a 32-20 victory over the Arizona Cardinals where they certainly didn't play their prettiest game of the year, but once again they made every necessary play to win the game.
After being mostly ineffective over the past two games due to a hamstring injury, Vernon Davis had the kind of statement game he's often capable of having. Davis has often been a lost man in the offense; he didn't quite click with Colin Kaepernick late last season before appearing more prominently in the Playoffs and Super Bowl. This season, he and Kap started out on the same page on Opening Day, but Davis went down with an injury in Week 2, missed week 3 and despite catching Touchdown passes in Weeks 4 and 5, still wasn't quite 100%. Sunday, he looked every bit like the freakish talent he's known to be, running up 180 yards on 8 catches, and scoring twice, once on a 61-yard pass and later on a 35-yard pass.
Davis certainly carried the day for the offense, helping Colin Kaepernick to his best game in several weeks, netting 252 yards in spite of turning the ball over twice. The defense was, as it has been all season, a group effort. Eric Reid and Carlos Rogers intercepted Carson Palmer passes and the defense forced a pair of huge, momentum-turning fumbles in the 2nd half, preventing the very game Arizona Cardinals from getting too close down the stretch.
Colin Kaepernick and the offense seem to just have a 1st Quarter thing, because despite the 2 interceptions setting the 49ers up with great Field Position, they couldn't move the ball and each time settled for Field Goals. This bit them in the ass when Larry Fitzgerald scored a Touchdown on a 75-yard Broken Play, where Fitzgerald does what he usually does and break tackles and make defenders miss. The ensuing 49ers drive appeared destined for points, but Kaepernick's pass for Bruce Miller near the goal line was tipped and intercepted by Yeremiah Bell. Fortunately, Bell was ruled down by contact at the Arizona 1 yard line. This proved important a few plays later when, backed up at their own goal line, Palmer dropped back to pass and was eventually sacked for a rarely-seen Safety by hard-charging Rookie Corey Lemonier, giving the 49ers an incongruous 8-7 lead. Given the ball, the 49ers capitalized on the ensuing drive when Kaepernick hit Davis for a 61-yard Touchdown.
The Cardinals didn't go down easy, though. After Davis' long score, the Cardinals responded with their own 3-play touchdown drive, culminating with Andre Ellington's 15-yard run to make it a 15-14 game. Davis' second score came later in the quarter to extend the 49ers lead to 22-14, and it could have been more had Kap not fumbled while in the midst of a 2-minute drill. Arizona took the ball near midfield and Palmer immediately bombed the ball down to Malcolm Floyd for a Touchdown. Except that Floyd got called for interference, taking the score off the board and sending the game into the half at 22-14.
The 49ers came out of the gate slow in the 2nd half and allowed the Cardinals to rip down the field for a score on their first possession. This time, they scored a Touchdown and attempted a 2-point conversion that would have tied the game. But a gadget play call resulted in an interception, and the 49ers maintained their slim lead. Still unable to get going on Offense, they were forced into a situation where the Defense had to make a big play. The Cardinals were embarking on another methodical drive down the field, converting multiple 3rd downs while slowly chewing up yardage. But as they creeped past the 49ers 30 yard line, the defense finally made that big play, as Patrick Willis, finally back from his groin injury, stripped the ball from Fitzgerald, who subsequently kicked it away, allowing Eric Reid to eventually come up with the ball and stop the Cardinals in their tracks. This kind of took the air out of the Arizona tires, as the 49ers were then able to ram Frank Gore down their throats insistently, working down the field on an 18-play drive that ate up an astonishing 9:32 of game clock and resulted with Kendall Hunter scoring a clinching touchdown and getting body slammed by a clearly frustrated Tyrann Mathieu. Arizona's last-gasp possession also ended in a Fumble, and the 49ers ran off more clock before Phil Dawson kicked an academic Field Goal to cap off a 32-20 victory that could have been hairier than it ended up.
I'm still not convinced that the 49ers are really playing their best. Kaepernick's play continues to be inconsistent, and he's been helped by the fact that the defense has forced 12 turnovers in the past 3 games, allowing him to work with a lot of short fields. He's been dealing with a foot issue that may be limiting his mobility, but for whatever reason that's barely been talked about. Also, Vernon Davis being healthy again has provided him with an additional target, rather than forcing him to focus solely on Anquan Boldin. The other receivers, Quinton Patton, Kyle Williams and Doug Baldwin continue to be mostly ineffective role players. Fortunately, Mario Manningham is just about ready to return, although it still remains to be seen just how effective he will be. I expect that Kaepernick's performances will continue to improve as he gets more weapons to work with, which is important because the 49ers have a few really tough games coming up in November and December. For now, they have a pair of upcoming road games against AFC South opponents, next Sunday in Tennessee and then a trip across the pond to London where they'll meet the woeful Jacksonville Jaguars. That should be interesting.