NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Here are the grades for the 49ers’ 31-17 win over the Titans.
KAEPERNICK: A-. He threw some extremely accurate passes and ran exceptionally well. His passer rating was 93.2 and his yards-per-carry average was 6.2 – the highest in the game. He gets an A- and not an A because he made two poor throws in the second quarter when the 49ers were up just 3-0. First, Kaepernick forced a deep pass to Vernon Davis who was running a corner route and was double covered. Davis had no chance to catch the ball and it almost was intercepted. Five plays later Kaepernick threw an inaccurate pass deep into the end zone and Bernard Pollard picked it off, but the refs nullified the interception because Kaepernick was hit below the knees when he threw the ball. The game turned on this play. You could see it in the Titans’ faces. Three plays later, Kaepernick ran 20 yards for a touchdown and the 49ers took a crucial two-score lead.
RUNNING BACKS: B-. Frank Gore had two 1-yard touchdown runs but he averaged just 2.9 yards per carry. Gore came into the game leading the league with 11 runs of 15 yards or more, but his longest run against the Titans was 7 yards. Gore lost yards more than once on power runs off tackle. But he did catch two passes for 34 yards and he made a good block on Kaepernick’s touchdown run. Kendall Hunter did nothing, 4 carries for 6 yards. Dixon had one carry for 8 yards in garbage time. Bruce Miller had an excellent game blocking and he caught a pass for nine yards.
WIDE RECEIVERS: D+. Anquan Boldin was fantastic. He caught five passes for 74 yards and at least three of those catches were spectacular. One was a one-hander and one was a deep over-the-shoulder catch with Alterraun Verner all over him. No other wide receivers caught passes, as usual. Colin Kaepernick threw one pass to Kyle Williams and it looked like he fumbled it but the refs ruled it a drop.
TIGHT ENDS: A. Like Boldin, Vernon Davis made heavily contested catches. He had 4 catches for 62 yards and he would have had 100 yards receiving but Kaepernick over threw Davis once when he was open deep. Kaepernick also overthrew Vance McDonald deep. McDonald managed to catch one pass at the one-yard line, a 20-yard wobbler, which set up a one-yard touchdown run by Gore on the next play.
OFFENSIVE LINE: A. They gave Kaepernick a clean pocket most of the game. He took two sacks but both sacks came on scrambles or read-option runs. The offensive line did an admirable job creating holes up the middle against a good run defense that was loading the box with eight and sometimes nine defenders.
DEFENSIVE LINE: B. They gave up 4.3 yards per carry to Chris Johnson and they gave up 4.8 yards per carry to him in the first quarter. But then the 49ers’ offense took a two-score lead and forced the Titans to abandon their run game and become one-dimensional. The 49ers’ offense, not their defense, shut down the Titans’ run game. The 49ers’ defensive line did a better job rushing the passer than stopping the run. Justin Smith had two sacks. Before this game he had .5 sacks.
LINEBACKERS: A-. Patrick Willis gave up a long catch to Delanie Walker but besides that play Willis played well, leading the team with nine tackles. On his best play, he tackled Johnson for a four-yard loss on a screen play. NaVorro Bowman also played well, six tackles. Ahmad Brooks sacked Jake Locker once and tipped one of his passes.
SECONDARY: B-. Both Tarell Brown and Tramaine Brock gave up deep catches down the sideline and Carlos Rogers gave up nine catches and 98 receiving yards to Kendall Wright. Brock picked off one pass but it wasn’t a spectacular play, it was an underthrown pass. Reid played well and when he left the game with an ankle injury Chris Johnson immediately ran through the entire 49ers’ defense for a 66-yard touchdown. Donte Whitner left the game with a knee injury. Reid and Whitner are the two best players in the 49ers’ secondary. The 49ers need both of them to be healthy.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A. Kyle Williams didn’t do anything as a punt returner. His specialty was the fair catch. And that was OK in this game. The Titans could have used him. Their returner, Darius Reynaud, was the worst player on the field. He fumbled a punt in the fourth quarter and Kassim Osgood recovered it in the end zone for a game-ending touchdown.
COACHING: A-. The 49ers’ offensive game plan was terrific. The read-option had been on ice the past few weeks but they used it today and it was their most effective running play by far. The 49ers called the read-option on some third downs and on consecutive series in the red zone, and that’s a big reason why the 49ers were 5-for-10 on third down and 2-for-2 in the red zone.
The coaches get an A- and not an A because they went conservative in the second half and almost let the Titans back in the game. The 49ers had a 24-0 lead halfway through the third quarter. Conservative play calling by the Niners allowed the Titans to score 10 unanswered points. The Titans were down 14 points with 6:29 left in the fourth quarter when they forced the 49ers to punt. Of course, that’s when Reynaud fumbled the punt and the 49ers recovered it for a touchdown. If Reynaud hadn’t fumbled or if the Titans had had another returner, anyone besides Reynaud, the Titans may have gotten back in the game – Locker’s passer rating was 135.2 in the fourth quarter – 10-for-16 for 159 yards and two touchdowns and no interceptions.