The 49ers came in to their monster Week 1 matchup with the Packers in Green Bay as 5-point underdogs, but if the court of public opinion was in charge of setting the line it probably would have been a touchdown. Even I – in all of my fervent, fanboy optimism – had a sinking feeling that the 49ers would get picked on by Aaron Rodgers and the Packers’ offense. It mattered not – the 49ers walked out of Lambeau 30-22 victors in the opening week of the 2012 season.
All the reasoning behind why I believed the 49ers WOULD win proved true. Alex Smith indeed looked a lot more polished than he has in years past. The run game was revitalized and punishing with Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter sharing the responsibilities. The preseason defense that looked so suspect was really a mere pimple on the intricate face of Vic Fangio’s regular season game plans.
Here are a couple observations from the game.
- Although we saw a lot less Randy Moss than I expected, he had a big impact while he was in the game. He caught 4 passes for 47 yards and a touchdown – quite the contribution for a guy returning to an NFL field after over a year without playing.
-The 49ers ran the ball a total of 32 times for 186 yards and a touchdown. Although Kendall Hunter appeared to be a difference maker during the game, he only ended up with 9 carries for 41 yards (and a not-too-shabby 4.1 average). Frank Gore was the man yet again, toting the ball 16 times for 112 yards and a touchdown. The score was a 23-yard scamper late in the game that I’m sure Gore wouldn’t have finished off had he been the primary ball carrier for the entire contest.
- Vernon Davis showed some pretty good hands on his touchdown catch in the 3rd quarter, but the goal post wasn’t impressed by his celebratory dunk attempt. Watch SportsCenter’s “Not Top 10 Plays” this week for a highlight of Davis getting rejected.
- Colin Kaepernick only saw one play, but it looked like a designed run and it got the 49ers a good handful of yards. Looks like the 49ers will be getting Kaepernick involved this season after all. He got the 49ers close enough to attempt an end of the half field goal. More on that in a minute…
Role reversal: an ironic day for the 2005 draft
- Alex Smith finished his day 20-26 for 211 yards, 2 touchdowns and no interceptions; a stat line that resembled a lot of his starts last year. But Smith clearly outplayed Rodgers, despite the Packers’ QB throwing for over 300 yards. Smith made all the throws that needed to be made; all the while it was Rodgers who had the back-breaking mistake – an interception that resulted in Frank Gore’s touchdown run.
- Smith distributed the ball more efficiently than ever before: he hit six different receivers on the day and involved every wideout on the roster en route to the win. It was nice to see Smith hit Mario Manningham on a few different instances; Mario was pretty much MIA in the preseason, but he looked game ready today.
- The Packers sacked Alex Smith 4 times today and yet the 49ers’ quarterback never fumbled or threw an interception under duress. He still seemed to favor taking a sack over taking a risk, but he did show progression in his playmaking ability. One play that stood out: he rolled right and looked to run, drawing the linebacker off of Bruce Miller. He then dunked the ball right over the defenders head and into the hands of Miller for a first down.
- A 49ers fan member of Boyz II Men, who performed at the game today, made a bet with Aaron Rodgers before the game: If San Francisco wins, he has to wear an Alex Smith jersey. I’m REALLY hoping a picture of that gets leaked. Heads will explode, I tell you!
- One more pretty significant stat: Alex Smith surpassed Steve Young today for the longest streak of consecutive passes without an interception at 185. Young threw 184 before getting picked off.
The 49ers defense doesn’t lose a step
- Aldon Smith spent a lot of his afternoon playing tag with Aaron Rodgers. His highlight of the afternoon was chasing Rodgers down in the backfield in the opening of the game; a play that got negated by an unsportsmanlike call for removing his helmet. I never liked that penalty much anyway, but this one was particularly auspicious. Aldon’s helmet was already halfway up his face before he pulled it off. Nothing celebratory about it.
- The 49ers ran a wide variety of different personnel sets to counter the Packers’ 4 and 5-wide receiver sets. They weren’t any worse for the wear, even when they had to pull NaVorro Bowman or Patrick Willis in favor of cornerback Perrish Cox.
- It’s clear that teams won’t have fun running against the 49ers again this year. Not that the Packers like clouds of dust to begin with, but Cedric Benson only had 18 yards on 9 carries. If you have a fantasy running back going against the 49ers this season, I suggest you start calling that a second bye week and planning for a replacement now.
The leg of Akers
Jim Harbaugh brought David Akers in at the end of the second half to attempt a 63-yard field goal and he nailed it. It doinked off the crossbar, but it had the right spin to fall on the winning side of the goal posts, tying Akers for the longest field goal in NFL history. Of the others that hold the record, two of them were kicked in Denver. Akers has had the word “record” mentioned following his name several times since coming to the 49ers; that’s definitely not a bad thing.
A few words on the replacement refs
There was an interesting situation that led up to the Packers first touchdown – it was a pass interference call on a throw to Jermichael Finley in the end zone (it looked completely uncatchable, from my couch at least). Clumsiness and chaos ensued in the end zone, and the whole scene got pretty ugly. I noted on Twitter that things probably wouldn’t have gone any better had the regular referees been in, trying to defend the scabs. Of course it all went downhill from there.
The most notable mistake by the crew today came on a Randall Cobb punt return that resulted in a touchdown. Cobb was sprung by a few questionable blocks, including one surefire hold on Larry Grant and a no-doubter block in the back on Anthony Dixon. The refs initially threw a flag for the block in the back, but then picked it back up and awarded the Packers the touchdown.
The other mistake that stuck out – and could have proved the most costly – was the no-call after a late hit on Frank Gore’s touchdown run. He got hit walking into the end zone, helmet-to-helmet, and sat on the ground looking dazed for several seconds afterwards. No flags were thrown. Gore could have been seriously injured, and the replacement refs did nothing to control it.
Ultimately, the adversity that the 49ers faced wasn’t enough to stop them from winning in Lambeau for the first time since 1990. The Packers 13-game home win streak ended. It was their first loss in a home opener since 2006. For San Francisco, it was a loud statement to the NFL – there's no regression here. The 49ers are going to contend for a championship again in 2012.