We’ve seen this game a few times already this season. The 49ers face a bad team, possess the ball for the majority of the game, and win fairly easily while kicking more field goals than most fans are comfortable seeing.
They moved to 10-4 with their latest methodical win, this time over the Buccaneers. Now they’re one win (or a Cardinals loss) away from a playoff spot, and with the Rams(!) upsetting the Saints in St. Louis the 49ers will clinch the No. 5 seed if they win their final two regular season games.
If Colin Kaepernick plays like he did today against the Falcons and Cardinals, the 49ers should finish the year 12-4. His numbers, as usual, weren’t overwhelming: 19-for-29, 203 yards, two touchdowns. However, among those 19 completions were some spectacular throws, especially the 52-yard touchdown pass to Vernon Davis and a ridiculously difficult sideline throw to Michael Crabtree while rolling to his right.
Also, three of Kaepernick’s seven runs led to first downs. Toss in a turnover-free performance and Kaepernick had just the kind of afternoon Jim Harbaugh wanted.
A big reason why the game played out the way it did was third down efficiency on both sides. The 49ers converted six of their 15 third down chances — not exactly a great percentage, but Tampa Bay went 1-for-10. The Bucs also went 0-for-2 on fourth down.
The 49ers certainly didn’t play a pretty game. There were too many penalties in the first half (including a delay of game call) and stalled drives throughout. Crabtree added an especially stupid penalty in the fourth quarter for throwing the ball into the stands. We also saw another failed challenge, this time on an incomplete pass that the 49ers thought was actually a forced fumble by Donte Whitner.
The Buccaneers pulled to within six points with a touchdown at the beginning of the fourth quarter, and the 49ers got a gift touchdown late on a fumbled reverse during a kickoff return that was recovered by Kendall Hunter (who made a phenomenal play to secure the ball).
Things are looking pretty good for the 49ers after this one, and would’ve looked even better if the Titans were able to complete their comeback. Instead, the Cardinals won in overtime on a 41-yard field goal so the playoff berth will have to wait.
The only thing the 49ers need to worry about, at least in the short-term, were some injuries sustained by the offense. None of them were caused by late hits by Dashon Goldson (who didn’t do much against his former team), but Bruce Miller’s left arm was too swollen to get x-rayed after the game, Michael Crabtree has some sort of issue with his hand or wrist, and Frank Gore was seen limping due to a sore ankle.
But as long as those injuries aren’t serious, this was exactly the outcome the 49ers wanted. They won yet another 10 am PST game on the road, and they didn’t have a letdown after the Seahawks win (Seattle wasn’t hungover on the road either, as they shut out the Giants).
One thing that bodes extremely well for the immediate future: the 49ers pass rush. Aldon Smith had two of the 49ers’ four sacks and three of the team’s six hits on Mike Glennon. Justin Smith (my choice for 49ers MVP) had a sack as well. Harbaugh mentions often how to win on the road you need to “pack your defense.” Last year they got to the Super Bowl with a mostly nonexistent pass rush, and this year it appears they’re going to enter a postseason — one where in all probability they’ll be playing each game on the road — with their pass rush looking pretty fierce.