SEATTLE – Here are my grades for the 49ers’ 23-17 loss to the Seahawks in the NFC Championship game.
KAEPERNICK: D. He was the 49ers’ best offensive player, no question. He carried the 49ers’ offense all game. He made at least a half-dozen great improvisational plays. If it weren’t for those plays, what offense would the 49ers have had? The 58-yard run was Kaepernick improvising, and a couple of his other runs came on called passes where no one was open. But he also made a few horrendous plays, like the three turnovers he committed in the fourth quarter. I’ll write that again. Three turnovers in the fourth quarter. That’s called choking. First, he made the same mistake he made at the end of the Packers game a couple weeks ago – throwing blindly to his left. Against the Packers, the defensive back dropped the interception. But in this game, the Seahawks’ DB, Kam Chancellor, did not drop it. Kaepernick made another mistake, the same mistake he made at the end of the Super Bowl – just chuck it to Michael Crabtree when the game is on the line. Kaepernick said he liked the matchup – one-on-one against Richard Sherman. Sherman won the matchup, tipped the pass to a linebacker who intercepted it in the end zone and ended the game.
RUNNING BACKS: F+. Frank Gore gained 14 yards on 11 carries. Nine of those yards came on one carry. Meaning 10 yards came on 5 other carries. He seemed like one of the slowest players on the field. But Anthony Dixon did a good thing, jumped over the Seahawks’ defense and scored a one-yard touchdown run.
WIDE RECEIVERS: D-. Anquan Boldin caught a touchdown pass in the third quarter, caught it right over free safety Earl Thomas’ outstretched arms. Other than that, the Seahawks mostly kept Boldin in check. Michael Crabtree made a few good catches, including a 16-yarder on third-and-two with a minute left in the game. But he also short-armed a well-thrown pass earlier in the drive on another third-and-2. And he could not beat Richard Sherman one-on-one on the final play of the game. Sherman boxed Crabtree out and tipped the pass to another Seahawk.
TIGHT ENDS: F. Vernon Davis made just two catches for 16 yards, although he was open deep once and Kaepernick never looked at him. Vance McDonald made one catch for 13 yards.
OFFENSIVE LINE: F+. They created zero space for Gore to run up the middle. Also, they gave up pressure most of the game, but just two sacks. Kaepernick had to frequently scramble away from pass rushers.
DEFENSIVE LINE: D+. They sacked Russell Wilson four times in the first half, but no times in the second half. Justin Smith seemed to know where the Seahawks were running the ball in the first half – Lynch had just 14 rushing yards before halftime. But the Seahawks adjusted, the 49ers didn’t and Lynch rushed for 70 yards in the third quarter – a big reason the 49ers lost.
LINEBACKERS: D+. The linebackers share some of the blame for letting Marshawn Lynch go crazy in the third quarter. But NaVorro Bowman was outstanding before he tore his ACL – 11 tackles, a sack and a forced fumble. And Ahmad Brooks forced an intentional grounding penalty. And Dan Skuta registered a sack.
SECONDARY: D. They gave up a 105 passer rating to Russell Wilson, and a couple of huge plays. First, safeties Eric Reid and Donte Whitner lost track of Doug Baldwin, Baldwin running past them, them not noticing. Wilson hit Baldwin for a 51-yard gain. In the fourth quarter, Carlos Rogers got burned down the seam by Jermaine Kearse, who caught the game-winning touchdown right in front of Rogers.
SPECIAL TEAMS: D. LaMichael James fumbled a punt he should have fair caught. Luckily for the 49ers, Darryl Morris recovered the fumble. But the kickoff coverage team gave up a 69-yard kickoff return to Doug Baldwin in the third quarter.
COACHING: F. Greg Roman had a bad day. Usually a running-game genius, Roman showed no creativity with his run game against the Seahawks. Just keep running Gore up the middle. It never worked. Jim Harbaugh didn’t coach well, either. He did not manage the clock well at the end of the game. He should have used his timeouts a bit earlier so the 49ers could have kept working the ball down the field, instead of just chucking a “go” route into the end zone for a hope and a prayer. If the 49ers had better play design and clock management in this game, they probably would have won. A team should not have to rely on a quarterback’s improvisational plays to win a game.