What you need to know: Colin Kaepernick, perhaps the most talked-about NFL player during the spring and summer months, lived up to the hype on the opening Sunday of the regular season.
While the Green Bay Packers obsessed about Kaepernick’s running ability over the eight-month offseason, the 49ers’ franchise quarterback showed he is more than capable of destroying a defense with conventional NFL methods, too.
Kaepernick threw for 412 yards and three touchdowns in the 49ers’ 34-28 victory over the Packers to kick off the 43rd and final season at Candlestick Park.
The 49ers did not require much contribution from a No. 2 wide receiver. The team’s top wideout, Anquan Boldin, and tight end Vernon Davis provided Kaepernick with the only co-conspirators he would need.
After rushing for 181 yards – the most by a quarterback in NFL history – when the 49ers defeated the Packers in the playoffs last season, he took to the air to beat Green Bay on Sunday. Kaepernick picked up just 22 yards and one first down on the ground.
However, he completed 27 of 39 pass attempts for a gleaming 129.4 passer rating. Moreover, he became the second quarterback in franchise history to throw for more than 400 yards and three touchdowns without an interception. Joe Montana was the other.
Boldin, acquired in an offseason trade from the Super Bowl-champion Baltimore Ravens for a sixth-round draft pick, had his best NFL game since his first NFL appearance as a rookie with the Arizona Cardinals in 2003. Boldin caught 13 passes for 208 yards and one touchdown. He helped secure the victory with a 15-yard reception on a fourth-and-2 with three minutes remaining.
“We did give up a draft choice for him, and we’re paying him a lot of money,” 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said of Boldin and his one-year, $6 million contract the 49ers inherited. “But (I) definitely think he’s worth every penny.”
Davis definitely earned his keep, too, with six receptions for 98 yards and two touchdown receptions.
In the process, the 49ers opened with a victory against a team that is widely considered a top contender – along with the 49ers and Seattle Seahawks – to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. The 49ers' own quest to return to the Super Bowl and avenge last season's runner-up finish got off to a promising start.
“Our guys have really prepared for it and did a great job in their preparation for this game,” said Harbaugh, who became the first coach in 49ers history to win his first three season openers. “To win this ballgame against one of the best teams in football and in the NFC, we knew it was coming, we wanted to finish it.
“They prepared, they fought hard, they kept their poise at all times and they finished.”
Play of the Game: Of all the big plays the 49ers’ offense provided, the most-critical play picked up just 15 yards and did not result in a touchdown. The 49ers were protecting a 31-28 lead with three minutes remaining. They faced a fourth-and-2 at the Packers’ 36-yard line.
At first, the 49ers tried to draw the Packers offside. Then, they called a timeout to set up what was designed to be a quick-hitting pass to Boldin. However, Kyle Williams, who lined up outside of Boldin on the right side, was rerouted and collided with Boldin. Kaepernick kept the play alive, and eventually Boldin wriggled free for a 15-yard reception.
“Whenever you have a quarterback like Kaepernick, he can get outside the pocket and make plays happen,” Boldin said. “So if a play breaks down initially, you need to stay alive with him because he is great at getting outside the pocket and throwing the ball accurately, even if it is across his body.”
The fourth-down conversion allowed the 49ers to run off another 2 ½ minutes before Phil Dawson connected on a 33-yard field goal to give the 49ers a six-point lead with 26 seconds remaining in the game.
Player of the Game: Of course, Kaepernick and Boldin share this award. But let’s give special mention to 49ers safety Donte Whitner, who made two of the best defensive plays in the game.
Whitner shoved Packers tight end Jermichael Finley out of bounds when he jumped to catch a pass near the goal line in the third quarter. Whitner also made an exceptional play late in the game when he closed quickly on speedster Randall Cobb to tackle him in-bounds at the end of a 38-yard reception. That enabled the clock to keep running and prevented the Packers from running at least two more plays from 49ers’ territory.
Unsung Hero: Running back Frank Gore had a rough time finding any room to run against a Packers defense that was intent on shutting down the 49ers’ run game. Gore managed just 44 yards on 21 rushing attempts.
But Gore provided the 49ers with the go-ahead points on a 2-yard touchdown run with 5:47 remaining in the game. And he also made a series of incredible blocks.
He was stalwart in pass-protection against blitzing Packers linebackers, including Clay Matthews. And he delivered a devastating downfield block on safety Jerron McMillian to enable Kaepernick to gain 15 yards on a third-and-9 play to help set up a Dawson field goal.
Demanding Debut: Rookie safety Eric Reid had a highly successful first game after winning the starting role that was created when All-Pro Dashon Goldson signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as a free agent.
Reid missed a tackle on Nelson near the line of scrimmage that resulted in a 22-yard gain in the second quarter, but he made amends two plays later when he intercepted a pass Finley juggled near midfield.
Reid also thwarted an Aaron Rodgers free play on the next drive. After seeing Aldon Smith jump offside, Rodgers lofted a deep pass for Randall Cobb in the end zone. Reid made the interception and managed to prevent Cobb from wrestling the ball away from him. Reid made another big play with an open-field tackle of Cobb to force a third-quarter punt.
“He looks like he belongs,” 49ers defensive backs coach Ed Donatell said. “He’s going to be hard-hitter and he’s going to find the football. For what we were going against, it was a pretty darn good job. We always want to be better – we always want to tackle better – but he had some great tackles, too.”
Head Scratcher: Matthews performed a flying out-of-bounds clothesline tackle of Kaepernick to warrant a penalty. Left tackle Joe Staley rushed to Kaepernick’s defense. And even though Matthews seemed to be the aggressor during that action, too, it was Staley who was flagged for an unsportsmanlike conduct to offset Matthews’ personal foul on Kaepernick.
Even referee Bill Leavy made a regrettable mistake at the end of that sequence while enforcing the offsetting penalties. Because both plays were dead balls (Kaepernick had already stepped out of bounds when Matthews was guilty of his personal foul), the third-down play should have counted, Leavy confirmed afterward.
It should have been fourth-and-2, and the 49ers would’ve likely sent out Dawson for a 24-yard field-goal attempt. Instead, the 49ers took advantage of a third-and-6 situation when Kaepernick hit Boldin on a 10-yard touchdown pass to give the 49ers a 14-7 lead midway through the second quarter.
Head Scratcher II: One blown call – this one by Packers coach Mike McCarthy – set up Leavy’s blown call. Green Bay stopped the 49ers on a third-and-1 play from the Packers’ 5. That set up a fourth-and-short situation. However, McCarthy accepted a 5-yard penalty for illegal formation. He turned down fourth and 1 to provide the 49ers with a third-and-6. (It should be noted that the 49ers averaged 6.6 yards per offensive play on Sunday.)
“I really don’t think that factored in the game,” McCarthy said afterward. “So if that’s your criticism, that’s fine.”
Lasting impact: Veteran Nnamdi Asomugha played 57 of the 49ers’ 62 defensive snaps as the 49ers’ third cornerback with some mixed results. Packers wide receiver Jordy Nelson made several plays against Asomugha, including an 8-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter.
“Obviously, we need to shore up on defense,” Asomugha said. “But I think we did well considering the team we were playing against. You always have to factor that in. But it’s a positive right now, and I just love the environment and the energy is positive after Week 1.”
Defensive Rotation: The 49ers spent most of the game in their nickel defense, which is why starting nose tackle Ian Williams played only 10 snaps and fourth defensive lineman Glenn Dorsey was on the field for just eight plays. Each of the four members of the 49ers' starting secondary, as well as Aldon Smith, played all 62 snaps. Here's the rest of the 49ers defensive snap counts: Ahmad Brooks 59, Asomugha and NaVorro Bowman 57, Ray McDonald 56, Patrick Willis 53, Justin Smith 52, Perrish Cox 13, Michael Wilhoite and Tony Jerod-Eddie three apiece, and C.J. Spillman played one snap.
Spotting Trends: Nothing has changed from a year ago. The 49ers still like to play their second tight end more than their third wide receiver. While Vernon Davis played all 77 snaps, backup tight end Vance McDonald saw action on 20 offensive plays.
The 49ers’ third wide receiver, Marlon Moore, played 16 snaps. Rookie wideout Quinton Patton was on the field for just four offensive plays. The 49ers played a lot more two-back sets, as fullback Bruce Miller played 55 snaps or 71-percent of the team’s offensive plays. Wide receiver Kyle Williams played 55 snaps as the No. 2 wide receiver. Although he caught only three passes for 36 yards, Williams looked quick and explosive in his return to the playing field after sustaining a season-ending knee injury last November.
Needs Improvement: Yes, it was a good win against a good team. But there is plenty for the 49ers to clean up, too. The 49ers were called for 11 penalties, totaling 85 yards. The 49ers missed a lot of tackles on defense. And the offense burned four timeouts due to an expiring play clock. (They were also called for one delay of game.)
Said Harbaugh, “That was us not getting the play in on time.”
Strong Start: Aldon Smith did not wait long to indoctrinate rookie left tackle David Bakhtiari into the NFL. Smith remained on his feet to sack Rodgers against Bakhtiari’s attempt at a cut block on the Packers’ first pass attempt of the game.
Smith later added a half-sack, teaming up with Ray McDonald. And he had Rodgers in his grasp to force an incompletion on the final snap of the game. Smith prevented Rodgers from even getting off a desperation pass into the end zone from the 49ers’ 42 as time expired.
Injury Concerns: The only player who sustained an apparent injury during the game was Boldin, who grabbed his right knee after a play in which Staley rolled up on him from behind on a run play. On the next series, Boldin caught a 43-yard pass to prove he was just fine.
Quote of the day: ”I’m not worried about what people are saying. If intimidation is your game plan, I hope you have a better one.”
--Kaepernick on whether he was bracing for some hits from Matthews, who said during the week the Packers would be focused punishing the 49ers quarterback.
Looking Ahead: Now, the 49ers shift focus to a much-anticipated showdown against the Seahawks on Sunday night in Seattle. The Seahawks opened the season with a less-than convincing 12-7 road victory over the Carolina Panthers. The last time the 49ers traveled to Seattle, they were dealt a 42-13 loss on Dec. 23.