Rams vs. 49ers: Grading San Francisco in Their Week 13 Win
And POP goes the champagne we've all been waiting for since, oh...2002. Congratulations to the 2011 San Francisco 49ers, your NFC West champions!
I know you're at work or in class, but if you're a diehard fan I think now is an appropriate time to chug a beer or do something ridiculously celebratory. Because if you're like me, last time the 49ers were good enough to win 10 games in a season, let alone clinch a playoff berth this early, I had yet to get braces, didn't need to shave, didn't talk to girls and played Backyard Soccer more than I slept.
It's been a long time coming, and our savior Jim Harbaugh has finally made it happen. In a measly 13 weeks, no less.
What a fashion to clinch in—shutting out a division rival in front of the home crowd and doing it in as dominant a way as possible.
Here is my Week 13 report card for your NFC West champion (can't get enough of that) San Francisco 49ers:
Passing Game: A-
Alex Smith had another amazing game. I was really hoping he would break 300 yards, but it was nice to see Colin Kaepernick getting some time at the end there. Smith finished 17-of-23 for 274 yards, two touchdowns and the number we've become very accustomed to seeing: zero interceptions.
Smith's numbers would have been even better if not for three drops, including one in the end zone on a perfectly placed bomb to Vernon Davis in the first half. That's really the only reason they've got an A- today. Uncharacteristic stone hands by the tight end.
Overall, Smith looked very comfortable in the pocket and made great throws all day. It was definitely one of his best all-around performances as a 49er, and came at the best time possible. And how about Michael Crabtree, continuing to play like a first-round pick? He had 96 yards receiving on the day with another touchdown.
The offensive line did give up four sacks on the day, but it didn't really hurt and there were no stupid penalties of note. This unit had a great day. I'd still like to see Kyle Williams starting over Ted Ginn Jr., especially with Braylon Edwards shelved for the time being. But I won't be nitpicky on such a celebratory day!
Running Game: A-
Frank Gore wasn't asked to do as much as usual against the Rams. It looked like the scheme was to basically pass a lot and run whenever they got bored of passing. It worked, so no complaints here. When Gore did have the ball, he looked pretty good, racking up 73 yards on 21 carries.
I especially liked seeing Gore take handoffs, pause in the backfield behind his blocker to find the best hole and then dive through them. My only gripe with him is he occasionally just blindly follows his blocker into the line and gets stuffed, so it was nice to see him looking around for space.
Overall, the running game managed nearly 150 yards and we pulled out some nice gadget plays. Ginn Jr., Williams and Delanie Walker all got a handoff at one point or another and that was definitely a cool gimmick Harbaugh and Company should use in the future with so many athletes out wide.
The line blocked well and created good holes for Gore. I was a little surprised to hear Mike Iupati's name called on two penalties, but everyone has an off day.
Who else is overwhelmed with happiness for Gore, who once was brought to tears by his frustration with the lack of the team's success? He left Candlestick Park on Sunday as the franchise's all-time leading rusher, assured of a playoff berth for the first time in his career. Congrats, Frank!
Front Seven: A
I had a slight heart attack when Patrick Willis went down. Luckily, it sounds like he won't miss much time and we'll have him back to take on the Steelers in two weeks, at the latest. But the defense showed its true colors with Willis out.
Larry Grant stepped up admirably in his place, Aldon Smith got some more time and racked up some more sacks and NaVorro Bowman proved he can be a leader in the middle of the defense. It was very comforting to see that if Willis did miss time, we could survive without him.
Survive? Who am I kidding...how about dominate? Steven Jackson and the rest of the Rams rushing attack was held to a grand total of 31 yards on 23 carries. It was a beast of a game for the linebackers and defensive line, who got pressure on A.J. Feeley all day and didn't let Jackson see daylight even once.
Smith got two more sacks to bring his total to 9.5 on the season, Ray McDonald and Grant each had one, and McDonald teamed up with Smith to force and recover a fumble. All together, a fantastic game. If they can get half that much pressure in two weeks on Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh may be in for a rude awakening.
Props to Smith also, for the best sack celebration I've seen in at least a couple years.
What a game by Dashon Goldson and the 49er secondary! Goldson came up with his fourth pick of the year, and the wide receivers were pretty generally shut down all game. Their biggest chunks of yardage came on some crazy grabs by...ahem, Washington State University alum, ahem, Brandon Gibson.
Feeley had nowhere to go, nowhere to run and nowhere to throw all day because of the suffocating coverage in the secondary. There was one bad penalty by Tarell Brown, but we'll let it slide in a game where the Rams didn't get in the end zone and didn't get anything through the air.
Feeley only completed 12-of-22 passes for 156 yards and the one interception, to the tune of a 58.1 passer rating. I know it's A.J. Feeley we're talking about, but this has to be a big confidence-booster for a secondary who will face a real task in two weeks.
Great job by Goldson and especially Donte Whitner and Carlos Rogers, who had really impressive individual performances, including a couple defended passes by each. Let's hope for more of the same to close out the season!
Special Teams: A
I can't say enough about this punting and kicking combo we've got in San Francisco. Andy Lee punted five times against St. Louis with a long of 61 yards and pinning three of those inside the 20.
David Akers kicked four field goals, to bring his total up to 32 field goals made on the season. He accounted for more than half the team's points again, and looks like as long as there isn't a 6'8" lineman in the way, Akers won't slow down.
The return game wasn't amazing, but it didn't have to be, and it did enough to get some decent field position. Ginn Jr. returned a kickoff for 31 yards and then had a couple measly punt returns. But again, we didn't need it because the offense was marching down the field anyway.
I'm not going to gripe about how many times we could have punched it into the end zone when we were in the red zone. Sure, we could have won 40-0. But the 49ers so thoroughly dominated the Rams that it really didn't matter.
Harbaugh did a really great job of wiping the slate clean after the disheartening loss in Baltimore and keeping everyone's spirits high for this all-important clinch game. The guys came out hungry, played tough and had fun in winning the game and the division.
Props to the staff for making some ballsy calls on deep passes for Smith and for end-arounds to our fast wide outs. Those are the kinds of things you love to see going into the playoffs. It's always nice to have some trick plays in the back pocket just in case.
Now that the division is won, I don't expect them to slow down. However, I would expect Harbaugh to start really nailing down and finalizing the playbook and trying to integrate some cool stuff like the passes to Joe Staley and Isaac Sopoaga, or the reverses to Ted Ginn Jr.
The 49ers now have the benefit of four regular-season weeks to contend for the No. 1 seed, home-field advantage and most importantly, time to heal and improve before a potential matchup with New Orleans or Green Bay.
My favorite part about what the coaching staff is doing, is that these players are having fun in San Francisco again. Gore looked like a giddy little kid on Halloween when Harbaugh got the Gatorade cooler dumped on him, and if the pictures on this slideshow are any indication, these players are really enjoying playing and winning for Coach H.
No team will ever play a perfect game. Ever. So the 49ers had a few weak penalties, a couple missed tackles, maybe a broken play or two. But if that win against the Rams wasn't the picture of dominance, then I don't know what is.
The home fans got quite a treat in smashing a lowly rival into the turf and the celebration of a division championship. The passing game was brilliant, the play-calling was on the money and the running game was good enough to open up more passes. The defense absolutely shut down any chance the Rams had of scoring, and the special teams were incredible.
I hope the Niners went home Sunday night and partied like they deserve to for such an amazing season so far. Ten wins. The NFC West title. A new all-time leading rusher. A confident QB.
Wow, this season has been fun to watch. And we get to watch even more over the next month, before the playoffs. And it all starts with another divisional matchup in Arizona next Sunday.
Thanks for reading—I leave you with the most dominant play of the entire game, just in case you missed it (watch Aldon Smith in real time just flatten the left tackle on his way to a sack). Go Niners!