LANDOVER, MD - The 49ers' long-struggling offense didn't exactly "pop" as coordinator Greg Roman predicted it would in the run up to Monday's game. But it definitely showed signs of expansion during the 27-6 win over the Redskins, especially in the second half.
Colin Kaepernick, limited to dinks and dunks in the team's previous two games, finally was able to flex his right arm against a leaky Redskins defense, and he hit favorite targets Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis for touchdowns after halftime. Boldin finished with 94 receiving yards and two touchdowns, his best performance since a 208-yard debut for the 49ers in Week 1.
The key performer, however, was Kaepernick, who was facing his first real scrutiny since taking over as starter last season, including from former 49ers-quarterbacks-turned ESPN analysts Steve Young and Trent Dilfer, who were watching from the sideline on Monday.
Kaepernick finished with 235 yards - only the third time he's broken the 200-yard barrier this season - and perhaps more important was able to gain big chunks of yardage with the 49ers ground game bottled up and finishing with only 76 yards. Kaepernick had a 134.5 passer rating, the best of his career.
Afterward Jim Harbaugh said he noticed his quarterback's resolve during the week of practice and complimented Kaepernick on Thursday. "Very strong, very tough," Harbaugh said of Kaepernick. "Some people have baby deer skin. Some people have armadillo skin. He's got armadillo skin. It was just strong, good leadership."
One of the main criticisms of Kaepernick is that he hasn't been going through his progressions after dropping back and is locking in on one target.
At the Redskins' 6-yard line in the third quarter, however, Kaepernick's first read was to his left. When that wasn't available, he started moving to his right to avoid pressure, at the same time keeping his eyes on potential targets in the end zone. Boldin finally broke free, and the quarterback fired a pass into the receiver's belly. "Great job of reading the coverage and throwing it to the one-on-one coverage," Harbaugh said.
Over the last two weeks, the formula for beating San Francisco has been to stack the line of scrimmage against Frank Gore and the running game and take your chances with Kaepernick beating you deep.
He couldn't do that in recent losses to Carolina and New Orleans. Against the Panthers, his longest pass play was just 14 yards. A week later against the Saints it was 17 yards. Against the Redskins, however, Kaepernick had five completions of 20 or more yards, including a 40-yard pass to his best deep threat, Davis, who finished with four catches for 70 yards, including a 1-yard touchdown in the third quarter.
Boldin and Davis remain the only 49ers who have caught touchdown passes this year. Still, Kaepernick did a better job of working others into the passing offense. Five of the quarterback's first six passes were to Mario Manningham, who entered the game with just 38 receiving yards but had 35 yards at the end of the first quarter.
After sputtering on the 49ers' first two drives, Kaepernick hit Manningham with an 11-yard pass on third down. Then he went to his favorite target, Boldin, on a 24-yard pass that Boldin snatched over the head of the Redskins cornerback Josh Wilson. On the next play, Wilson became turned around while covering Boldin, and Kaepernick hit the receiver in the corner of the end zone for 19 yards
With the win, the 49ers remain in control of a playoff seed in the NFC and keep pace with the division rival Cardinals, who also are 7-4. The 49ers currently hold a tiebreaker against Arizona after beating them in October. They visit the Cardinals in the season finale.
"We feel like our destiny's in our hands," Boldin said. "If we come out and take care of business, we write our own story."
-- Matt Barrows