The 49ers knew what they were in for with St. Louis coming to town: a game full of plays that bordered on dirty. And fake punts. Always, the Rams with the fake punts. But like their offense, the Rams’ special teams trickery deep in their own zone didn’t work and the 49ers came through with an important divisional victory.
This game provided a second straight confidence boost for Colin Kaepernick and everyone else involved in the passing game, which is a nice bonus. In terms of playoff positioning, Sunday could not have gone better. The Cardinals, who would almost certainly lose a potential tiebreaker with the 49ers if that came to pass, couldn’t come all the way back from a 17-point deficit and lost 24-21 in Philadelphia.
As for the 49ers, today’s win wasn’t all that different from how things transpired Monday night in Washington. The offense gets most of the attention, not just in this town but everywhere. But the 49ers’ defense was once again tremendous, and came 18 seconds away from going 10 straight quarters without allowing a touchdown.
“(Aldon Smith) did an outstanding job. So did Ahmad (Brooks). So did Dan Skuta. Again, Donte Whitner, the things he does for us. Big-time players,” Jim Harbaugh said.
“All those guys that have done it in the past stepped up again today. You just kind of take your hat off to them. It’s really good. It’s amazing. But, they answered the bell. They played well. They step up in big games. A special place in your heart for guys like that.”
Since the defense is pretty much a given these days, and the offense really hasn’t been since last season’s playoffs, the different dynamic brought about by the return of Michael Crabtree was noticeable. Harbaugh said it was “one of Colin’s better games,” and it’s hard to disagree. The 49ers quarterback completed 19-of-28 for 275 yards and a touchdown, and with four carries for 21 yards he was the only 49ers rusher to average as many as three yards per carry. With the Rams keying on the run (like every opponent has since San Francisco’s bye week), Kaepernick needed to take advantage and he did.
“They got Crabtree back, that probably helped them a lot. They were doing a good job through the air today,” said Rams defensive end Chris Long. “Colin does a good job stepping up and getting out of the pocket. He did a lot today and crated second chances for himself and found his targets.”
Crabtree had two receptions, the first for eight yards and the second a 60-yard play down the right sideline on 3rd-and-7.
“I was supposed to take that to the house,” Crabtree said. “I had to stiff-arm (Rams CB Trumaine Johnson) to get him off of me. I tried to make it happen and came up short, but it was a good play.”
Anquan Boldin was still the clear No. 1 even with Crabtree starting and playing nearly 40 snaps; he was targeted 13 times and ended up with nine receptions for 98 yards. He also drew three of the Rams’ 11 penalties. Boldin, Crabtree and Kaepernick all went to the podium together after the game.
“It’s about time he gets double-teamed now,” Boldin said. Crabtree smiled and shook his head while saying, “Nooooo.”
“It feels good,” Boldin continued. “When you have a guy like that on the other side it definitely takes pressure off you. It frees you up to just go out and play ball.”
It was a fun scene for the trio, who haven’t had much reason to smile since Crabtree tore his Achilles in May. It probably wasn’t a coincidence that Boldin was as demonstrative on the field as he’s been all year and seemed happier afterward than he’s been since joining the 49ers. I wasn’t even aware that Boldin was capable of laughing, but he and Kaepernick were giggling like guys who (gasp) play a game for a living.
Much was made of Crabtree’s 2013 regular season debut, and for good reason. But don’t forget Joe Looney, who got thrown in the fire and did quite well in his professional debut other than a holding call that Alex Boone called “rubbish.” Joe Staley, the team’s best offensive lineman, went down early on with a right knee injury. Matt Barrows was the first to report that Staley sprained his MCL, which is about the best news the 49ers could’ve hoped for.
In the meantime, the 49ers struggled a little early on in pass protection without their left tackle. But the adjustment period was short-lived as Boone went back to left tackle, his old position.
“Like riding a bike,” said Boone, who said he gets a few practice reps each week at tackle but admitted he doesn’t really make the most of them. “I kind of bitch and moan when I have to go out there. I don’t like it.”
The 49ers gave up four sacks before halftime, but none after that. Not bad when facing a team with Robert Quinn (who had 13 sacks coming into this game and ended with the same total), especially while inserting a lineman who up until last week had never even been active for an NFL game.
“It was a sad thing that happened to (Staley), and hopefully he’ll be back soon,” Boone said. “But I thought Joe Looney did a great job stepping up today. Hell of a performance. Coming off the bench and kicking some ass. Can’t be more proud of a guy than that.”
“It was very seamless,” Kaepernick said. “With Looney coming in, not really being someone that played, he did an amazing job.”
Daily dose of Donte
When I heard Whitner was going to the podium, I had to ask him a couple questions. Here’s the video from my first question about what’s different now for a defense that allowed 28 ppg over the first three games of the season and has allowed just over 12 ppg over the last nine:
“Now we have everybody in sync. We have Aldon back. Guys are really out there communicating. It’s all our third year in this defense. So, we know what to do … We’re getting turnovers again, we’re tackling, we’re playing 49er football. Before, we played some really good offenses, Indianapolis, the Green Bay Packers, they were all moving the football, teams that are really, really hard to stop. Now, we’ve settled in, played some offenses that are not as good as those and we’re making plays.”
Crabtree loves that turkey
Quoting this doesn’t really do it justice, so I recommend just watching the video (it’s only 34 seconds long, and involves short answers of questions from Tim Kawakami and me).
Next up: you know who
There will be plenty of time to focus on the Seattle Seahawks between now and next Sunday. Plus, we didn’t even get to Vernon Davis’ exciting day … which definitely deserves its own post.