SANTA CLARA – On third-and-5 with 3:43 seconds left in the fourth quarter, Niners up by seven, Colin Kaepernick ran out of bounds after losing a yard, stopped the clock for the Chargers and set up Philip Rivers’ game-tying touchdown pass. No, Kaepernick hasn’t thrown a touchdown in the fourth quarter this season. But Rivers threw one today, and Kaepernick helped him do it. Give Kaepernick credit.
KAEPERNICK: D. That’s enough credit. Kaepernick ran well (finally), but he averaged just 4.8 yards per pass attempt and he committed two mistakes that directly contributed to the loss – fumbling near his own end zone and running out of bounds with 3:43 left. Kaepernick keeps making the same game-management mistakes which doesn’t speak well for him or his coaches.
RUNNING BACKS: A-. Six days after concussing himself against the Seahawks, Frank Gore had his best game since 2009. Anything Roman called for Gore worked – Bob Trey O, weak-side lead, strong-side lead, anything. I got to cover only the end of Gore’s career, but it has been a pleasure. What a strong will. Bruce Miller’s fumble in the red zone drops this group’s grade.
WIDE RECEIVERS: F. Anquan Boldin had 61 yards – nothing special. The second-leading receiver was Miller – two catches, 22 yards. The third-leading receivers were Quinton Patton and Alfonso Smith – each had 2 catches and 9 yards. Bruce Ellington had 1 catch for 8 yards and a TD before pulling his hamstring. He has shown nothing as a receiver, but he’s effective on fly sweeps and reverses.
TIGHT ENDS: C. Vernon Davis was important in the run game, both as a blocker and as a down-field decoy. He also made a beautiful 63-yard touchdown catch that was called back due to an illegal chop block penalty against Gore. Davis looked fast, powerful and motivated on that play. Of course, Kaepernick never threw him another pass.
OFFENSIVE LINE: B. Flat-out great in the run game, especially Mike Iupati, who is not-so-good in pass protection, but one of the best run blockers in football – no question. Joe Staley and Anthony Davis didn’t play well. They were flagged three times total for illegal formations.
DEFENSIVE LINE: B. Gave up just 4.1 yards per carry and zero rushing touchdowns despite the absence of NaVorro Bowman, Patrick Willis, Ahmad Brooks, Ray McDonald, Glenn Dorsey and Ian Williams.
LINEBACKERS: C. Aldon Smith loafed through yet another game. He is not half the player he used to be. Dan Skuta was the Niners’ best pass rusher. He sacked Rivers once and forced a fumble, but the Chargers recovered.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: D. Yes, they picked off Rivers three times and Antoine Bethea returned one for a touchdown. All three picks were thrown right to the Niners’ defensive backs. Give them credit for not dropping those. But they gave up four touchdown passes. The secondary fell apart once Eric Reid left the game with the third concussion of his two-year career. I’m hard on Reid because the Niners drafted him over better players, but Reid is not a bad player. He is decent. His replacement, Craig Dahl, is a bad player. Beyond bad, actually. He does not deserve an NFL pay check.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B. Perrish Cox returned a kickoff to the Chargers’ 45-yard line late in the fourth quarter and the offense still couldn’t score.
COACHES: F. For the 15th game in a row, the opponent’s coaches made better adjustments than the Niners’ coaches at halftime. Can they make it 16 in a row? Tune in next week to find out!
Grant Cohn writes sports columns and the “Inside the 49ers” blog for The Press Democrat’s website. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.