The Niners came into this weekend’s game with a playoff spot clinched, but with at least a little bit to play for. A Niners win plus a Seadderall PEDhawks loss would have given the San Francisco the NFC West title and a bye, whereas a Niners loss and a Saints win would have bumped S.F. down to the six seed. Meanwhile, Arizona still had hopes for a playoff spot, though they were slim—they needed the Saints to lose at home to Tampa.
By halftime, it was pretty clear that the Saints and Seabitches were both going to take care of business, meaning the Niners’ seeding was the only matter of import. It turned out I missed the majority of the game because I was on a plane and was “stuck” watching the wildly entertaining Packers-Bears game, but I saw enough to give out a few awards.
The Jerry Rice Award (Most Dominant Player on the Field): Anquan Boldin
Despite Arizona initially having more to play for, the Niners jumped right down the Cardinals’ throats, posting a 17-0 first quarter. The lion’s share of the credit for that early burst goes to Boldin, who had six catches for 106 yards and a TD in the first quarter alone—including a 63-yard catch and run and that TD, a four yard catch on a back shoulder throw that had me telling my attorney that I’d take Boldin on a jump ball over any receiver in the NFL outside of Calvin Johnson.
If all that’s not enough, Boldin also had a huge 18-yard reception on the final drive of the game to help set up the game-winning field goal. He finished with nine catches for 149 yards, and for the season he had 85 receptions for 1,179 yards and seven TDs. You think maybe the Ravens, who went 8-8 and missed the playoffs, regret that trade a bit?
The Gary Plummer Award (For the Play that Shifted the Momentum): Quinton Patton
Arizona had kicked a field goal to tie the game at 20 with 29 seconds left. The Niners responded with three consecutive huge plays: a 41-yard LaMichael James’ kickoff return that looked for a moment like he was going to take it to the house; Boldin’s 18-yard reception; and the biggest play of all, an incredible leaping, tightrope-walk of a sideline catch Patton made to gain 22 yards and put the team in field goal range. GIF time:
Patton’s catch reminded me a bit of the old NFL Films clips of Lynn Swann in the Super Bowl, and with Mario Manningham now on IR and out for the season, it gave Niners fans hope that the rookie receiver could potentially be a contributor as a third receiver in the playoffs.
The Joe Montana Award (Coolest Player on the Field): Phil Dawson
Dawson wins this award for the second time this year! He missed a 24-yard chip shot in the first half, breaking his streak of 27 field goals made in a row. Replays showed that holder Andy Lee didn’t get the laces of the football turned out, which, as we all know, can turn a kicker into a cross-dressing mascot kidnapper.
Dawson avoided Ray Finkle’s fate (and saved Andy Lee from dying of gonorrhea and rotting in hell) by bouncing back from the early miss to hit two clutch fourth quarter kicks—a 56-yarder to give the Niners the lead, then a 40-yarder on the game’s final play to hand his team a 23-20 victory. Throw in James’ big return, and San Francisco has to feel pretty good about its special teams heading into the playoffs.
And yes, Colin Kaepernick gets an honorable mention for throwing for 310 yards and for leading the quick-strike drive to get that last field goal. Though I will point out that only the Niners could manage to get a delay of game penalty during a two-minute drill.
Overall Rating For This Game (On a scale of Zero to Twelve Anchors, in honor of San Francisco’s favorite beverage): 3 Anchors
And so it comes to this: The Niners victory locked them into the five seed, meaning that, thanks to the Packers dramatic victory over the Bears just minutes earlier, San Francisco will be heading to Lambeau Field for the semi-annual Niners-Packers Holy War. The Niners have beaten the Packers three straight times, with Kaepernick devastating them on the ground and through the air in the last two, and Green Bay’s defense looks atrocious, and the Packers barely made the playoffs at 8-7-1, and … I’m still terrified of this game. Damn you and your finally-healed-after-seven-weeks-just-in-time-to-make-the-playoffs collarbone, Aaron Rodgers. Want to feel sick to your stomach? Watch this GIF twenty times in a row, like I just did.