49ers made Harbaugh a winner in his coaching debut
Taking a look back at the 49ers' 33-17 season-opening victory over the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday afternoon, with key plays of the game, what went right and what went wrong for the 49ers and what units stood out among the others for San Francisco.
The key plays
Play to remember: After the Seahawks, who trailed by 16 points at halftime, had climbed within 19-17 with 3:56 remaining in the fourth quarter, Tedd Ginn Jr. caught the ensuing kickoff two yards deep in his own end zone, came out with it to his left, then made a sharp cut to the right as he reached a cluster of bodies. Crossing the field and then getting a block on the edge from rookie Colin Jones, Ginn turned the corner and was off to the races. He turned on the afterburners to get past Seattle kicker Steven Hauschka near midfield and then was gone down the right sideline, leaving Seattle’s Earl Thomas trailing him the final 40 yards. The stunning 102-yard return was the second-longest by a San Francisco player at home in team history, and Ginn followed that 59 seconds later with a 55-yard punt return for another touchdown to punctuate the second two-TD game of his career.
Play to forget: Despite gaining just 37 yards of total offense in the first half, the Seahawks kept hanging around and put up 10 unanswered points to begin the second half. After the 49ers settled for another short David Akers field goal at the end of a 15-play, 72-yard drive with 5:54 remaining in the fourth quarter, Seattle proceeded to get right back in the game when rookie receiver Doug Baldwin found a cavity in San Francisco’s secondary on an inside route, caught a short pass from quarterback Tarvaris Jackson between linebacker NaVorro Bowman and safety Reggie Smith, then turned up the field and out-raced Smith to the end zone for a 55-yard touchdown play against broken coverage that brought Seattle within two points with 3:56 still to play.
The turning point: With time running out in the first half and San Francisco clinging to a three-field-goal lead, the 49ers put the football in the hands of Alex Smith on a make-or-break play near the goal line. The 49ers had first-and-goal at the Seattle 1-yard line thanks to an interference call against Seattle in the end zone, but there was only 17 seconds remaining on the clock and the 49ers had no timeouts remaining in the half. Smith rolled right, looked into the end zone, saw room in front of him, then put his head down and charged for the end zone, spinning past the goal line after he was hit at the 1-yard line. Smith hit paydirt with 12 seconds remaining, giving the 49ers a commanding 16-0 halftime lead with the third TD run of his career and his first since 2006. Instead of having to settle for a field goal or perhaps get no points if they couldn’t stop the clock again, the Niners went into the locker room with a huge lead they would never relinquish.
What went right
Auspicious start for Harbaugh era: It wasn’t always pretty, but the 49ers did everything they needed to do to make Jim Harbaugh’s debut as San Francisco’s head coach a winning experience. And they did it against the defending NFC West champions, dictating the tempo and holding the upper hand pretty much in every phase of the game. In the process, Harbaugh became the sixth head coach in team history to win his debut with the Niners and the fourth to do it at home.
Alex in control: In his first start in Harbaugh’s West Coast offensive system, much-maligned quarterback Alex Smith did little wrong, running the offense efficiently and taking what the Seattle defense was giving. Smith didn’t make one poor throw the entire game, completing 15 of 20 passes for 124 yards with no interceptions and no sacks. Smith also rushed for 22 yards, including a 1-yard TD run, and finished with a passer rating of 90.4
Defense is nails: The San Francisco defense did a little bending in the second half, but that was after setting the tone for the afternoon by blanking Seattle in the first half, when the Seahawks were limited to just 27 yards of total offense. The 49ers controlled the line of scrimmage and stuffed the run up front, allowing just 64 rushing yards as the Seahawks averaged only 2.9 yards a carry.
Many happy returns: Ted Ginn was a showstopper at the finish, returning a kickoff 102 yards for a touchdown and a punt 55 yards for a touchdown in the space of a minute late in the fourth quarter to seal the victory, in the process becoming the first player in franchise history to return both a kickoff and a punt for touchdowns in the same game. Ginn’s 268 total return yards also is a team record and ranks as the 15th-most by a NFL player since 1950. He became the first player in NFL history to record the feat on Kickoff Weekend.
The look of a winner: The 49ers hardly had the sloppy, disorganized look that characterized their opener against Seattle last year. They stuck to a methodical game plan and never trailed, committed no turnovers and received a complete team effort to win by 16 points in a game they were actually out-gained in total yardage.
What went wrong
Power lacking in run game: The 49ers’ plan for a power running game wasn’t up to snuff as Frank Gore had to work hard for each of his 59 yards on 22 carries, finding little room to work between the tackles. Gore often was met at or near the line of scrimmage before he could hit his stride and begin running downhill. Both Gore and the 49ers averaged just 2.7 yards, and the Niners failed to get Gore’s backups involved in the game plan as other running backs totaled only two carries for four yards.
Hitting the penalty century mark: A few of them might have been questionable calls, but the 49ers finished the game with nine penalties for 102 negative yards, several of which aided drives that helped keep Seattle in the game.
Third-down blues: The 49ers were horrid on third downs, converting just one first down in 12 third-down opportunities, failing to convert on each of their first nine tries. That contributed to San Francisco finishing the game with only 12 first downs, usually a figure that would belong to a losing team.
No deep game: The 49ers rarely attempted to stretch the field as Alex Smith went deep with only a handful of passes the entire game. He hit on two sideline throws to Vernon Davis (27 yards) and Josh Morgan (26 yards) for San Francisco’s two longest offensive plays of the game. Everything else was underneath coverage – San Francisco’s didn’t have another passing play that went for longer than 12 yards.
Units that stood out
Defensive line: A dominant and relentless effort throughout keyed by bookend tackles Justin Smith and Ray McDonald, who made life difficult on Jackson and Seattle offensive linemen the entire afternoon. McDonald led the 49ers with six tackles – three of them behind the line of scrimmage – and he also had a sack and three hits on Jackson. Smith had four tackles, sacked Jackson twice and hit him three times.
Quarterback: Give Smith his due. On a day when the 49ers found it tough to grind out yardage on the ground, Smith played mistake-free football, scored San Francisco’s only offensive touchdown and completed 75 percent of his passes to do his part in keeping the unit moving. He was San Francisco’s offensive star of the game.
Linebackers: A very solid performance throughout the unit. Middle linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman stuffed the inside and combined for 11 tackles, Parys Haralson had four tackles, two sacks and forced two fumbles, Ahmad Brooks contributed a quarterback hit and rookie Aldon Smith knocked down a pass. It was the 11th multi-sack game of Smith’s career and the first two forced fumbles of Haralson’s career.
Special teams: Needless to say, a spectacular, game-swaying effort. And it wasn’t just Ted Ginn, who became the first 49er ever to return a kickoff and a punt for touchdowns in the same game. David Akers made all four of his field-goal attempts in his 49ers debut, Andy Lee averaged a gaudy 59.6 yards on his five punts with a fantastic 54.2 net – both career highs – and the coverage units were outstanding with several individuals making notable efforts.
--- Harbaugh became the first person in NFL history to pass for more than 25,000 yards as a player and also win a game as a head coach.
--- The 49ers won back-to-back games against the Seahawks for the first time since 2006.
--- Wide receiver Michael Crabtree saw limited action in the second half after experiencing pain in the left foot that kept him out of training camp and the preseason. Crabtree, who had surgery to repair a fracture in the foot in late July, said he had X-rays after the game that were negative. Crabtree finished with one reception for four yards.
--- Second-year cornerback Tramaine Brock recorded the first interception of his career when he went up high above a pack of bodies to snag Jackson’s Hail Mary pass in front of the San Francisco goal line on the final play of the first half.
--- San Francisco’s 10-3 record against NFC West teams since 2009 is tied for the best division record over that span by any NFL team.
--- The 49ers recorded five sacks of Jackson, San Francisco’s most sacks in a season opener since 2005.
--- The 49ers have not allowed an opponent to rush for 100 yards in 23 consecutive games, the longest active streak in the NFL. Marshawn Lynch led the Seahawks in rushing with just 33 yards on 13 carries.
--- Ted Ginn Jr. became the 12th player in NFL history to have a kickoff return and a punt return for touchdowns in the same game, giving the 49ers their first special-teams touchdown on opening day since 2005.
--- New 49ers kicker David Akers set a new opening-day career high with 15 points on four field goals and three PATs.