49ers 23, Cardinals 20: Grades

Here are my grades for the 49ers. They beat the Cardinals 23-20 on a last-second field goal by Phil Dawson.

KAEPERNICK: B+. Excellent in the first and fourth quarter, bad in the second and third quarter. He was flagged for a delay-of-game penalty on the final drive of the game, but he also made two beautiful throws on that drive – one to Anquan Boldin for 18 yards and one to Quinton Patton for 29 yards. Both passes were ropes, both were on the money. A couple of Kaepernick’s passes got knocked down at the line of scrimmage and this seems to happen every game, which is odd considering Kaepernick is tall – 6-foot-4. The fact that he tends to stare down his receivers makes it easier for defensive linemen to read his eyes and bat down his passes. His field vision, footwork and accuracy still were issues in this game, and he was uncharacteristically poor on third down (3-for-13), but he didn’t pull a Matt Ryan. Kaepernick made enough plays down the stretch to win.

WIDE RECEIVERS: B+. Anquan Boldin was very good – 9 catches for 149 yards and a touchdown. He had a 63-yard catch largely due to Patrick Peterson missing a tackle five yards past the line of scrimmage. Boldin’s best catch came in the fourth quarter with less than three minutes left. It was second-and-10. Kaepernick rolled to his left and fired a pass about five feet over Boldin’s head. Boldin jumped and caught it and got both feet in bounds for a gain of 17. Four plays later, Dawson made a field goal that put the 49ers up 20-17. Michael Crabtree did not have a good game, but Quinton Patton did. His 29-yard catch at the end of the game set up the game-winning field goal. Patton did a good job jumping and catching the pass over the cornerback.

TIGHT ENDS: C+. Vernon Davis had a touchdown catch in the red zone and touchdowns always are good, but other than the touchdown, this group didn’t do much receiving or blocking.

RUNNING BACKS: F. Frank Gore had 14 yards on 13 carries. Enough said. Kendall Hunter had two good runs but he only rushed two times. Anthony Dixon was worse than Gore – two carries for negative-five yards. Dixon caught two passes and LaMichael James caught one.

OFFENSIVE LINE: D. They gave up only two sacks against a good pass rush, but the 49ers’ offensive line created very little room to run and gave up five tackles for losses.

DEFENSIVE LINE: D. Carson Palmer dropped back 49 times behind a bad offensive line, and the 49ers’ defensive line sacked Palmer no times. That doesn’t bode well for the playoffs. It seemed like the only time the 49ers got pressure on Palmer was when the Niners blitzed. The 49ers gave up two three-yard rushes on a couple of fourth-and-one plays. It’s not often the 49ers lose the battle at the line of scrimmage and win the game.

LINEBACKERS: B+. NaVorro Bowman mostly was terrific – a game-high 10 tackles, a pick, a sack, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery – but he gave up a 24-yard pass to Rob Housler over the middle on the Cardinals’ last drive. Patrick Willis was good, but also gave up a pass to Housler – Willis completely lost him and Palmer hit him for a 30-yard gain. Ahmad Brooks was disruptive when the Cardinals didn’t block him, but he finished the game with just three tackles.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: D. Carson Palmer’s passes were all over the place in the first quarter. But from the second quarter on, the 49ers gave up 373 passing yards, two touchdown catches and a 113 passer rating.

SPECIAL TEAMS: B+. Phil Dawson missed a field goal and Andy Lee shanked a punt in the fourth quarter which set up a go-ahead field goal for the Cardinals. But Dawson made three other field goals, including a 56-yarder and a 40-yard game winner. And LaMichael James was excellent returning punts and kicks. He averaged 15 yards per punt return, and he had a 45-yard kick return at the end of the game that set up the game-winning field goal.

COACHING: D. The plays Greg Roman scripted for the first quarter were clever and successful – wide receiver screens and reverses. Then he went away from those and tried some no-huddle offense. That didn’t work. The 49ers didn’t score a point in the second or third quarter and didn’t score a touchdown after the first quarter. The 49ers had two third-and-ones and a fourth-and-one. They ran up the middle all three times and converted none of them. No creativity from Roman on those play calls. On the defense, Vic Fangio probably didn’t call enough blitzes, but he’s in a tough spot if the 49ers’ can’t generate a consistent pass rush with their front-four because he does not have lock-down cornerbacks.

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