NFC West: 2012 Week 12 coverage

Rapid Reaction: 49ers 31, Saints 21

November, 25, 2012

NEW ORLEANS -- Thoughts on the San Francisco 49ers' 31-21 victory over the New Orleans Saints at the Superdome in Week 12:

What it means: The 49ers improved to 8-2-1, tightening their lead over Seattle (6-5) for first place in the NFC West. They proved they could beat a hot team in a hostile environment with a second-year quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, making his second career start. Big plays from the San Francisco defense made it happen. Quarterback drama will continue to dominate headlines for the 49ers, but their defense deserves attention.

What I liked: Kaepernick completed all four pass attempts in the first quarter, capping the 49ers' opening drive with a touchdown run. He opened the third quarter by leading another scoring drive, this one featuring a 45-yard pass to Delanie Walker on third-and-2. Kaepernick finished that drive with a 6-yard scoring pass to Frank Gore.

The 49ers' defense provided two touchdowns on interception returns, offsetting the Saints' biggest strength, quarterback Drew Brees. Ahmad Brooks returned one right before halftime, bailing out Kaepernick from the interception Kaepernick threw. Donte Whitner returned the other one to give San Francisco needed breathing room in the second half. That one took the pressure off Kaepernick.

The 49ers were the more physical team and it showed as the game progressed, both in the way they ran the ball and in the way they put hard hits on the Saints' receivers. Dashon Goldson, Whitner and others 49ers defenders delivered punishing shots. Saints players were repeatedly slow to get up. The NFL is a quarterback-dominated league, but the 49ers dominated one of the best quarterbacks around.

Left tackle Joe Staley drove Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma well down the field in clearing the way for Kendall Hunter's 21-yard run to set up a touchdown. Fullback Bruce Miller also stood out with a couple of strong blocks and for his efforts as a receiver.

What I didn't like: Ted Ginn Jr. muffed a punt midway through the second quarter, setting up the Saints for a quick touchdown to break a 7-7 tie. Ginn arguably should not have fielded the ball in that situation. Ginn has been very reliable as a returner for the 49ers. This one hurt. The 49ers replaced him with Kyle Williams, but Williams left the game with an injury.

The 49ers had success with linebacker blitzes. San Francisco generally relies on its four-man rushes to get pressure, but the blitzes became effective, particularly after the Saints fell behind. Brees frequently had to settle for throwing away the ball or dumping it off.

San Francisco burned a timeout early, suffered a delay penalty on third down and had too many penalties overall. Gore and Vernon Davis dropped passes. Michael Crabtree also should have caught a ball Kaepernick threaded to him on third down. Kaepernick, meanwhile, seemed to rush his throw on the ball New Orleans picked off. The snap was low, possibly throwing off the play.

Injury watch: The 49ers lost Hunter and receiver Kyle Williams to injuries on the same play with 52 seconds left in the third quarter.

QB stat line: Kaepernick completed 16 of 25 passes (64 percent) for 231 yards with one passing touchdown, one rushing touchdown, no sacks, one interception and a 90.6 NFL passer rating. Brees completed 23 of 36 passes (64 percent) for 215 yards with three touchdowns, two interceptions, five sacks and an 84.8 passer rating.

What's next: The 49ers visit the St. Louis Rams in Week 13.

Wrap-up: Dolphins 24, Seahawks 21

November, 25, 2012

Thoughts on the Seattle Seahawks' 24-21 road loss to the Miami Dolphins in Week 12:

What it means: The Seattle defense failed to hold a late-game lead on the road once again, same as the case was at Detroit. As a result, the Seahawks are 6-5 heading into a road game against Chicago in Week 13. Quarterback Russell Wilson was outstanding in this game, same as he was at Detroit and same as he has generally been since about Week 5. This isn't the time to consider the bigger picture, however. Seattle has blown prime opportunities to improve its playoff chances in a competitive NFC. Conservative play calling on the Seahawks' final possession backfired.

What I liked: Leon Washington's 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown broke a 14-14 tie in the fourth quarter. This was Washington's first return touchdown since 2010 and it came at the right time for Seattle.

Wilson made one of the more impressive plays a quarterback can make. He faced immediate pressure up the middle on a third-and-12 play in the second quarter. He spun away from pressure, rolled hard to his left and rifled a pass across his body to Sidney Rice for a 26-yard gain along the left sideline. Wilson's feel for the pocket and scrambling ability kept alive drives. He completed 21 of 27 passes for 224 yards and two touchdowns with a 125.9 passer rating.

Rice and fellow receiver Golden Tate continued a recent trend of making plays. Tate's acrobatic diving catch for a 32-yard gain before halftime set up the tying 3-yard touchdown pass to Anthony McCoy.

Wilson, who had struggled in third quarters this season, completed all seven attempts for 66 yards and a touchdown during an 80-yard drive to the go-ahead touchdown on Seattle's first possession of the second half. Wilson also scrambled for 23 yards on the drive. He completed 16 consecutive passes at one point, nearly tying Warren Moon's franchise record of 17, set during the 1998 season.

The Seahawks' defense shut down the Dolphins' offense early. Rookie middle linebacker Bobby Wagner picked off a pass. Defensive end Chris Clemons beat Dolphins left tackle Jake Long for a sack.

What I didn't like: The running game wasn't good enough for Seattle, including when the team opted for repeated handoffs while trying to get into range for a field goal with the game tied 21-21 late in the fourth quarter. Hindsight says the Seahawks should have tried a couple of quick passes to move the ball forward. Wilson had been hot. The running game been struggling. The play calling in that situation was questionable, at best.

Seattle's offense failed to gain a first down until the second quarter. The running game went nowhere early. Marshawn Lynch had a tough time finding running room most of the day. The Dolphins' Paul Soliai was a tough matchup for center Max Unger and the Seahawks' line.

A penalty against free safety Earl Thomas for an illegal hit on Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill wiped out a second interception for Wagner, this one in the end zone. The penalty gave the Dolphins a first-and-goal situation, setting up the tying touchdown with 8:08 remaining in the fourth quarter. Thomas leaped to defend the pass. His momentum carried him into Tannehill. This was a killer penalty for Seattle. Penalties were a problem overall for Seattle, a change from recent form.

Seattle's defense busted coverage at key moments, including when Dolphins receiver Charles Clay got wide open for a 29-yard touchdown to tie the score at 21-21. Clemons' first-half sack was the only one Seattle recorded all game. Tannehill completed 18 of 26 passes for 253 yards with one touchdown, one pick and a 97.1 passer rating.

What's next: The Seahawks visit the Bears in Week 13.



Sunday, 1/25