San Francisco 49ers

49ers take advantage of “vintage Romo,” stomp sloppy Cowboys

49ers Cowboys Dez Bryant hit Antoine Bethea

The idea going into this season was that a weakened 49ers defense would force the offense to open things up in hopes of scoring more points. Two plays into the 2014 season, the defense scored six points on Dan Skuta’s strip and Chris Culliver’s fumble recovery.

The 49ers had a 21-3 lead before the first quarter was over, and the rout was on. Except the 49ers only won by 11 points (28-17), didn’t score in the second half, and were out-gained both on the ground and through the air.

New look defense scores, gets scored on

“People can look at mindless numbers like yards,” said Greg Roman earlier in the week. He was pumping up the not-that-badness of the Cowboys defense at the time, but the point stands here. Despite Troy Aikman and Joe Buck harping on turnovers being the difference in this game, the 49ers’ defense brought “vintage Romo” (as Buck referred to a play where Romo scooted out of trouble and flung some ridiculous pass) to the fore.

Tony Romo’s first interception went to Eric Reid, who came really close to scoring the team’s second defensive touchdown.

His second came on 1st-and-goal at the 5-yard line. With Aaron Lynch in pursuit, Romo threw a soft pass across his body that Patrick Willis picked off in the end zone.

Perrish Cox caught a desperation heave from Romo later, and came about six inches away from a similar interception that became a 56-yard catch for Dwayne Harris. That led to the Cowboy’s first touchdown, and they scored another near the end of the fourth quarter to make the final score look a little nicer.

The defense experienced some problems. DeMarco Murray rushed 22 times for 118 yards and a touchdown. The 49ers allowed 5.5 yards per carry on the day. More importantly, they suffered some injuries. Chris Culliver left with a concussion after going low on a tackle attempt. Tramaine Brock had some sort of lower leg problem (there were reports of something wrong with a toe), but he reentered the game near the end when rookie Jimmie Ward left with concussion-like symptoms.

“We got the victory today. I don’t want to take anything away from that, because at the end of the day it’s all about winning,” Patrick Willis said to an NBC reporter.

“But boy, we’ve got to tighten it up. We’ve got to play better run defense. We let a couple passes get behind us. We’ve got to tighten up our defense, for sure. But we’ll do that. That’s the good thing about football — you get to critique your work, watch film, get better for the next week.”

Willis was his normal dominant self today. Michael Wilhoite appeared to miss some tackles, including chances to bring down Murray and Cole Beasley. I’m guessing we’ll see Chris Borland in Wilhoite’s spot before NaVorro Bowman comes back.

Other than Willis, two defensive standouts (in my view, anyway) were Justin Smith and Dontae Johnson. Smith looks like he’s in his late-20s again. He had two sacks, two hits on Romo and six tackles. It was a good sign for Johnson that he was listed on the active roster ahead of Chris Cook, but the 49ers probably didn’t want to see him in there that much — some dime package work, maybe. But Johnson was pressed into action after Culliver’s departure, and although he gave up a late touchdown on a short slant to Terrance Williams, he also had two pass breakups and played pretty well for a guy Vic Fangio said had “a little tentativeness in his play” on July 29.

The offense fooled with everyone throughout the preseason 

Colin Kaepernick didn’t lead the 49ers to one touchdown in August. Once he finally got his hands on the ball, it took Kaepernick 1:28 to reach the end zone today. A seven-yard pass to Anquan Boldin — who led all receivers with seven catches for 99 yards — was followed by a 37-yard post strike to Boldin, and a ridiculous touchdown throw from Kaepernick to Vernon Davis.

Davis had two touchdown catches on the day, which is interesting since no one expected him to come close to 13 touchdown receptions (his total from last year).

Kaepernick wasn’t asked to take many risks, and the Cowboys defense is probably as bad as advertised, but 16-for-23, 201 yards and two scores (and a 125.5 rating) is exactly what the 49ers needed. In a game against the Cowboys and Romo, Kaepernick’s efficient play showed why, as Roman said, yardage numbers can be misleading.

Kaepernick only rushed twice for 11 yards, but the ground game was interesting. Frank Gore surpassed 10,000 rushing yards for his career, and got 16 carries for 63 yards (3.9 ypc). Carlos Hyde rushed just seven times, but he gained 50 yards and scored the team’s lone rushing touchdown.

I wrote about all the rookies in this year’s class already making an impact simply by being on the active roster in Week 1, and Hyde was one of the many new guys who made fantastic first impressions. In a way it’s sad, but inevitable: the questions about whether Hyde will replace Gore won’t go away. Gore still has it in him to be a productive back, but Hyde is a top-10 talent.

Notes and more GIFs

— I hate complaining about officials/umpires/referees, but even Mike Pereira said a lot of those illegal contact penalties were “marginal,” and that dude is known for backing his old friends in the striped shirts at every opportunity.

— Which flag was the lamest? Probably the Brandon Lloyd penalty on a 32-yard pass to Davis on 3rd-and-7. The calls on Ward and Eric Dahl were pretty awful, though.

— Alex Boone didn’t start, which was a little surprising. The line played quite well overall, which wasn’t considered a lock by any stretch after an up-and-down training camp.

— Phil Dawson missed a 37-yard field goal try (wide left). He was incredible last year, but the early returns on Dawson might tell Jim Harbaugh that going for it on fourth down is something that should be done more often this year. Especially with an offense that looks much more explosive than the groups in 2011-13.

— Stevie Johnson was targeted twice and caught both passes. Both were on third down, and both were good for first downs.

— Kaepernick had a lot to say to Davis after the first touchdown pass, which Davis bobbled a bit before securing in the end zone (luckily for the 49ers, the Cowboys left Davis alone on the play):

— If I took the same hit Dez Bryant absorbed from Antoine Bethea (who wasn’t supposed to be a “Hitner” kind of safety), I wouldn’t be able to walk for at least three months … maybe ever:

— Think the fans in Texas are sick of the Jones/Romo Cowboys?

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