If things in the NFL went as planned, tonight’s game would’ve showcased two of the league’s brightest young stars. At least, that’s how it was billed in the schedule-unveiling event during the offseason.
Instead, San Francisco’s 27-6 drubbing of Washington (let’s see if I can avoid using their nickname in this post) was a show-me matchup for some sputtering offenses and unrealized potential, and only San Francisco showed anything on national televesion. The 49ers are certainly having a better season than Mike Shanahan’s bunch, and if there was ever a gauge for how far Washington has fallen since its initial surge last season, this game was it.
The 49ers’ defense abused Washington’s offensive line, stifled Robert Griffin III and put a cap on their fierce running game. San Francisco registered four sacks — two for each of their edge rushers — along with seven more hurries. What’s more, they held Washington without a touchdown at home for the first time since Washington played the Cowboys in 2003. It was so dominant, the fact that Griffin was still playing in the game’s waning moments was an indictment on Shanahan. San Francisco simply abused him, and as soon as it was evident that the game had gotten out of hand it should have been Kirk Cousins time.
Aldon Smith wasn’t exactly in “Monday Night Versus The Bears” form, but he played a huge role for the first time since checking out of rehab and checking back into the red and gold three weeks ago. Dan Skuta opened as the starter, but Smith quickly took over and played extremely well (2 sacks, 4 hits). It was truly a return to form for the 49ers defense, as they held Griffin to 127 yards on 17-for-27 passing and a pick.
As for the league’s fourth-ranked rusher, Alfred Morris? 52 yards on 14 carries.
Of course nobody had a bigger impact than Ahmad Brooks, and at this point it’s not absurd to talk about Defensive Player of the Year nods. When San Francisco’s defense dominates, it doesn’t come on slow. They hit hard from the first play and give very little. Brooks was stuffing Washington’s momentum, despite Kyle Shanahan’s attempt to scheme all of the offensive plays away from the Smith Brothers.
Is Colin Kaepernick back?
That’s hard to say.
Disclaimer: Washington’s defense isn’t as bad as a lot of people say they are (13th against the run, 23rd against the pass). Ray Lewis said after the game that they were arguably the worst defense in the league, so just as we’ll take Ray-Ray’s comments with a grain of salt, so should we with Colin Kaepernick’s performance against Washington.
He wasn’t without his usual stumbles, but Kaepernick finished the game with a nice, shiny box score to hang on the refridgerator. He threw for 15-of-24 with 235 yards passing and three touchdowns (134.5 rating). He eclipsed 200 yards passing for only the third time this season, and this time he did it without the services of a fully-functioning running game. But Kaepernick showed what most of us knew he was capable of and yet started to doubt: he read progressions effectively, trusted his protection despite Mike Iupati’s absence and threw the ball downfield with ease. Kaepernick hit on passes of 24, 19, 40, 32, 20 and 23 yards Monday after failing to complete one pass farther than 17 yards over the last two games.
And again, he managed to pick apart Washington without the running game opening things up downfield. Frank Gore only accounted for 31 yards of the team’s total of 76 (20 of which came from Kaepernick).
— For those who complained about Greg Roman’s confusing, time-consuming play calls: San Francisco’s offensive coordinator toned things down Monday night. There were some play clock struggles (no 49ers game would be complete without at least one wasted timeout), but what you saw was what you got when they stepped to the line of scrimmage. They even went with a no-huddle offense on consecutive third downs to start the game.
— Kaepernick targeted six different receivers, hitting five of them. Still, the offense goes as Vernon Davis and Anquan Boldin do — they combined to haul in nine catches for 164 yards and all three of Kaepernick’s touchdown passes.
— While we all hold our breath and wait for Michael Crabtree to come back (expect him to be activated tomorrow), Mario Manningham has been resuscitating us. Kaepernick has a nice chemistry with the former Giant, and he looked for him seven different times against Washington. Manningham caught four passes for 45 yards, including a third down conversion (remember those?) in the first drive.
— Brooks’ second sack of the evening was also his 7.5th of the season, marking a new career high for the 49ers’ most underrated player.
— Don’t look now, but LaMichael James is starting to earn the praise and playing time he’s been dying for. With Washington punter Sav Rocca seeing a ton of action tonight (/snickers), James got five opportunities to return punts. He netted 72 yards (14.4 per return), and that’s with one Kyle Williamsian fair catch in the fourth quarter. Tack on two kickoff returns for 53 yards, and the 49ers finally have themselves a returner who can do more than wave his arm and catch a football.
— He also muffed a punt and jumped on it, but we’ll let that one slide for now.
— Donte Whitner is having some kind of a contract year … the least surprising sentence I’ve written this season. Still, it puts the 49ers in an interesting position. Just nine months ago the talk was that Whitner was a major liability in coverage and that San Francisco would need to look for a replacement when his contract expired. They still might need to do that. Salary cap isn’t unlimited in the NFL and with another interception (along with a couple big hits), Whitner is making a case for a large payday this offseason.
— San Francisco’s newly minted cornerback, Tramaine Brock, had a solid game as the stopper for the No. 1 wideout. He spent much of the game shadowing Pierre Garcon, who caught eight of his 11 targets for only 48 yards. A handful of those were quick screens, too. It’s hard to stop a wide receiver from catching those; the trick is keeping the yards after catch down and Brock managed to do that.
— Aldon Smith provided a couple highlights, all of which were at RGIII’s expense. His pile-driving sack in the first half left Griffin looking like Manny Pacquiao. And then there was this quarterback hit…
— Unrelated to the game: an update on the Brandon Browner suspension situation found that Mike Silver wasn’t exactly right with his initial report. Browner isn’t facing a eight-game suspension, and it isn’t for PEDs. According to Adam Schefter, it’s a year-long suspension, and it’s for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy.
— I did it! I managed to write the entire post without using Washington’s dirty word.