49ers Blog and Q&A

News, notes and reader questions about the San Francisco 49ers

January 14, 2014
Film review: 49ers' momentum moment; Fangio's genius; Iupati surges

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One of the the most critical moments in Sunday's game came on the third play. Everything was going Carolina's way. Frank Gore was stuffed on first down. On second down, Michael Crabtree was thrown down hard after a short catch and had to leave the game, his arm dangling at his side, the result of a possible stinger.

But facing third and 10, Colin Kaepenick got excellent pass protection from his offensive line and found rookie Quinton Patton for a 23-yard gain. The 49ers went on to kick a field goal on the drive. It was Patton's only catch of the game, but it was a huge one that staved off what could have been a Panthers' avalanche of momentum early on.

It's the kind of play the 49ers must make early in Seattle where the Seahawks positively go into a feeding frenzies when opponents make mistakes early in games. To wit: The 49ers' first seven drives in Seattle in Week 2: punt, interception, punt, punt, safety, fumble, punt. The first four drives of their Week 16 loss in 2011: punt, punt, blocked field for a TD, punt.

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The 49ers need to give Vic Fangio a game ball. He rarely calls blitzes, but when he does they are usually very effective. NaVorro Bowman's critical sack of Cam Newton in the the third quarter and Dan Skuta's sack in the fourth both came on one of the few 49ers blitzes of the game. Fangio has a rare personality trait in today's NFL - he's patient. And it's as if he lulls offenses to sleep just before pouncing with a blitz at key moments. It was a very smartly coached defensive game for San Francisco.

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I wrote about the offensive line's dominance in my game story from Carolina. The left side of the line, Joe Staley and Mike Iupati, deserve special notice, especially Iupati, who has dealt with injuries this season and has had a down season for him.

Whenever the 49ers needed some hard-earned yards, they went left in the game. Kaepernick's touchdown run went to the left where Iupati sealed off the inside of the line. On Gore's big run in the fourth quarter, Iupati got an initial block on a lineman, then got to the second level to take out inside linebacker Luke Kuechly. In the second half, Iupati dominated whichever Panthers lineman was across from him. He is playing his best football at the most critical point of the season.

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Back to Crabtree. He definitely was hurting at the start of the game. He didn't extend for a third-down pass that was in his vicinity and, more than that, he didn't have the feistiness that has been his calling card in recent years. Still, he made an excellent catch - leaping up and extending both arms - for 20 yards on the team's end-of-half touchdown drive. It could be that his shoulder felt better as the game went on, which can be the nature of stingers. We likely won't get an indication of whether the injury will linger until the 49ers' first practice report is released late Wednesday afternoon.

Captain Munnerlyn didn't technically drag fullback Will Tukuafu down with an illegal horse collar tackle after Tukuafu's two-yard catch. The hand that dragged him down from behind was not in the collar of his jersey. But it was slightly below that spot between the 4 and the 8 on his jersey and the effect - an awkward takedown in which the defender was spread across the ball carrier's legs - was the same.

That's a pet peeve on mine. Officials are eager to throw flags on ticky tacky penalties where no one is at risk. (See: Skuta penalty; fourth quarter). But because the Tukuafu sequence wasn't technically a penalty as the rules are written, it was a perfectly legal play.

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Pinned against his own end zone, Kaepernick nearly threw a pick six to safety Quintin Mikell at the end of the first quarter. Mikell, however, dropped the pass. You'll recall that Green Bay defensive backs also dropped two potential interceptions last week. The Seahawks haven't blown those chances in previous meetings with the 49ers. Kaepernick has thrown four interceptions against one touchdown in two trips to Seattle.

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It was a rough game for cornerback Tramaine Brock. He couldn't keep the edge on a Newton scramble on Panthers' first long drive. He also had a holding call on a stop-and-go-deep route by Ted Ginn. Of course, if he hadn't have held, Ginn would have had a 48-yard touchdown.

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Andy Lee had an excellent punt from his own end zone late in the first quarter. But it was followed by a rare lapse by gunner C.J. Spillman to allow Ginn to get outside of him and an even worse one by Corey Lemonier who had an angle on Ginn but who also allowed Ginn to the outside. On the next play, Newton hit Steve Smith for a touchdown. After the punt return, Patrick Willis ran up to Lemonier and gave him some pointed coaching.

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I've mined this topic several times in the last few years, but I feel it bears mentioning again. Vernon Davis was a terrible pass catcher when he first arrived in Santa Clara. There's no way a young Davis ever would have made the toe-tapping catch that gave the 49ers a touchdown, the lead and the momentum going into halftime. Early in his career, Davis had speed and brute strength and not much else. But he had the force of will to change himself, and the alteration he's made over the years is stark and impressive.

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Number of false starts against the 49ers offense in the playoffs: 0. That's kind of a big deal heading into Seattle. I've heard it can get loud there.

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The Battle in Seattle. The Stink at the Clink. The Emerald Apocalypse. Unrest in the Northwest. (Ok, that one was really bad). Join me at 11 a.m. to talk all things 49ers-Seahawks. Www.sacbee.com/live.



MATTHEW BARROWS

Matt was born in Blacksburg, Va., and attended the University of Virginia. He graduated in 1995, went to Northwestern for a journalism degree a year later, and got his first job at a South Carolina daily in 1997. He joined The Bee as a Metro reporter in 1999 and started covering the 49ers in 2003. His favorite player of all time is Darrell Green.

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