Jim Harbaugh on Sunday evening said that it seemed as if Alex Smith suffered his concussion on the quarterback sneak on fourth and one in the second quarter. In fact, Smith suffered three big hits on that series, starting with a blow to the back of his shoulder and helmet by linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar that appeared to stagger Smith briefly.
Smith also was sacked by Michael Brockers three plays later, and he seemed to come out of the pile a bit woozily after the sneak before collecting himself. It could be that that cumulative effect of those plays made his vision blurry on the sideline, which he reported to team doctors and which led to him being ruled out of the game.
That being said, Smith did not seem fuzzy on the play after the sneak. On the next play, he drops back quickly, sets his feet and fires a 19-yard pass over the middle to Michael Crabtree, Smith's longest completion of the game. Four plays after that, he hit Crabtree for the touchdown. Smith's teammates said they did not notice anything different about Smith on that drive, and some said they initially didn't know why he had been removed from the game. That is, there was nothing obvious that suggested Smith was concussed.
Would the 49ers have won, lost or tied if Smith remained in the game? Impossible to say. But it's hard to blame the tie on backup Colin Kaepernick, who shook off a wobbly start to lead three scoring drives in the second half (Ok, on one of them he merely handed the ball to Frank Gore).
Kaepernick may not have Smith's mastery of the offense or Smith's care with the football (He was saved by Bruce Miller on what would have been a crippling fumble.) But he's also willing and able to make throws Smith can't, such a 20-yarder to Mario Manningham in the fourth quarter. Kaepernick threw the ball from the right hash at the San Francisco 20-yard line and it arrived in Manningham's hands at the 40-yard line along the left sideline. That's a long, and very difficult throw to make and it's one that Smith never would attempt.
And, of course, Kaepernick can run. He gained 66 yards on the ground Sunday. On his touchdown run, he outraces James Laurinaitis, Craig Dahl and Cortland Finnegan to the pilon, all of whom initially have an angle on him. What other quarterback in this league can make that play? Michael Vick, Cam Newton?
One Kaepernick mistake that could have proven costly... his throw to Kyle Williams at the end of regulation. The Rams knew that with 11 seconds and no timeouts, the 49ers' only option was an all-or-nothing shot in the end zone, and most of their defense was camped out there. Kaepernick's pass, however, hit Williams five yards short of the end zone with three Rams ready to pounce. If Williams makes that catch, he gets tackled and the Rams win the game. Luckily for the 49ers, the pass seems to surprise him and it falls incomplete, stopping the clock for David Akers' game-tying field goal.
A similar tut-tut goes to Kendall Hunter who caught a short swing pass one play earlier and tried to get more yards upfield instead of running out of bounds. Doing the latter would have saved the 49ers a timeout and increased their options in the red zone.
The Rams were just much more aggressive to start the game. To me, it's the difference between being the underdog -- and having the persecution complex that goes with it -- and being the team everyone expects to win. The 49ers began the game with two plays for negative yardage. On the third, they had a very well-designed screen (a rarity for the 49ers) set up for Frank Gore. Gore gets the ball in the flat with the entire offensive line charging in front of them. But somehow that group, particularly Mike Iupati, allows Finnegan to slip through, and Finnegan disrupts Gore before he can build up any steam. Finnegan also slipped Iupati on an identical play in the second quarter.
Crabtree appears to be Smith's new favorite target. Smith went to him three times on that second-quarter drive, twice on third downs. Crabtree didn't pick up the first one on a 3rd and 15 scenario, but he came awfully close thanks to more hard-nosed running from Crabtree and good, downfield blocking by Vernon Davis and Manningham.
On defense, the best player might have been Ahmad Brooks, who held his edge well in the running game, made several tackles on Steven Jackson, particularly in the second half, and batted down three Sam Bradford passes. Along with the rest of the defensive line, nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga struggled early. He was blocked by a tight end/H-back on Steven Jackson's touchdown run. That's a matchup an athletic, 330-pound nose tackle needs to win.
The 49ers reacted as if they lost the game, but they were very lucky to emerge with a tie. The delay-of-game penalty that rubbed out Greg Zuerlein's initial field goal in overtime was razor-thin close -- the play clock barely expired when Johnny Hekker called for the snap. Also, Carlos Rogers could have been called for pass interference on the long play to Danny Amendola in overtime. Rogers tried to tackle Amendola when he realized he was beaten. That at least would have cancelled the Rams' illegal formation penalty on that play. That was a bad penalty for the Rams, obviously, made worse by the fact that they had the exact same call against them in the first quarter.
The Rams had 13 penalties for 85 yards; the 49ers had seven for 66 yards. St. Louis also had the ball for nearly 41 minutes. That's a lot of wear and tear for guys like Justin Smith, Ray McDonald, etc. Luckily for them, they have an extra day to recover.
-- Matt Barrows