The question after that 24-13 loss to the Minnesota Vikings wasn’t as much how or why they lost as opposed to how the San Francisco 49ers would respond. Would they look almost listless and stagnant in all phases like they did in the Metrodome, or would they respond with a performance that reminded everyone why they were considered one of the best teams in the NFL leading up to that game?
The answer was the latter in the Meadowlands, as the 49ers’ defense responded they way they always seem to after regular season losses these days — sheer domination.
The 49ers have lost four regular season games during Jim Harbaugh’s tenure. The MOST points they’ve allowed in the following week: 8 to the Cincinnati Bengals. They shut out the Rams last year after losing to the Ravens on Thanksgiving, held the Steelers to 3 points a week after losing in Arizona, and shut out the Jets during a 34-0 shellacking that probably should’ve been even more lopsided (on the scoreboard, at least).
When Colin Kaepernick manipulated the final score by sliding in front of the end zone at the end of a 30-yard scamper where no Jet came close to touching him, he completed what was considered by most to be a “classy move.” It was, but Kaepernick’s display of mercy had to have been even more embarrassing for the Jets than a score of 41-0 would’ve been.
The 49ers started this game with more Kaepernick than we’ve ever seen in a regular season game, and the entire first half seemed to be a mix of options and end-arounds designed to confuse the Jets. In the end, it was crystal clear why the 49ers are the better team, however. We’ll get to that shortly.
Was this a perfect game for the 49ers? No. There were some special teams miscues, some bad personal fouls (stuff that probably would’ve gone unnoticed by the replacement refs), and Alex Smith didn’t take advantage of multiple opportunities to torch Kyle Wilson. Piggybacking on that last point, we’re probably going to see more Kaepernick as the season progresses.
But the offensive line was tremendous, destroying the Jets’ front seven and imposing their will in the run game. After rushing only 20 times for 89 yards and no scores in Minnesota, the 49ers ran 44 times for 245 yards and three touchdowns in New
Another bright spot for the offense: Mario Manningham, who is quickly becoming the 49ers’ most versatile wideout, both as a short and intermediate receiving threat and as a runner.
Enough procrastinating … time to talk about that shutout
The 49ers’ defense came out angry after last week’s hiccup and played the kind of game everyone expected to see on a weekly basis from that unit … only better.
– Aldon Smith was frightening, to the point where Mark Sanchez looked like he was ready to flee for the O.C. and hang with the cast of Laguna Hills. Football isn’t much fun when you’re facing pass rushers and coverage like we saw today.
– It’s never a good sign when the TV announcers start openly pining for more Tim Tebow — seconds before Larry Grant blocked a punt with his chest. The Jets will certainly look toward their messiah in future weeks, but Rex Ryan probably wanted to avoid causing even more of a media firestorm in the coming days by muddling up the QB rotation at the end of a game that was over by the middle of the third quarter. Ryan may also have preferred to keep Tebow healthy, seeing as the 49ers battered the Jets all day.
– Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman proved once again what we all know around here — the Niners feature the best pair of middle linebackers in football, and it isn’t even close. Willis grabbed an interception off a deflected pass, and Bowman should’ve had an interception as he showed again that he might be the best linebacker in coverage in the League. There were several tackles and harsh hits too, as usual.
– As much credit as Justin Smith gets for what he does — and he deserves every bit — Ray McDonald deserves some shine as well. McDonald is a force in his own right, a player who combines brute strength and a sprinter’s timing as well as anyone on that defense.
– Aldon should’ve had three sacks instead of two, and his numbers at the end of the season could be extremely gaudy. But don’t overlook Ahmad Brooks, who could’ve coasted on that fat free agent deal deal he signed this past winter. Instead Brooks slimmed down and has never looked better.
– The Jets aren’t stacked with playmakers in the passing game, especially after losing Santonio Holmes to a knee injury so excruciating that he tossed the ball to Carlos Rogers while writhing in the ground. Chaz Schilens was the Jets’ leading receiver with 3 catches for 45 yards, and Konrad Reuland (who was cut by the 49ers before the season) saw some snaps for New York. But the coverage was outstanding, just the same. Dashon Goldson stood out once again, breaking up a long pass to Holmes and making his presence felt throughout the game by launching his body as per usual (the hit that forced Dedrick Epps’ fumble was extraordinarily brutal), and teams barely even test Tarell Brown these days.
Good luck, Buffalo
Now that the 49ers got their wakeup call, we can probably expect them not to diverge from their identity. That means a team that succeeds offensively by keeping teams off balance and willing the ball downfield on the ground, and clamps down on opposing offenses by disallowing any semblance of a rushing game and creating destruction and fear in the passing game — both among quarterbacks and receivers wary of flying torpedos that go by the names of Goldson, Whitner, Willis and Bowman.
If it took a loss to Christian Ponder for the 49ers to remember their own identity, it was well worth it.