The San Francisco 49ers have won a lot of games since Jim Harbaugh became the team’s head coach, but today’s 34-28 triumph over the Green Bay Packers was a different kind of victory than we’ve gotten used to seeing. The 49ers of the last two seasons were known for minimizing mistakes, featuring a run-heavy offense that at times leaned toward the conservative side and a defensive unit that rarely missed tackles.
Harbaugh also prizes versatility. While he surely isn’t happy with the missed tackles or the 11 penalties his team committed, he surely appreciated how this win included the first 400-yard passing game on his watch. Colin Kaepernick only ran for 22 yards on seven carries — just 3.1 yards per carry. However, as a quarterback that hardly matters when you average 10.6 yards per passing attempt. Kaepernick completed 27-of-39 passes (a shade over 69%, which is interesting to note because several people questioned Kaepernick’s ability in that department leading into this season) for 412 yards and three scores. 17 of those passes went in the direction of Anquan Boldin, who caught 13 of them for 208 yards and a touchdown.
“They kept letting him get open, and he went out there and played like a grown man today,” Kaepernick said. “He made plays even when he shouldn’t have. If he plays like that he’s going to get the ball even more.”
Both Kaepernick and his new No. 1 receiver were mostly kept under wraps during the preseason, but it was clear during the summertime practices made available to the media that the pair clicked from the moment Boldin arrived in Santa Clara. What we saw today represented those practices perfectly: Kaepernick found Boldin all over the field on short, intermediate and long passes, including several times when Boldin was double-covered.
“The great thing that me and Kap have is communication. We’ve been able to communicate throughout the entire camp. On every play — I’m coming to the sideline, he’s asking me what I’m seeing and I’m asking him the same thing. ‘Is there anything you want me to do different?’ He’s asking me if I want him to put the ball in a certain place,” said Boldin, who seemed to catch everything regardless of location.
Many hours have been spent discussing who’d take some of the defensive focus away from Boldin and Vernon Davis, but today it didn’t really matter. Davis had 106 and 104 receiving yards in his last two playoff games, respectively. Today he continued on the same trajectory, with six receptions for 98 yards and two touchdowns.
Kaepernick might not pass for 400 yards in a game for a long time, and Boldin hadn’t gone off for 200+ yards since the first game of his career, when he caught 10 passes for 217 yards. But with the Packers committed to keeping the 49ers’ ground attack contained, the 49ers showed they can air it out as well as anybody, something that should open up things a little for the running backs in future weeks.
“I’m just happy we put on film that we can do whatever we want,” said Frank Gore, who laid some mean blocks and rushed for a touchdown but only ran for 44 yards on 21 carries. “(Kaepernick) can do both, like I tell everybody. As long as he stays healthy and keeps it up he’ll be a top quarterback in this league.”
— I was on the sideline at the end of the game, and filmed the last play (when Aldon Smith got to Aaron Rodgers and forced him to throw a short incompletion). This 28-second video is on the shaky side, but hopefully it captures the noise and energy at The Stick today — pure bedlam during the Packers’ last possession.
— Speaking of the sideline … yes, that’s James Harden in the background of the Boldin photo.
— Eric Reid missed a tackle or two, but he also made his presence felt with thunderous hits both on defense and special teams. He also recorded his first NFL interception, but he forgot something afterward.
“I did not keep the ball,” Reid said. “I don’t know what I was thinking, but I wish I kept the ball.”
Reid will probably get a few more chances to keep some post-INT souvenirs.
— Kaepernick, master of the understatement, on trading a sixth-rounder to get Boldin during the offseason: “I think we got the better end of that deal.”
— That segues perfectly into today’s edition of “Kaepernick gives a one-word answer theatre,” when I asked him about whether today’s game proved that all the talk about the chemistry between Kaepernick and Davis was overblown. Kaepernick’s reply: “Yes.”
— Not surprisingly, I got much longer answers when speaking with two of the best interview subjects on the team: Joe Staley and Donte Whitner.
I talked to Staley — who was penalized on that play for going after Clay Matthews after the Packers linebacker hit Kaepernick out of bounds — about a few different things, including how he takes pride in serving as Kaepernick’s body guard (in a sense). “That’s why we’re out there. We’re not the guys that are going to score touchdowns and make good plays. Our job is to protect the quarterback and create lanes in the running game,” Staley said.
The 49ers’ left tackle also had high praise for Kaepernick: “The sky’s the limit for him. He’s a talent that I don’t think the NFL has seen yet.”
— I asked Whitner what it’s like to face a team like that passes as often (and well) as the Packers, along with his thoughts on Reid. But what I really wanted to talk to him about was the play near the goal line when Jermichael Finley went up and grabbed a 25-yard pass from Rodgers. Whitner took advantage of a relatively new NFL rule that allows defenders to force receivers out of bounds before they can get two feet down.
“I haven’t done it before, but right then it clicked. When I saw his hands go up, the quarterback was scrambling, I saw the white. He jumped for it. I’m like ‘if he comes down he’s going to be in.” I knew the rule. I tried to hold him up as long as I possibly could to get him out of bounds, which was a big play for our defense. I’m glad that I remembered that rule,” Whitner said.
— The most important play of the game was obviously the fourth down conversion with less than three minutes remaining. Harbaugh said the 49ers never intended to punt, but after calling a timeout things didn’t look so good after the snap. For seemingly eons, no one was open. Kaepernick rolled right to buy time, and finally Boldin broke free.
“I thought he had tremendous poise. You look at the fourth down play, that was one of those rollout passes. He could have tried to stick it into Anquan on the break, but he kept the play alive, just cool as could be and then made a perfect strike,” Harbaugh said. “That pretty much summed up his whole day. He was precision-like.”
— This exchange took place between a pool reporter and lead official Bill Leavy after the game:
“On the play where the quarterback [QB Colin Kaepernick] went out of bounds and was hit late out of bounds. And then there was a subsequent hit by a San Francisco player. The down should have counted. The penalties were both dead ball, and they should have offset at the spot where the runner went out of bounds. And it would have been fourth down.”
So, it should have been fourth and two then?
Instead of a replay of third and six?
So the 49ers got an extra play, which turned out to be the touchdown pass to Boldin. I totally missed that as well; I assumed when penalties offset there’s a replay of the down and thought nothing of it. Perhaps the Packers will get one of those day-after apologies from the NFL that don’t help at all in the standings.
“I’m glad they missed that one,” said Bruce Miller. “They missed some other things in the game too, but they aren’t going back on those. What’s done is done.”
— Two final notes on Miller, who caught two passes for 24 yards. I brought up how I asked him a month ago about his role in the passing game possibly increasing, a la Tom Rathman during his days with the 49ers.
“Any time teams drop off into coverage like that and try to take away some things downfield, we have to be viable options and Frank caught a couple checkdowns, I caught a couple checkdowns, we have to make those work,” he said.
Then I brought up how the crowd yelled “BRUUUUCE” after one of those receptions, and whether he noticed it on the field.
“I love it, man. I love it,” said Miller, who laughed when Matt Barrows asked how he knew the crowd wasn’t booing him.
“They might be booing me for the way I blocked in the first quarter,” Miller said. “‘Boooo,’ get him out of here.”