Here are my grades for the 49ers’ 33-14 win over the Buccaneers.
KAEPERNICK: B+. He was outstanding at improvising and passing on the run. He struggled in the third quarter (3-of-10 passing) when the 49ers asked him to pass almost exclusively from the pocket – his accuracy deteriorated, his passes got tipped and he stared down his first read. But in the fourth quarter, Kaepernick moved outside the pocket and made unbelievable plays – rolling to his right and throwing off his back foot to Crabtree for a 14-yard gain on third-and-12 to save the game in the fourth quarter, and breaking two tackles on a 10-yard scramble on third-and-6 to put the game away later in that drive.
RUNNING BACKS: B+. Frank Gore averaged just 3.9 yards per carry, but he had three big runs – a 10-yarder, a 12-yarder and a 13-yarder. And the Bucs could not handle Kendal Hunter or LaMichael James on outside runs – Hunter had a 15-yard outside run and James had a 21-yard outside run. Bruce Miller had four catches for 26 yards and he broke a tackle.
WIDE RECEIVERS: C. Anquan Boldin had only three catches. Michael Crabtree had five catches and a touchdown, but his 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty for throwing the ball in the stands was one of the dumbest penalties you’ll ever see. And Mario Manningham was a non-factor yet again – one measly catch for two measly yards.
TIGHT ENDS: B. Vernon Davis had another good game – five catches for 79 yards and a touchdown. He has scored a touchdown in five straight games. Garrett Celek caught one pass for eight yards.
OFFENSIVE LINE: B. Adam Snyder had no chance against Gerald McCoy. McCoy tossed him around most of the game, but Kaepernick only got sacked twice and the 49ers averaged 4.7 yards per carry. This group blocked extremely well “in space” on outside runs to the left. On the negative side, Joe Staley got beaten badly for a sack.
DEFENSIVE LINE: A-. They helped eliminate the Bucs’ ground game, which gained 39 yards on 12 carries. They also sacked Mike Glennon four times, but at least three of those sacks happened because Glennon held onto the ball for too long.
LINEBACKERS: A. Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman were excellent – Willis had six tackles and a sack, Bowman had 4 tackles and he knocked away a pass. Ahmad Brooks didn’t get any sacks but he forced Glennon to throw it away a few times.
SECONDARY: C. They gave up a 106 passer rating before the Bucs fumbled the kickoff in the fourth quarter and gave the 49ers a big lead. The 49ers cornerbacks played soft coverage and gave up a lot of short passes. The entire defense struggled when the game was close and the Bucs used their no-huddle offense. That’s something to monitor the rest of the season – how the 49ers’ defends the hurry-up offense. Also, Donte Whitner played a bad game. He slipped in coverage and was flagged 15 yards for hitting a player in the head.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A. Phil Dawson was a perfect 4-for-4 on field goals. LaMichael James was terrific on punt returns, averaging more than 10 yards a return. And Kendall Hunter recovered a Bucs’ fumble on a kickoff and recovered it in the end zone for a touchdown.
COACHING: B+. Give Jim Harbaugh and his staff credit for getting the 49ers up to play an early game on the east coast after a big win over the Seahawks. Not easy to do.
Still, the 49ers were stubborn making Kaepernick throw only from the pocket in the third quarter. Kaepernick was way more accurate when he threw on the run, and Snyder was getting beaten by McCoy inside. Moving the pocket was smart and it was working. The 49ers stopped doing it in the third quarter and scored just three points, allowing the Bucs back in the game.
The 49ers had only a six-point lead at the beginning of the fourth quarter. Kaepernick bailed out the team by improvising after avoiding a sack on third-and-12 at the 49ers’ 29-yard-line. He rolled out and made one of the best side-arm passes of the season. If Kaepernick doesn’t make the heroic effort and convert that third-and-long, who knows if the 49ers hold on and win?