The San Francisco 49ers used the reliable legs of Frank Gore and Colin Kaepernick to run over the Miami Dolphins in a slugfest Sunday at Candlestick Park.
It was a day full of debuts and milestones as the 49ers improved their NFC West leading record to (9-3-1) with a 27-13 victory.
A week after making two tragic mistakes (safety, overthrown pitch) that cost the team a win in St. Louis, Kaepernick displayed a low risk, game manager style of play. However, with 2:10 left in the fourth quarter the agile quarterback displayed his big play capability that earned him the starting role, running 50 yards through the Miami defense on a read option play for the game sealing touchdown.
The 50 yard TD run equaled the 49er quarterback record long… which Kaepernick set just one week earlier in St. Louis.
The read option (in which the QB reads the defense’s zone coverage on weather to hand the ball to the RB up the middle, or keep the ball himself and rush towards the outside) wore down the Miami defense in the second half as the 49ers’ running game amassed 117 of its 155 yards and three touchdowns after halftime.
The most prominent play of the game came in the third quarter when San Francisco’s C.J. Spillman recovered a muffed punt at the Miami nine yard line. Two plays later Gore burst through the middle of the line to record the fiftieth rushing touchdown of his career, matching Joe Perry and Roger Craig for the most in franchise history.
That was not the only record Gore set on the day.
With 63 yards rushing in the game, Gore’s season total surpassed 1,000 yards for the sixth time of his career, the most of any 49er.
“It’s a blessing,” the resilient Gore stated after the game. “‘When you see everybody say, ‘When you turn 29, 30, you can’t do it anymore.’ When I got to 29, I told myself, I’m going to overcome that.”
Rookie LaMichael James was active for the first time of his young career, filling in as a kick returner and change of pace running back to Gore. James showcased the lightning quick feet and dekes that propelled him to be the second round draft selection of San Francisco in April’s NFL draft as he gained 45 yards of offense on eight carries and one reception.
“I’ve got those fresh legs.” James said after being inactive for the team’s first 12 games. “At this level, those guys have been pounding for two or three months and today was my first day being tackled, so I’ve got a little bit of an advantage, and I’ll take it.”
Kaepernick was glad to take it as well. “He opens up a lot of things for this offense,” the quarterback said of his new weapon in the backfield.
The 49ers’ league leading scoring defense allowed less than 20 points for the eighth time this season, and surrendered only 227 yards of total offense to the Dolphins.
Safety Donte Whitner set the tone for the ferocious defensive unit with a body slam of running back Reggie Bush in the open field that would make any professional wrestler grin in admiration.
“When you’re physical as a defense, it gives the offense something else to think about. Not just your scheme, not just the pass rushers. They’ve got to think about protecting themselves when they’re around the football. And that’s the way we play the game.” Whitner proclaimed.
One cause for concern during the game was the 49ers’ lack of execution converting on third down, going just one-for-nine before Kaepernick’s long touchdown run at the end of the game.
“It was a big third down conversion. We’d been struggling on third downs. And to get that one to pop and get the touchdown was great,” downplayed Jim Harbaugh.
San Francisco will need to solve their third down conundrum if they are going to be successful on their two game road trip.
The next two weeks will likely shape the 49ers’ playoff picture with games in two of the most difficult places to play: at New England (9-4) who has won 19-straight home games in December, and at Seattle (8-5) wh0 is undefeated at home this season in a game that could determine the NFC West champion.
First round draft pick wide reciever A.J. Jenkins was activated for the first time this season, the rookie took the field on a number of plays but was not targeted in any pass routes.