardest no matter what. He's man enough to take criticism. He owns up to his mistakes, and he's a winner. I mean, any given opportunity. He might come out and break records and have the best game of his life. You just never know.
At least Kaepernick had one element of his game that he could be proud of.
Had this performance come against a weaker defense—like some the 49ers played later in the season—Kaepernick's 87 yards on the ground would not have made the list.
Yet it came against the vaunted Seahawks defense in Seattle.
That alone is worth mentioning.
Colin Kaepernick's 2 Rushing Touchdowns Against Jacksonville
Staying with the same theme as the previous slide, yet changing the context, let us continue with another Colin Kaepernick rushing performance.
This time, let us shift to the 49ers' Week 8 matchup in London against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Sure, the Jaguars are not exactly the most feared defense in the NFL this season, yet one cannot overlook the fact that the 49ers still had to execute their offense on the road and overseas.
Kaepernick was a key factor in San Francisco's 42-10 victory.
While completing a mere 10 passes out of 16 attempts for 164 yards and a touchdown, it was the running game that sparked Kaepernick and the offense's big day.
Kendall Hunter—whose 41-yard gain was mentioned on a previous slide—led all 49ers rushers with 84 yards on nine carries. Frank Gore totaled 71 yards and two touchdowns.
Yet Kaepernick was the running star with 54 rushing yards of his own and two touchdowns as well.
In a way, this was vintage Kaepernick from the season before. He utilized the read-option as well as at any point this season against a vulnerable Jaguars defense.
The results speak for themselves.
Head coach Jim Harbaugh summed up Kaepernick's performance via USA Today:
He looked much like a running back, and that's great courage. You don't always see that in the quarterback position. As soon as he saw that window, he had a great dart and speed to get the ball into the end zone.
Kaepernick was a huge reason San Francisco's ground game enjoyed the success it had in Week 8. While their opponent was not exactly formidable, Kaepernick still had to execute.
As a result, this performance is able to make the list of top moments of San Francisco's 2013 season. It may not be the most memorable, but fans will surely enjoy watching highlights of Kaepernick's scrambles into the end zone at Wembley Stadium.
The Defense Manhandling the Houston Texans in Week 5
Entering Week 5, the 49ers had a lot riding on their matchup with the visiting Houston Texans.
In hindsight, it is probably easy to assume San Francisco would dominate this game. The Texans have proven to be one of the biggest disappointments in 2013.
Before the game however, San Francisco was still trying to prove itself after an uninspiring 2-2 start to the season.
The 49ers defense put a stop to any concerns regarding whether or not they would be a factor heading forward.
There are plenty of moments that highlight this performance.
Tramaine Brock's interception returned for a touchdown off Texans quarterback Matt Schaub in the first quarter kicked off the defense's immaculate game.
Tack on another Brock interception, as well as another from backup defensive tackle Tony Jerod-Eddie, and San Francisco's defense made Schaub's night one to forget.
One cannot overlook two fumble recoveries, as well.
In all, the Texans offense produced 313 yards of offense and only 182 passing yards. While the defense did allow 131 rushing yards, the phrase bend but do not break clearly applies here.
The final result—the 49ers easily beat the Texans 34-3 which further spiraled Houston to the bottom of the NFL.
It was an impressive night for San Francisco's defense, especially considering the turnovers produced. Had they limited the Texans offense even more, they would have been placed higher on this list.
The defense has to get plenty of credit in a league where only the score matters at the end of the day.
As such, this moment finds itself on the eighth spot for 2013 moments.
NaVorro Bowman's Performance Against the Rams in Week 4
No Patrick Willis? No Aldon Smith?
That pretty much sums up 49ers' sentiments about their Week 4 performance in St. Louis against the Rams on Thursday Night Football on September 26.
With Willis out due to injury and Smith on personal leave, the majority of the defensive front's efforts centered around All-Pro linebacker NaVorro Bowman.
Bowman has played his three-plus years in Willis' shadow, yet has emerged as perhaps the most important 49er on the team's defense per Matthew Barrows of the Sacramento Bee.
All one had to do was watch Bowman against the Rams.
Bowman compiled five tackles, one assist and two sacks in St. Louis, but those numbers do not tell the entire story.
He was everywhere on the field and put plenty of pressure on quarterback Sam Bradford throughout the game. Anyone who watched this game could see the impact he had.
Later on, Bowman described his efforts despite not having both Smith and Willis in the lineup via Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area:
If a link gets taken out of the chain, someone has to step up. And being a veteran guy, you have to think like that if you want to be the best. I was just playing my game and doing what the coaches were calling upstairs and just executing. All the guys on the field did.
Bowman's performance against the Rams was vital, not only because he helped in a crucial 49ers win, but also because he provided ample relief when San Francisco's defense was thin.
For the 49ers, it is good to know that they have another tremendous linebacker in the middle of San Francisco's defense who can step up whenever the occasion calls.
Because of those long-lasting implications, Bowman has to earn a bid on this list.
Still, Week 4 was a team effort which shall be described on the next slide.
49ers Get Back on Track Against St. Louis in Week 4
There were plenty of concerns surrounding the 49ers as they traveled to St. Louis to take on the Rams on Thursday Night Football on September 26.
San Francisco had lost two straight games before having to take to the road on a short week.
Short weeks alone force problems for traveling teams. Add that to the 49ers' losing streak, and there were plenty of reasons to be worried from San Francisco's stance.
Instead of seeing an unprepared and underwhelming 49ers team, fans were treated to a dismantling of St. Louis at the hands of San Francisco.
Previously mentioned was the stellar play of linebacker NaVorro Bowman. In addition, backups Dan Skuta and Michael Wilhoite played exceptionally well.
The defense allowed only 188 total yards and—wait for it—18 yards rushing. Add two turnovers to that mix as well.
Talk about an impressive defense turning the 49ers' fortunes around.
On offense, San Francisco resumed its power-running game centered around Frank Gore—his performance is described on a later slide.
With Gore and the ground game in full effect, Colin Kaepernick was able to take advantage of the Rams respecting the running game.
Kaepernick threw for 167 yards and two touchdowns—one to Anquan Boldin and another to Vernon Davis.
Boldin later commended Kaepernick's performance via Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area:
I think Kap did a great job. He was focused. He came in ready to play. I think we all wanted to get that bad taste out of our mouths. We had lost two games straight. It’s not fun losing. We were excited to have a short week. The best antidote for losing is to come back and win.
Boldin's quote sums up the importance of this victory over St. Louis. In a way, this game was a crucial turning point for the 49ers' chances in 2013. Heading into the game, they were 1-2. Could they afford going 1-3 in the tough NFC West?
Considering the importance of this game in San Francisco's schedule, as well as the ramifications within the division, this performance earns sixth place on the list of the team's best performances thus far.
As a team effort, the performance is slightly ahead of Bowman's accolades described on the previous slide.
Yet it does trail some more-memorable moments that are yet to be stated.
San Francisco Dominates the Redskins in Week 12
Much like how San Francisco needed a rebound in Week 4, the 49ers found themselves in a similar position entering their Week 12 matchup versus the Washington Redskins.
In each of the aforementioned scenarios, San Francisco was riding a two-game losing streak. Before Week 4, the 49ers had fallen victim to the Seahawks and Colts. Before Week 12, San Francisco had suffered defeats at the hands of the Panthers and Saints.
They were in desperate need of a big win.
Fortunately, they were able to put together what was needed on Monday Night Football against the Washington Redskins on November 25.
Granted, Washington was and is a mess.
Currently standing at 3-11 after the Week 15 mark, the Redskins were the exact opponent the 49ers needed to face after two embarrassing losses.
Yet this was a game San Francisco could not take for granted. Redskins' running back Alfred Morris posed a legitimate threat on the ground and playing on the road in cold weather always carries its challenges.
These were issues that did not affect the 49ers.
San Francisco held Morris to a mere 52 yards rushing and also limited quarterback Robert Griffin III to 118 yards through the air while picking him off once. He was also sacked four times.
From an offensive vantage point, Colin Kaepernick thrashed a vulnerable Washington defense and totaled 235 yards and three touchdowns against zero interceptions.
Anquan Boldin caught two of those touchdowns and gained 94 yards while Vernon Davis added another touchdown on 70 receiving yards of his own.
Kaepernick's 134.5 passer rating was a career high.
While Frank Gore was limited to only 30 yards, the true effectiveness of San Francisco's offense was felt through the air.
Offensive coordinator Greg Roman's play-calling worked and Washington's defense proved inadequate to the challenge.
Head coach Jim Harbaugh summed up the feeling behind the 49ers' win via David Elfin of Yahoo! Sports:
By any means necessary. Our guys rose up to the challenge and got it done. Our defense got the pressure going. Washington has been the best fourth-quarter team that we've seen all year in the way they can put together points. We didn't want to let that happen tonight.
The 49ers needed a stopper and they got it with their win over Washington.
If the game had been played in the midst of a San Francisco winning streak, it would not have carried as much weight as far as this list is concerned.
Given how much was at stake with the 49ers' future however, this victory has to be considered as one of the most important moments of the team's season thus far.
"Gore—What Is He Good For? Absolutely Runnin'"
There is a parody of a song that has been played on the 49ers' flagship radio station KNBR 680 in San Francisco.
The parody—which is often featured on the Murph and Mac Show—features lyrics that read, "Gore—what is he good for? Absolutely runnin'."
Perhaps no other instance in 2013 could back up that claim than Frank Gore's 20-rush, 153-yard performance against the St. Louis Rams in Week 4.
We have already covered the importance of San Francisco's win over the Rams during that week after the 49ers had lost two in a row.
Yet Gore's amazing night highlighted the dominating win.
And then some.
A number of things go into this feat being so high on this list.
First, one cannot overlook the fact that Gore is 30-years-old. At a time when most backs start slowing down their NFL careers, Gore is still carrying most of the offensive load.
Regardless of age, 153 yards for any back is quite an accomplishment.
Second, one must factor in how St. Louis has allowed only 1,476 rushing yards through Week 15—12th best in the NFL this season so far.
St. Louis' defensive front is no joke. Linebacker James Laurinaitis and defensive end Robert Quinn highlight a formidable Rams defense.
Somehow, Gore was able to get the best of St. Louis.
In a way, Gore's performance came as a surprise. He had been underutilized in the second half of San Francisco's Week 3 loss to the Colts.
Yet in other ways, it was no shock. When Gore is running the ball effectively, the 49ers win.
Vincent Frank of Yahoo! Sports sums this up here.
He argues that it was not a coincidence that San Francisco executed five touchdown scoring drives with its running game taking off and that his early success set the pace for this domination.
Considering how much San Francisco still relies upon its ground game, getting performances like this out of Gore from time to time are paramount.
The 49ers need Gore to continue playing at a high level.
Factoring his impact in this critical game, as well as the numbers the 30-year-old put up against a tough St. Louis defense, Gore's 153-yard game earns a bid for fourth-best on the list of most impressive performances of the 49ers' season so far.
Beating Seattle in Week 14
Say what you want about each individual week being the most important of an NFL season, but San Francisco's 19-17 victory over the Seattle Seahawks in Week 14 was perhaps the most critical of the 49ers' wins in 2013 thus far.
Not only were the 49ers closely examining the ramifications of the game on their own playoff hopes, but they also needed to gain confidence against a team that had soundly beaten them over their previous two matchups.
San Francisco answered both questions with the victory.
On paper, this game probably does not live up to some of the best the 49ers have played in recent years.
While the 49ers gained 163 yards rushing against a tough Seattle run defense, Kaepernick threw for only 175 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
Frank Gore led all rushers with 110 yards and Anquan Boldin led all receivers with 93 yards.
Those numbers are nice, but what was even more impressive was how San Francisco's defense limited Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch to 72 yards and one touchdown.
Lynch did his damage—as he often does—but keeping him under 100 yards made a huge statement.
Another worthy statement was how the 49ers held Seattle's quarterback Russell Wilson to only two rushing yards—the lowest of his NFL career thus far.
Even more critical was Frank Gore's 51-yard rush to set up the final field goal that put San Francisco up for good.
Numbers, however, do not tell the entire story.
More important was the fact that the 49ers were able to slug it out with their chief divisional opponent.
This was described by Hall of Famer Ronnie Lott on the Bay Area's 95.7 The Game—transcribed by Kevin Lynch of SFGate.com—who said, "The 49ers played their best against Seattle in the fourth quarter. That’s what championship teams do."
With a possibility of a playoff matchup versus Seattle looming in the 49ers' future, a win in Week 14 ranks high on this list.
Hopefully, it is a foreshadowing of things to come.
Anquan Boldin's 13-Catch, 208-Yard Performance Against the Packers
Any time a player receives an accolade like the NFC Offensive Player of the Week, he has to be considered a top candidate on a list of impressive performances.
This should be said about wide receiver Anquan Boldin following his explosive 13-catch, 208-yard performance in Week 1.
Boldin also added a touchdown to the mix and averaged 16.0 yards per reception.
For one week, Boldin helped 49ers fans forget about the fact that they had lost No. 1 receiver Michael Crabtree for a sizable portion of the regular season.
In that game—and subsequent games thereafter—Boldin was the guy and one of Colin Kaepernick's favorite targets.
Brendon Ayanbadejo of Fox Sports described the value that Boldin has to the 49ers by writing:
In Anquan Boldin, you get 3-for-1. Being a great pass-catching wide receiver is the most obvious of his talents, but there is a lot more to him than that. Another intangible is being a great leader in the locker room, which will foster work ethic and character.
San Francisco got the full showing of that in Week 1.
The 49ers quickly learned what it was like to have a lack of receiving depth—an element that has plagued them for much of the 2013 season.
It is hard to fathom what San Francisco's situation would be had the team not picked up Boldin during the offseason.
Fortunately, they did trade for him and the dividends have proven priceless. Boldin put an exclamation point on that statement with his Week 1 performance.
Yet his impeccable day is not quite at the top of this list.
Someone had to get him the ball after all.
Colin Kaepernick's Big Day Versus Green Bay in Week 1
Here it is—the best of the 2013 best.
In Week 1, quarterback Colin Kaepernick appeared to pick up right where he left off when the 49ers faced the Packers during last season's playoffs.
Kaepernick torched Green Bay in both games.
While Kaepernick did not utilize his running abilities as much in Week 1 as he did during the previous NFC Division matchup—22 yards versus 181 respectively—he was able to employ his powerful arm to its full potential.
Against Clay Matthews and the Packers defense, Kaepernick posted 412 passing yards on a 69.23 completion percentage en route to three touchdowns.
Head coach Jim Harbaugh commended Kaepernick's abilities via Tom Pelissero of USA Today:
Really special performance by him. Some laser-like throws, downfield pinpoint accuracy. Managing the chaos of the game. He never blinked, never flinched at any time. Just kept executing. Just consistently really good.
Really good may be classified as an understatement in this case.
This is the Kaepernick that 49ers fans are hoping to see move forward. Yes, he has had his share of up-and-down moments, yet Kaepernick is still capable of these games.
Without this impressive performance, it is hard to speculate how the 49ers would have won in Week 1 against Aaron Rodgers and a vaunted Packers offense. Had San Francisco lost that game and then gone on to lose both Weeks 2 and 3, the state of the team could have been in disarray.
While Anquan Boldin put in a huge day as well, Kaepernick got him the ball when he needed it. For that, Kaepernick receives the top chart thus far in 2013.
The 2013-14 season is not quite over and there are likely to be plenty of more special moments and memorable performances to come.
Still, reviewing these top efforts allows us to look into the window that showcases San Francisco's season thus far.
There have been plenty of remarkable games and incredulous moments. All of them are worth remembering.
Fans will hope for a few more by season's end.
Feel as if I missed a certain moment or performance? Chime in on the comments section and speak your opinion!
All statistics, records and accolades courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com unless otherwise indicated.
Peter Panacy is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report, covering the San Francisco 49ers. Follow him @PeterMcShots on Twitter.