The Niners came into Week Thirteen with basically no shot at winning the NFC West and, given the very competitive NFC, found themselves suddenly in danger of missing the playoffs entirely. As such, this game was a must-win, and the team responded in kind with a dominating 23-13 win that earned them a bunch of awards.
The Joe Montana Award (Coolest Player on the Field): Colin Kaepernick
As the Niners offense has struggled during much of the season, Colin Kaepernick has come to be one of the most criticized and dissected players in the NFL. Some of it has been justified, some less so. Yesterday, though, he looked probably the best he has since the Green Bay game in Week One. He completed 19 of 28 passes for 275 yards and one touchdown, throwing the ball efficiently and, what’s more, looking cool and collected while doing so. That last part is especially impressive because, after Joe Staley suffered a knee injury on the first series, the Niners had three offensive linemen playing out of position, and Kaepernick was sacked four times and had to scramble away from pressure on numerous occasions. But he never got rattled, as he has a couple of times this year, and he gave a performance that was very much in line with what we expected from him coming into this season.
The Jesus Christ Award (Most Anticipated Return): Michael Crabtree
The team’s struggles in the passing game (Niners wide receivers came into this game last in the NFL in receptions, yards, and TDs) have led to San Francisco fans pining for Crabtree’s return with a fervency usually reserved for fans of Jesus. He (Crabtree, not Jesus) played his first game of the season today, and while he didn’t fill the stat sheet (just two catches for 68 yards), he looked like the old Crabtree when he caught a 60-yard pass on a double move. What’s more, while this is hard to confirm without the coach’s tapes, it sure seemed like the other receivers had more room to work with today. With Crabtree, Boldin, Manningham, and Davis all healthy, the Niners have their full collection of receivers for the first time in 2013. I don’t know that we’re going to heaven … er, the Super Bowl … now, but this sure seems to be a positive development.
The Terrell Owens Award (Wide Receiver Who Steals the Spotlight): Anquan Boldin
Longtime Niners fans will surely remember the final home game of the 2000 season. The Niners had already been eliminated from the playoffs, and legendary receiver Jerry Rice’s contract was about to end, meaning that this was Rice’s last home game at Candlestick. The Chicago Bears figured the Niners would do everything they could to get Rice the ball and threw all their coverage at him. Terrell Owens, who by that time had supplanted Rice as the team’s best receiver, ended up catching a then-NFL record 20 passes for 283 yards.
Yesterday’s game didn’t have quite those kinds of fireworks, but with all the pregame hype surrounding Crabtree’s return, Anquan Boldin came out and had a typical Anquan Boldin effort: Nine catches for 98 yards, including a number of key third down conversions on the team’s first touchdown drive. Plus, he was talking A LOT of shit, which I think led to a Rams defensive back trying to throw an extra hard hit at him on that drive, a hit that resulted in a key 15-yard penalty. Great effort from Boldin–exactly what we’ve come to expect from him.
The Gary Plummer Award (For the Play that Shifted the Momentum): Anthony Dixon
Late in the third quarter, the Niners had the ball deep in Rams territory following Crabtree’s 60-yard catch, only to give the ball right back to St. Louis on a Frank Gore fumble. With the score still just 16-6, it seemed like a key play. But the Rams went three-and-out, and on fourth down tried a fake punt. The play they drew up was a reverse, but Anthony Dixon, normally a third-string running back who takes the garbage time handoffs, read the play, blew it up, and then made a huge tackle. A great play by Dixon, one that shows how important quality depth is to a football team. The Niners had the ball inside the Rams 20, and put the game away with a Vernon Davis touchdown. Speaking of which…
The Jackie Joyner-Kersee Award (Hurdling): Vernon Davis
Davis made two plays that exhibited his amazing athleticism. In the first quarter he hurdled a Rams defender in the midst of an impressive run after the catch, and then on the Niners final TD, he did it again, leaping over a Rams defensive back at the goal line. This one was so great, it gets a GIF:
For his hurdling efforts (and for the hit he took in the third quarter that almost removed his manly parts), he gets an award named after former Olympic heptathlete Jackie Joyner-Kersee. Congrats, VD–though I’m pretty sure he’s only happy about one part of this award.
Overall Rating For This Game (On a scale of Zero to Twelve Anchors, in honor of San Francisco’s favorite beverage): 6 Anchors
The Rams had been playing really well of late–they had scored 80 points over their last two games, both wins, one of them at Indianapolis–and they are a physical team that gave the Niners fits last year. But, as they did earlier in the year at St. Louis, and last week at Washington, the Niners defense came out and physically dominated the opposition. Combined with the way the offense seemed to be clicking better than at pretty much any other point this season, I think this win deserves a full six-pack.
Not that I’m fully satisfied, mind you. The Niners now stand at 8-4, remaining in sole possession of the final NFC playoff spot, with their biggest test of the season looming next week: the rematch with Seattle. The P.E.D.-hawks are 10-1 (pending Monday night) and have killed the Niners twice in a row, but San Francisco will be getting their chief rivals at Candlestick, on a short week, following what is a huge matchup for Seattle–a game against the Saints that could determine homefield advantage throughout the playoffs. I’m really happy with how the Niners looked today, but if they want to be considered true Super Bowl contenders, they HAVE to win next Sunday. We shall see.