SANTA CLARA – The 49ers beat the Eagles 26-21 Sunday afternoon. Here are the 49ers’ grades.
KAEPERNICK: B-. Made both of the 49ers’ touchdowns happen. On the first one he scrambled left, drew the Eagles’ entire defense and threw back to the right, across the whole field to Frank Gore who was wide open. One of the most thrilling plays you’ll see. Next, Kaepernick scrambled to the left and threw a perfect pass to Stevie Johnson in the front-left corner of the end zone. Not many quarterbacks make those plays. But not many quarterbacks make the mistakes Kaepernick made in this game, either. Big Mistake No.1: He threw a pick-six to a safety standing right in front of him – a Matt-Schaub throw. Big Mistake No.2: Kaepernick wasted a timeout on fourth-and-two from the Eagles’ 43. He was trying to draw the Eagles offside and should have taken the Delay of Game penalty. Andy Lee ended up punting the ball into the end zone for a touchback. Big Mistake No.3: Kaepernick was flagged for Delay of Game on third-and-3 from the Eagles’ 11 with a little more than seven minutes to go, Niners up by two. If it was third-and-3, the 49ers could have taken a shot into the end zone to put away the game. But the penalty made it third-and-8. Greg Roman called a run for Carlos Hyde who gained three yards. The 49ers settled for the field goal and left the Eagles a chance to come back and win. Kaepernick is lucky his clock-management mistakes didn’t cost the 49ers the game.
RUNNING BACKS: B+. Frank Gore’s best game in five years. Gained 174 total yards from scrimmage. Hasn’t gained that many yards since he gained 177 against the Cardinals in 2009. Patiently waited for holes to open and exploded through them inside and outside the tackles. Carlos Hyde did not patiently wait for holes to open. He was in a hurry to gain 26 rushing yards on 10 carries.
WIDE RECEIVERS: B. Surprised they didn’t play better considering the cornerbacks they faced. Michael Crabtree and Anquan Boldin each caught just five passes, although Boldin made a beautiful 23-yard catch with one hand near the right sideline and Crabtree made a 25-yard catch down the left sideline. Brandon Lloyd twisted and caught a 23-yard pass over the middle Kaepernick threw behind him. Stevie Johnson caught one pass – a 12-yard TD. He barely kept his feet in bounds. Tough grab. Bruce Ellington didn’t receive any targets but received a handoff on a jet sweep and gained 15 yards. That’s a good way to get Ellington involved. Defenses have to respect Frank Gore running up the middle. He creates space for Ellington around the outside.
TIGHT ENDS: C-. Vernon Davis mostly was a slow decoy before he left the game with a back injury. And Derek Carrier caught just one pass. But he was an effective run blocker after Davis left.
OFFENSIVE LINE: B. Allowed constant pressure and five sacks (one was called back due to an Eagles’ penalty). But the offensive line pushed around a good run defense and continued to push them around into the fourth quarter after the 49ers’ offense had kept the ball for more than 40 minutes. The offensive line never seemed to get tired.
DEFENSIVE LINE: A-. Bullied the Eagles’ backup offensive linemen and crushed the Eagles’ running game. Justin Smith hit quarterback Nick Foles twice and Ian Williams chased him out of bounds for a four-yard loss and the 49ers’ only sack of the game. Otherwise, the defensive line did not generate much pass rush. Chip Kelly did the 49ers a favor sticking with his run game as long as he did.
LINEBACKERS: A-. Aaron Lynch took Corey Lemonier’s job as the right defensive end in the 49ers’ Nickel defense and played pretty well. He hit Foles twice and had one tackle for a loss. Collectively, this group gave up just six catches to the Eagles’ tight ends and running backs for 45 yards. Kelly did the 49ers a favor calling just two passes for Darren Sproles. And Foles did the Niners a favor overthrowing Brent Celek, who was open in the back-left corner of the end zone on third-and-goal from the 1-yard line with two minutes left in the game.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: A-. The best this group has played this season. Allowed a 42.3 passer rating. Jimmie Ward gave up a few catches but no touchdowns. Baby steps. Antoine Bethea and Perrish Cox each made two interceptions and Chris Culliver gave up no deep catches. Kelly did the Niners a favor by taking just one deep shot in Culliver’s direction. Foles did the 49ers a favor by overthrowing the deep pass and missing Riley Cooper who was a few steps past Culliver.
SPECIAL TEAMS: F. Allowed the Eagles to block a punt and recover it in the end zone for a touchdown. Allowed Darren Sproles to return a punt 82 yards for a touchdown. When has the 49ers’ punt team ever played this poorly under Jim Harbaugh and Brad Seely? The punt team’s worst play may have been in the fourth quarter when Andy Lee punted into the middle of the end zone from 43 yards away. Lee didn’t try to kick the punt out of bounds and pin the Eagles inside their 10-yard line. Inexplicable.
COACHES: A-. They get a minus because both of their challenges failed. The Niners’ challenges seem to fail most of the time. They get an “A” because they stuck with the base running game even after Vernon Davis left. In other words, the 49ers coaches did what they should have done last week. If they had stuck with the base running game against the Cardinals, the Niners probably would have won that game, too. Kudos to Jim Harbaugh and his offensive staff. They learned from their mistakes and reestablished the 49ers’ identity.