It was no easy task to get where the San Francisco 49ers are today, locking up a crucial wildcard spot in the play-offs as the daunting No.5 seed; after their nail-biting win over the Arizona Cardinals (23-10). It has been a tremulous season for the red and gold in terms of personnel injuries, poor play-making decisions, and a couple of unfortunate losing streaks. However, with the guidance and leadership of coach Jim Harbaugh and the rest of the 49er coaching staff, the golden tide have managed to string up an impressive 6-game winning streak to end their tremulous regular season. The Niners were hitting on all cylinders (offense & defense) in the 1st quarter, leading the Cardinals 17-0. Afterwards, the west-coast offense stagnated tremendously for two straight quarters, giving (QB) Carson Palmer a plethora of scoring opportunities down the field. Both caliber defenses were up to par in the 3rd quarter, with either team not allowing a single touchdown. In the end, it was (K) Phil Dawson who sealed the deal, kicking the game-winning field goal in the last seconds of the 4th quarter; sending the Niners to their third consecutive play-off appearance.
(QB) Colin Kaepernick threw 21 completions on 34 attempts for a total of 310 yards against the Cardinal secondary. Additionally, the UNLV alum also rushed for 24 yards and threw 2 touchdowns to both (WR) Anquan Boldin and (TE) Vernon Davis. The 49ers couldn’t establish any sort of offense on the ground with (RB) Frank Gore against coach Bruce Arian’s (No.1) ranked defense against the run. Gore was held to an embarrassing total of 14 yards in regards to the Fed-Ex ground delivery. On the other hand, the Niners did find plenty of success in the air; especially with ex-Cardinal Boldin who accumulated up to 149 yards total (most of which came from the 1st quarter) and 1 touchdown grab. Davis also had a touchdown reception in the 1st, racking up 46 yards on 3 completions. (WR) Michael Crabtree also contributed to the wide receiving core, offering a complimentary 30 yards reception to the table. The big story was (WR) Quinton Patton who came back from a hapless foot injury he sustained against the St. Louis Rams in the beginning of the regular season (replacing Mario Manningham). The man of the hour made the clutch grab in the remaining 18 seconds of the 4th quarter, giving Dawson a.k.a. “Mr. Automatic” the perfect field goal range to kick the final game-winner.
Vic Fangio’s defensive front seven did all they could against Palmer’s trigger-happy arm; you have to give credit to the Cardinal’s offensive line that kept the 49ers’ pass rush to only 1 sack. Notably speaking, the Niners (ranked No.3 against the run) did a wonderful job stopping the Cardinal’s rush attack. Conversely, the 11-year passing veteran picked the 49ers’ defense apart; Palmer threw for 407 yards against Fangio’s disconcerting secondary unit. On a positive note, (ILB) Navarro Bowman delivered yet another amazing performance; recording 1 sack, 1 interception, 1 forced fumble, and a jarring total of 9 tackles. From a defensive standpoint, the 49ers need to figure out a way to enhance their pass rushing technique, if they ever want to stop these never-ending mobile quarterbacks. Most importantly, the Niners’ secondary need to find a way to stop 3rd and long situations; especially if their dealing with the following quarterbacks (Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, or Aaron Rodgers).
Unfortunately, the 49ers will be heading into the playoffs without starting (CB) Carlos Rogers, who injured his right hamstring against the Cardinals. Decisively, Coach Harbaugh signed (CB) Perrish Cox back onto the 53-man roster, after the Seahawks cut him from his insurance slot as (CB) Walter Thurmond’s temporary replacement. The hard-hitting cornerback will now be mixed into the starting line-up, along with (CB) Eric Wright to cover for nickel-situations.
On the road, the Niners will head to Lambeau Field to face the (No.4) seeded Green Bay Packers. After clinching the NFC North Title (QB) Aaron Rodger’s glorious comeback could spell doom for the red-hot 49ers. Can Kaepernick register another majestic running performance, much like last year?
Given Rodger’s passing reputation and hungry line of receivers, the 49ers’ pass-defense better come prepared!