Niners defense was ferocious in shutting down Bucs
Handing out a rare report card of nothing but ‘A’ grades to the 49ers for their performance in a 48-3 blowout victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers while breaking down the positives, negatives and bottom line in every area of the team.
QUARTERBACKS -- Grade: A
Positives: Alex Smith continued the best start of his career by posting a passer rating of 127.2, second only to his 130.9 rating in a blowout win over Seattle last December. Smith’s 26-yard touchdown strike on San Francisco’s first offensive possession was perfectly placed between three defenders and set the tone on an afternoon when Smith repeatedly looked to throw down the field. Smith stood in the pocket and beat the blitz before being hit on a 23-yard scoring pass to Vernon Davis, and his 14-yard TD pass to Davis also was perfectly lofted over cornerback Ronde Barber. Smith also had completions of 24 yards to Josh Morgan and 21 yards to Michael Crabtree. Colin Kaepernick was sharp in fourth-quarter mop-up time, directing a 90-yard touchdown drive in which he completed each of his first three NFL passes.
Negatives: Smith threw a few risky passes and had two balls go off the hands of Tampa Bay defenders that should have been intercepted.
Bottom line: Another stellar performance from start to finish as San Francisco quarterbacks finished game with a combined 133.5 passer rating.
RUNNING BACKS -- Grade: A
Positives: Frank Gore returned to the starting lineup and returned to top form with his second consecutive 100-yard game, rushing for a game-high 125 yards and average 6.3 yards on his 20 carries. Gore ran with renewed vigor and downhill burst and had big-chunk runs of 21, 19 and 18 yards. He looked like a low-riding locomotive chugging into a Tampa defender on his short TD run. Kendall Hunter had a 44-yard run as part of his 65 yards rushing on nine carries. Gore had some notable blocks in pass protection, as did fullback Bruce Miller in the run game.
Negatives: Gore lost a fumble for the second time in three games, having the ball pop out of his hands after he ran into the back of teammate Justin Peelle, leaving the 49ers with no points after a drive that reached the Tampa Bay 11-yard line.
Bottom line: Running with power and purpose, Gore was at the top of his game, and Hunter once again contributed his own dynamic as the 49ers rushed for 213 yards and averaged 5.9 yards a pop.
WIDE RECEIVERS -- Grade: A
Positives: Starters Michael Crabtree and Josh Morgan both produced when the Niners looked to keep the chains moving through the air, combining for seven receptions for 111 yards and catches of 24, 21, 19 yards. Ted Ginn Jr. had an exciting 24-yard run, showing great elusiveness after going in motion and taking a direct handoff. Crabtree’s blocking was extraordinary on several plays, including Ginn’s run and Morgan’s 24-yard catch. Kyle Williams showed good awareness to come back and knock away a deep pass that could have been intercepted.
Negatives: After sitting out the fourth quarter along with other starters, Morgan had just returned to the game two plays before breaking a bone in his right leg on a 19-yard catch that set up San Francisco’s final touchdown. He could miss the rest of the season after undergoing surgery.
Bottom line: Another steady and solid all-around performance made bittersweet by the late injury to Morgan.
TIGHT ENDS -- Grade: A
Positives: Vernon Davis broke tackles while powering into the end zone on his 23-yard TD reception, then beat perennial Pro Bowl cornerback Ronde Barter on his 14-yard scoring catch. Delanie Walker turned around Tampa Bay linebacker Dekoda Watson on his 26-yard scoring catch. Walker had key blocks to spring Frank Gore on a 21-yard run and Kendall Hunter on a 44-yard run. Davis and Justin Peelle also delivered some notable blocks.
Negatives: Walker was flagged for a false start in the third quarter.
Bottom line: Three touchdown receptions and several key blocks highlighted another productive day by a unit that has been foremost in San Francisco’s offensive awakening.
OFFENSIVE LINE -- Grade: A
Positives: Unit continued to transform itself from the mighty struggles it experienced in September. Interior of center Jonathan Goodwin and guards Mike Iupati and Adam Snyder held upper hand over Tampa Bay tackles entire afternoon, gouging big holes in middle for running game. Tackles Joe Staley and Anthony Davis both were solid in running game and excellent in pass protection, with Davis having his best game of season. Unit allowed no sacks for second time this season after San Francisco opponents had recorded 14 sacks in three previous games.
Negatives: Iupati had a holding penalty on third-and-4 that wiped out a 14-yard reception by Vernon Davis and put the 49ers 10 yards back. Alex Boone missed a block on edge that resulted in Kendall Hunter being dropped in backfield for 3-yard loss.
Bottom line: Best game of season by unit allowed offense to click on all cylinders.
DEFENSIVE LINE -- Grade: A
Positives: Starting ends Ray McDonald and Justin Smith continued to be forceful presences, with Smith recording four tackles and his third sack of season to go with a tackle for loss and quarterback hurry. Ricky Jean Francois was a hit in his first career start in place of injured Isaac Sopoaga at nose tackle, recording three tackles and clogging up the middle well while engaging center Jeff Faine. Francois also showed awareness and athleticism in reading an attempted screen pass and pursuing it quickly down the line. Undrafted rookies Ian Williams and Demarcus Dobbs each saw their first NFL action and Dobbs recorded a tackle.
Negatives: Difficult to find any negatives here besides the fact the 49ers didn’t have Sopoaga because of a staph infection that could keep him out longer.
Bottom line: Unit was excellent. Again. And it barely skipped a beat without key cog Sopoaga.
LINEBACKERS -- Grade: A
Positives: Patrick Willis stepped to the forefront and took the lead in stuffing Tampa’s run game and limiting LeGarrette Blount to just 34 yards rushing on 10 carries. Willis had nine tackles by halftime on his way to a game-high 12, and he also broke up a pass and recovered a fumble. He made a great diving tackle on Blount in the open field that prevented a big gain on first down with the Bucs driving into San Francisco territory in the second quarter, and the 49ers forced a turnover two plays later. NaVorro Bowman contributed six tackles, Parys Haralson had four tackles and Ahmad Brooks made his presence felt with some pressures and one QB hurry. First-round draft pick Aldon Smith continued his emergence with two sacks, two tackles, two tackles for loss and two QB hurries.
Negatives: You’d need a microscope to find any. Practically a mistake-free, assignment-true effort by entire unit.
Bottom line: Willis played like the All-Pro he is and unit continued to get steady contributions by every player it puts on the field.
SECONDARY -- Grade: A
Positives: LCB Carlos Rogers intercepted a pass for the third consecutive week, and this one became the play of the game as he returned it 31 yards for a touchdown to put the 49ers in control, San Francisco’s first defensive touchdown of the season. Rogers also had a great read and big hit on a WR screen when he dumped Arrelious Benn for a 3-yard loss. RCB Tarell Brown continued his steadily improving play with three passes defensed. Rookie Chris Culliver had a breakout game with three passes defensed and his first career interception. Donte Whitner returned to starting lineup and had four tackles. Dashon Goldson had four tackles and forced a fumble with a ferocious hit. Goldson also had a hit on LaGarrette Blount that put the Tampa Bay RB out for the rest of the game and leaves him questionable to play this week with a knee injury. Unit had an exceptional nine total passes defensed.
Negatives: Goldson seemed to be unaware of the situation when he delivered a late hit on Kellen Winslow well after the play was over and was flagged 15 yards for unnecessary roughness.
Bottom line: Best game of season for play-making, big-hitting unit that bounced back impressively after being burned through the air often the week before in Philadelphia.
SPECIAL TEAMS -- Grade: A-minus
Positives: Ted Ginn Jr. displayed his breakaway ability on big punt returns of 29 and 22 yards. David Akers consistently sailed his kickoffs beyond the end zone for five touchbacks, hitting the uprights on one of them, and he also made field-goal attempts from 37 and 27 yards along with six PATs for a 12-point day. Akers also had a 46-yard FG taken off the board when the 49ers accepted a leverage penalty. Andy Lee dropped his only punt at the Tampa Bay 5-yard line. Rookie Colin Jones raced down on a kickoff to stop returner Preston Parker at the 8-yard line. Blake Costanzo stopped Parker at the 13 on another kickoff.
Negatives: Parker broke loose for a 39-yard kickoff return in fourth-quarter garbage time and also had a 25-yard return.
Bottom line: Specialty units returned to top form after rare letdown in Philadelphia and routinely did their part in blowout victory.
COACHING -- Grade: A-plus
Positives: Talk about having a team prepared. The 49ers were ready for everything Tampa Bay had to offer, and San Francisco had the Buccaneers flummoxed in practically everything they attempted to do. An inconsistent secondary was well-schooled in Tampa tendencies and shut down Bucs passing game with a standout performance, made even more relevant because the Bucs couldn’t run the ball. Coaches put players in position to make plays all day and attacked Tampa in its most vulnerable areas. The Niners also continued to extend their downfield passing game and kept foot on the gas pedal after opening big lead.
Negatives: There will always be some second-guessing when a starter is on the field and suffers a serious injury with 4:20 to play in a 41-3 game.
Bottom line: The kudos keep coming for coach Jim Harbaugh and his crew after another impressive victory, and deservedly so after a 45-point victory that was stunning in its thoroughness and decisiveness against a playoff-caliber opponent.