Plenty of people are buzzing about the “surprising” San Francisco 49ers, whose 9-1 record ranks them second only to the perfect Green Bay Packers. But look at some of the individual talent on this squad, and you’ll see it was a winning team waiting to happen. Here are seven 49ers who have earned your nod for a trip to Honolulu on January 29.
Frank Gore tore through Arizona on Sunday en route to a 23-7 win for the 49ers.
Frank Gore shredded the middle of Arizona's defense on Sunday, then sprinted outside a couple of times just for fun.
With 88 yards against the Cardinals on Sunday, Gore reached 870 for the season and came within 61 of the San Francisco career record, held by Joe Perry with 7,344. More than that, Gore did what he always does: make the opposing defense look like a wet paper napkin. Others have more yards and a higher average per carry, but few runners bang people around like Gore.
Willis is one reason the 49ers' run defense is top-ranked.
Over the first 10 games, Willis has recorded 85 tackles, forced four fumbles, picked up two sacks and made an interception. His forced fumbles lead the NFL, and he’s also recovered two.
Willis is a disruptive force who streaks the width of the field to make tackles, has won the Butkus Award both as a collegian and a pro and has made the Pro Bowl in all of his four previous professional seasons.
Carlos Rogers intercepted Eli Manning twice in the Niners' win over the Giants.
Even if you didn't see his two interceptions off the Giants’ Eli Manning, you have to admire Rogers’ breakout year. His five picks tie him for the league lead and are just three short of his entire production for his previous six years (all with Washington).
He’s a key reason why the 49ers lead the league in turnover ratio with plus-17.
Only in his second year, NaVorro Bowman has already established himself as a Pro Bowl contender.
Fox analyst and former Baltimore Ravens coach Brian Billick said on Sunday that Bowman and Willis played like identical twins at their positions. Bowman actually has more tackles (95) and is second in the NFC only to Washington’s Landon Fletcher (96). His game against the Giants on November 13 established his Pro Bowl creds: 11 tackles and four assists in a 27-20 Niner win.
Ginn is a threat to score every time he touches the ball.
Ginn’s two touchdowns—a 102-yard kick return and a 55-yard punt return—sealed the 49ers’ win over the Seattle Seahawks back in September. He’s averaging 29 yards per kick return, second to Green Bay’s Randall Cobb for players with 10 or more attempts. But it’s on punts where he really lights it up, with seven returns for more than 20 yards and two for more than 40.
His 860 total return yards outrank the more-heralded Devin Hester of the Chicago Bears; his main competition besides Cobb may be Seattle’s Leon Washington, who has 928 yards and a 23.0-yard kickoff return average.
Lee's punting pins back opponents helps drive San Francisco's field-position game.
The 49ers generally win with defense, ball control and field position, and Lee is at the center. When the offense stalls, Lee demoralizes opponents with a 50.1-yard punting average, tops in the NFC. He also matches power with precision, sticking 15 punts inside the 20-yard line so far this season.
Akers was four-for-four against both the Redskins and Giants, providing the margin of victory in both games.
Akers scored 11 of the Niners’ 23 points on Sunday, and that was on a bad day (he had two kicks blocked and pushed another wide right).
Those uncharacteristic frustrations notwithstanding, Akers leads the league with 26 field goals, including a long of 55 yards. His reliability is a principal reason that the otherwise low-scoring 49ers are running off with the NFC West.