The 49ers are capable of running effectively, moving the ball through the air, and throttling opposing offenses. They checked the boxes next to the latter two areas in a 31-17 win against the Rams, a game in which they ran away from St. Louis despite one of the more lifeless, reckless and feckless first quarters this team has ever played.
Here’s a list of first quarter miscues (I’m probably missing at least a couple):
- Jared Cook’s 39-yard catch on 3rd-and-5
- Dan Skuta’s sack negated by illegal hands to the face penalty on Ahmad Brooks (yes, another one)
- Illegal contact penalty in the end zone on Eric Reid
- False start on Vernon Davis
- Colin Kaepernick off target on short third down throw to Anquan Boldin (Joe Looney flagged for illegal substitution — declined)
- Vance McDonald loses fumble, ruining one of the best catch-and-run plays of his career in the process
- 3rd-and-1: Chris Culliver completely lost track of Lance Kendricks, who found himself all alone on a 22-yard touchdown reception
The quarter ended with the 49ers down 14-0. All they’d lose from that point on were players (more on that in a bit), as they outscored the Rams 31-3 the rest of the way. The Rams, knowing the 49ers would like to take advantage of a defense that had allowed 4.9 yards per carry coming in, jammed the box and dared the 49ers to throw. Kaepernick said, “OK, I’ll take advantage of your mediocre cornerbacks.”
Janoris Jenkins killed the 49ers during his rookie season when he recovered a fumble and scored a touchdown; Brandon Lloyd helped the franchise get even with this double move and catch that gave Kaepernick the longest touchdown pass of his career: 80 yards.
The 49ers were down four going into halftime, but it didn’t seem all that likely that they’d lose this one. Vic Fangio dialed up the blitzes, and Austin Davis — who looks an awful lot like Matt Saracen from Friday Night Lights — went from passing like Kurt Warner to playing like Zach Gilford.
The 49ers marched 80 yards on 12 plays in their first possession of the second half, despite a 27-yard Frank Gore sideline reception that was taken away by a replay reversal (Gore landed out of bounds). No matter — Kaepernick did what we’ve seen him do so well, so many times before: he ran to his left and picked up 23 yards and a first down. The 49ers were gifted another first down on a T.J. McDonald holding penalty, then they converted on 3rd-and-12 with a 15-yard pass to Anquan Boldin, who was the recipient of one of the best touchdown throws of Kaepernick’s career on 3rd-and-1 from the Rams’ 11-yard line.
Here’s an angle that shows the work Boldin put in to capitalize on this silly, scintillating touch throw Kaepernick made off his back foot while running to his left.
The 49ers drove 78 yards on seven plays later in the third quarter, in a series that started with two nice throws to Stevie Johnson, continued with another third down pass to Boldin, and ended with Michael Crabtree making a rookie cornerback (E.J. Gaines) look like a college freshman.
Running clock with Hyde — or trying to, anyway
If the 49ers didn’t play like ninnies in the first quarter, this game wouldn’t have been in question in the fourth quarter. If Kaepernick’s throw to the back of the end zone was caught by one of the two wide open tight ends, instead of the two wide open tight ends crashing into each other, this game would’ve been over with six minutes to go. Same thing if the 49ers opened up the playbook a little bit after that blooper-reel play. Instead they chewed up some clock with runs up the middle and off tackle with Hyde.
But I’m going to stand up for Greg Roman a little bit here. For one thing, McDonald and Davis (both coming off injuries, by the way) were off all night. The 49ers need a goal-line back, and there’s no better time to get Hyde experience in that role than in the fourth quarter with a 10-point lead against a lousy Rams team. And when your defense is this good, the clock is your friend.
Right on cue, the 49ers shut the door with a Dontae Johnson pick-six. After one bad series to start the game and the touchdown they allowed after McDonald’s fumble, here’s what the defense did:
Rams’ last 11 drives: punt, punt, end of half, punt, punt, punt, punt, punt, field goal, interception, end of game
— Bay Area Sports Guy (@BASportsGuy) October 14, 2014
Notes and Quotes
— The injury toll from this game could linger, especially with a game in Denver coming up after a short week. Patrick Willis appears to have turf toe, the same injury that has kept Tramaine Brock out since Week 1. Mike Iupati had a concussion. Jimmie Ward was knocked out with a quadriceps injury, and Stevie Johnson was injured recovering an onside kick. I’ve thought Chris Borland was ready to play from the start of this season, but replacing Willis in a game against the Broncos? Vic Fangio keeps finding ways to keep this defense in the top five, but the challenges keep mounting.
— How valuable has Perrish Cox been this year? He moved to the slot after Ward’s injury and didn’t miss a beat. On the other hand, Peyton Manning is probably going to target Culliver about 15 times on Sunday night.
— Cox also benefitted from a curious offensive pass interference call on Cook, which wiped away a 21-yard pass on 3rd-and-9 and allowed the 49ers to get the ball before halftime (and change the game with that long play to Lloyd). Cook’s reaction is below.
— Kaepernick: 22-for-36, 343 yards and three touchdowns. The only time he came close to getting sacked resulted in a huge horse collar penalty on St. Louis.
— Kaepernick was the only 49er to have a carry go for 10 or more yards; Gore rushed 16 times for 38 yards and Hyde had only 14 yards on 11 carries. On the bright side: no fumbles, and Hyde’s spin move (that didn’t gain many extra yards, but sure looked cool) displayed the rookie running back’s balance and strength.
— The 49ers were only penalized twice after the first quarter: a false start penalty on Joe Staley and a delay of game they took on purpose to give Andy Lee more room to work with late in the fourth quarter (Lee’s punt was fair caught by Tavon Austin at the nine-yard line).
— “We rushed as a team today. All the other weeks, pass rushing, we weren’t rushing as a team. So collectively, we were able to get there,” said Brooks.
— The 49ers had five sacks and six tackles for loss. Brooks had two sacks to make up for the first quarter penalty, and Skuta had two sacks after losing that first one. Antoine Bethea had a sack after abusing running back Tre Mason in the Rams’ backfield.
— Skuta came into this game with only half of a sack in regular season play, and it came against the 49ers in 2011 when he was a Cincinnati Bengal. Think the 49ers coaching staff noticed something in that game? Skuta also had two sacks in the 2014 playoffs — one each against the Panthers and Seahawks.
— Another view of Kaepernick’s pass to Lloyd at the end of the first half.
— Lloyd celebrated quite a bit after that play, right? Contrast his on-field reaction with how he answered this totally normal question after the game.
Q: That was a play that we’ve seen you struggle with, with Kap, in other games. Why did it work so well in this one? What was the timing that worked so well in this one?
Lloyd: The pass was completed this time.
Let’s just say Lloyd is an “interesting” interview subject.
— Someone asked Jim Harbaugh if they do drills in practice to prepare Kaepernick to make this kind of play.
“A lot of people ask that. Like, ‘What drills do you do,’ and stuff,” said Harbaugh. “I’ve done drills with a lot of quarterbacks through the years and nobody plays like this guys does. Can’t really attribute it to any drills or any practice. He’s got a way.”