NFC West: Rapid Reaction

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- A few observations from the San Francisco 49ers' 23-10 win over the Carolina Panthers in the NFC divisional round:

What it means: The 49ers advance to the NFC Championship Game. They play at Seattle on Sunday in what may be the most anticipated game of the season. These teams have been on a collision course since the offseason. This is one of the NFL’s greatest rivalries, and it makes sense they will meet to end the NFC season. The 49ers are going to the NFC title game for the third time in as many seasons under coach Jim Harbaugh.

The difference: The 49ers found the end zone two times, unlike when they settled for field goals in a 10-9 loss to Carolina in Week 10. San Francisco also played terrific goal-line defense. It held on fourth down and forced a field goal on another goal-line series.

Stock watch: Colin Kaepernick and Anquan Boldin were at it again. Kaepernick completed four passes to Boldin for 75 yards in the second half.

Super Kap: Kaepernick had some fun after scoring a second-half touchdown when he did Cam Newton’s Superman gesture and then the signature biceps kiss.

Coaching with heavy heart: Harbaugh’s grandfather Joe Cipiti died Sunday morning at the age of 98.

What’s next: The NFC title game at Seattle. It’s the game we’ve all been waiting for. Can the 49ers solve their recent struggles in Seattle? It won’t be easy. It won’t be quiet either.

Rapid Reaction: San Francisco 49ers

October, 6, 2013
10/06/13
11:23
PM ET

SAN FRANCISCO -- A few thoughts on the San Francisco 49ers' 34-3 win over the Houston Texans on Sunday night:

What it means: The 49ers are making folks forget about their follies of losses to Seattle and to Indianapolis in Weeks 2 and 3. They were outscored 56-10 in those games. Since then, the 49ers have outscored the Rams and the Texans 69-14 and at 3-2 looking like a serious playoff threat. Sunday was a great all-around day for the 49ers. Not only did they dominate a strong AFC team, but Seattle lost to Indianapolis to fall to 4-1. So, the NFC West race just got tighter.

Stock Watch: Tramaine Brock has found himself a gig as the 49ers’ No. 3 cornerback. He played well last week against the Rams with Nnamdi Asomugha out with a knee injury. Sunday night, he had two interceptions, including one he returned 18 yards for a score on the first drive of the game. There is no way Asomugha is going to regain his job anytime soon. Brock is a keeper.

Another hit on defense: Standout defensive lineman Ray McDonald left with a biceps injury. If McDonald has to miss extended time, the 49ers will miss him dearly. They are already without starting nose tackle Ian Williams. Tank Carradine and Quinton Dial will be off the PUP soon. The 49ers have talked to free agent Richard Seymour and they could revisit talks if McDonald’s injury is serious. But Seymour wants a lot of money.

What’s next: The 49ers are navigating to the easier part of the schedule. They host Arizona on Sunday, then are at Tennessee and then play winless Jacksonville in London before the bye. Going from 1-2 to 6-2 at the halfway point is very feasible.

Rapid Reaction: Colts 27, 49ers 7

September, 22, 2013
9/22/13
7:13
PM ET

SAN FRANCISCO -- A few thoughts on the San Francisco 49ers' 27-7 loss to the Indianapolis Colts:

What it means: It’s nervous time in San Francisco. The 49ers are 1-2 and under .500 for the first time in the Jim Harbaugh era. The 49ers, who lost to a Colts team that was playing without six starters, are now two games behind rival Seattle in the NFC West. The 49ers looked awful on offense on a day Andrew Luck beat his former college coach. With poor offensive play, injuries mounting and Aldon Smith's off-field issues, the 49ers are nearing the crisis stage.

Painful day: The 49ers lost star inside linebacker Patrick Willis to a groin injury late in the third quarter. His status for Thursday’s game at St. Louis might be in question. The 49ers can’t afford to play without their heart and soul for too long. Also, tight end Vernon Davis missed Sunday’s game with a hamstring injury he suffered last week in Seattle. It was his first missed game since 2007. It might be difficult for him to return Thursday.

Stock watch: The San Francisco passing game was awful. Colin Kaepernick threw for just 150 yards. He completed two passes in the first half. It’s not all on Kaepernick, however. His receivers could not get open. This was a problem last week in Seattle, and it could become a major issue.

Penalties still an issue: The 49ers were penalized six times. They have been flagged 29 times in three games. They were penalized twice on the Colts’ series that gave Indianapolis a double-digit lead late in the fourth quarter.

What’s next: The 49ers don’t have much time to lick their wounds. They play at St. Louis on Thursday. It’s a short week at a bad time for the 49ers. They have to adjust accordingly or they could fall way behind the Seahawks.

Rapid Reaction: Ravens 34, 49ers 31

February, 3, 2013
2/03/13
10:45
PM ET

NEW ORLEANS -- Thoughts on the San Francisco 49ers' 34-31 defeat to the Baltimore Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII:

What it means: The 49ers came excruciatingly close to a sixth Super Bowl title, but they couldn't draw up or execute the winning plays with four shots from the Baltimore 5-yard line. Overall, they made too many mistakes to win the game. The 49ers' total collapse early in the game raises questions about their readiness for the Super Bowl after a week filled with the usual distractions, plus the one cornerback Chris Culliver created with his derogatory comments during the week.

What I liked: The 49ers again showed an ability to weather a rough start against a playoff team.

Tight end Vernon Davis repeatedly exploited a speed advantage against Ray Lewis and the Baltimore defense early in the game. Davis even got in Lewis' face to rub it in at one point early in the second quarter.

Patrick Willis and Darcel McBath saved the 49ers late in the second quarter when they chased down Ravens kicker Justin Tucker short of a first down on a fake field-goal try. The 49ers trailed 14-3 at the time, so the stop was important for them.

Michael Crabtree capped his most impressive season with another mostly impressive performance. He made a tough catch on a high pass early in the game. Crabtree also knocked down Ravens defensive backs Cary Williams and Bernard Pollard on his way to a 31-yard touchdown reception to pull San Francisco within 28-13 midway through the third quarter.

Davis, who topped 100 yards receiving, wasn't the only tight end making an impact in this game. Second tight end Delanie Walker blasted Ravens safety Ed Reed to help free Frank Gore for a touchdown run. Walker also planted Ravens kick returner Jacoby Jones as the momentum was turning late in the third quarter.

What I didn't like: The 49ers were sloppy early in the game. A formation penalty wiped out a 20-yard gain on their first play. The 49ers appeared to have a mixup in the backfield later in the drive. That was no way to start the game on offense after having two weeks to prepare. It got worse.

The bad start gave the Ravens good field position on their first possession. And when the defense held on third-and-9, an offsides penalty against Ahmad Brooks gave Baltimore another chance, setting up a touchdown pass on third-and-4.

The 49ers blew it again early in the second quarter when LaMichael James lost a fumble, allowing the Ravens to recover at their own 25-yard line. That led to another Ravens touchdown, and San Francisco gave the ball right back to the Ravens when Colin Kaepernick overthrew Randy Moss, finding Reed instead.

Allowing a 108-yard kickoff return to open the second half nearly killed the 49ers' chances for a comeback. They suddenly trailed by a 28-6 margin.

The 49ers let seven of the final 11 seconds run off while the Ravens ran around the end zone with the football before taking a safety. That left only four seconds on the clock when Baltimore executed a free kick. Having a few additional seconds might have given the 49ers a chance to return the ball into field-goal range, or run a play before attempting a field goal.

Early trend continues: The Ravens scored first. They became the fifth consecutive 49ers opponent to score first, joining Atlanta, Green Bay, Arizona and Seattle. San Francisco came back to beat the Falcons, Packers and Cardinals heading into Super Bowl XLVII.

Costly sack: 49ers right tackle Anthony Davis struggled against the Ravens during a 2011 game between the teams. In this game, Davis gave up a third-down sack in the red zone on the 49ers' second possession. Paul Kruger beat him decisively to take down Kaepernick before the quarterback had a chance to throw. The 49ers' pass protection was generally excellent, but not on this critical play.

First-half domination: The 49ers gave up three first-half touchdown passes for the second game in a row. Joe Flacco completed 13 of 20 passes for 192 yards, three scores and a 135.8 NFL passer rating in the first half Sunday. Two weeks earlier, Atlanta's Matt Ryan completed 18 of 24 first-half passes for 271 yards, three scores and a 151.2 rating against San Francisco in the NFC Championship Game. Flacco and Ryan combined to complete 70.5 pecent of their first-half passes for 463 yards and a 144.2 rating against the 49ers in those two first halves.

What's next: The 49ers head toward the 2013 NFL draft with the 31st overall choice. The Ravens will pick 32nd overall.

Rapid Reaction: 49ers 28, Falcons 24

January, 20, 2013
1/20/13
6:02
PM ET

ATLANTA -- Thoughts on the San Francisco 49ers' 28-24 victory over the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC Championship Game at the Georgia Dome:

What it means: The 49ers are heading to a Super Bowl for the sixth time in franchise history. They will seek their sixth Super Bowl title when they face the winner of the Baltimore-New England game in New Orleans on Feb. 3. Second-year quarterback Colin Kaepernick will lead them there, further validating coach Jim Harbaugh's decision to make Kaepernick the starter over Alex Smith.

What I liked: The 49ers' defense recovered from a brutal start to make key second-half plays, none bigger than the fourth-down pass breakup NaVorro Bowman made on a pass to Roddy White with 1:09 remaining. That play turned over possession on downs and allowed the 49ers to run out the clock.

Kaepernick and the offense also recovered from a rough start. The offense reduced a 17-0 deficit to 17-14 late in the first half. Vernon Davis had three catches for 71 yards and a touchdown in the first half as the 49ers fought back. Rookie running back LaMichael James also looked good on a 15-yard option run. The trend continued in the third quarter as the 49ers moved 82 yards in seven plays to set up Frank Gore's 5-yard touchdown run.

The offense did its part, but the 49ers would not have won this game without the defense finally finding its bearings.

Chris Culliver's interception of Ryan with 7:38 left in the third quarter was exactly what the 49ers needed. Atlanta led 24-21 and the teams were trading touchdowns to that point. The 49ers' defense had not made a big play all game.

The 49ers' Aldon Smith, though ineffective as a pass-rusher for most of the game, pounced on the football when Ryan fumbled a shotgun snap. Ryan took his eyes off the ball as the 49ers appeared to show blitz. The recovery by Smith gave the 49ers' defense turnovers on consecutive third-quarter possessions.

Gore's second touchdown, this one a 9-yarder, gave the 49ers their first lead at 28-24 with 8:23 remaining in the fourth quarter. Fullback Bruce Miller's block was key on the play. The 49ers won at the line of scrimmage on that drive.

What I didn't like: The 49ers took a penalty for delay of game following a timeout as they were trying to run out the clock. That contributed to San Francisco facing a third-and-15 play and having to punt with 13 seconds left. The Falcons had no timeouts at that point, so a comeback victory for Atlanta was not likely. But the lost field position gave the Falcons a better chance.

The 49ers' defense appeared in over its head for much of the game. An early busted coverage allowed Julio Jones to get deep for a 46-yard touchdown, only the third time all season the 49ers have allowed a catch of 40-plus yards. They gave up another big-gainer when free safety Dashon Goldson went for an interception and couldn't quite make the play. San Francisco could not get pressure with four- or even five-man pressures. That was critical.

And when the defense finally produced turnovers on consecutive Atlanta possessions in the second half, the 49ers got no points either time. David Akers' 38-yard field goal attempt hit the left upright and bounced backward, falling short. That kept the Falcons in the lead 24-21 and returned possession to them. Receiver Michael Crabtree then lost a fumble at the Atlanta 1-yard line to prevent the 49rs from getting points off the second turnover.

Rookie watch: The 49ers got good contributions from James, their 2012 second-round choice. First-rounder A.J. Jenkins remained in the shadows. The team kept Jenkins on the sideline when it went to its three-receiver offense on a critical third down in the third quarter. Chad Hall, who had not caught a pass in an NFL game since he was with Philadelphia in 2011, was the third receiver on that play.

Crabtree's up-and-down day: Harbaugh made headlines before the season when he said Crabtree had the best hands he'd ever seen. Crabtree lived up to the talk by snatching the ball away from Falcons cornerback Robert McClain, then sprinting away for a 33-yard gain to the Atlanta 10-yard line on the first play of the fourth quarter. Crabtree lost a fumble at the 1 on the next play, however, and the Falcons recovered.

Better returns: The 49ers lost the NFC Championship Game one year ago thanks largely to Kyle Williams' muffed punts in the late going. Ted Ginn Jr. had some shaky moments fielding returns this season, but his 20-yarder early in the fourth quarter set up the San Francisco offense at the Atlanta 38.

Failed challenge: The 49ers failed in challenging Harry Douglas' 22-yard reception with 3:53 remaining. The ruling cost the 49ers field position and their first timeout of the second half while San Francisco was protecting a 28-24 lead.

What's next: The 49ers face Baltimore or New England in the Super Bowl.

Thoughts on the Seattle Seahawks' performance during their 30-28 defeat to the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC divisional round Sunday:

What it means: The Seahawks lost a heartbreaker after their fourth-quarter pass defense faltered once again, a recurring theme for Seattle. The Seahawks had taken a 28-27 lead with 31 seconds remaining. But they couldn't stop the Falcons from moving quickly into position for the winning field goal with eight seconds left. The team will have to address that aspect of its performance in the offseason.

What I liked: The Seahawks kept pushing and took the lead despite trailing by 20-0 and 27-7 margins in the second half. Russell Wilson completed 24 of 36 passes for 385 yards with two touchdowns and one interception (on a Hail Mary as the game ended). Zach Miller had eight receptions for 142 yards and a touchdown. Golden Tate had six receptions for 103 yards and a score. Wilson was outstanding in the second half despite getting less help than anticipated from Marshawn Lynch and the running game.

Rookie middle linebacker Bobby Wagner picked off a pass. Cornerback Richard Sherman batted down multiple passes in the secondary. Seattle's wide receivers also made a few impressive plays, including Tate's touchdown reception. Seattle had a good plan for the Falcons' screen game, which had been among the best in the NFL.

What I didn't like: Seattle was sloppy in its execution and decision-making. Getting zero points from two red zone possessions in the first half proved costly. Seattle failed to convert a fourth-and-1 when opting for a fullback handoff instead of giving the ball to Lynch. Later, the first-half clock ran out when Wilson took a third-down sack with no timeouts remaining. Getting six or 10 points from those chances would have changed the game for Seattle.

Blowing the 28-27 lead with 31 seconds left was inexcusable, but part of a pattern. The Detroit Lions came back to win in similar fashion against Seattle. Chicago came back to force overtime. Something needs to change for Seattle in those situations. The team led the NFL in points allowed this season, but couldn't finish.

Lynch held in check: Lynch scored the go-ahead touchdown, but this was a rough day for him. He carried 16 times for 46 yards (2.9 per carry). Lynch had missed practice time with a foot injury, but he started and was expected to perform as usual. The Falcons seemed ready for him. Also, Lynch did not seem 100 percent. Wilson was able to carry the load, but it would have been nice for Seattle if the ground game remained an option.

Receivers in check: Roddy White's 47-yard touchdown reception was big for the Falcons. Overall, however, the Seattle secondary limited the damage from Atlanta's talented wideouts. Julio Jones had six catches for 59 yards. White had five catches for 76 yards.

Rough day for Carroll: The fourth-and-1 call wasn't the only one putting Pete Carroll and the Seattle coaching staff at risk for criticism. Carroll also called timeout right before the Falcons missed the winning field goal try. The second try was good. Carroll appeared to be arguing with the officials after the timeout. I'm not sure what was going on there, but overall, Seattle did a poor job with clock management and some of the other detail-oriented aspects that tend to reflect coaching.

What's next: The Seahawks are finished. They'll watch division rival San Francisco visit the Falcons in the NFC Championship Game.

Rapid Reaction: 49ers 45, Packers 31

January, 12, 2013
1/12/13
11:35
PM ET

Thoughts on the San Francisco 49ers' 45-31 victory over the Green Bay Packers in the NFC divisional round Saturday night at Candlestick Park:

What it means: The 49ers will play in the NFC Championship Game for a second consecutive season, and they’ll do it with one of the most dangerous quarterbacks in the NFL. Colin Kaepernick’s dominant performance against the Packers will put the Seattle-Atlanta winner on notice heading into the upcoming week. It also will extinguish any embers remaining from the debate over whether coach Jim Harbaugh was right in switching quarterbacks during the season. And with Justin Smith appearing healthy after suffering a triceps injury, the 49ers’ defense appears whole for the first time in weeks.

What I liked: Kaepernick bounced back quickly and decisively from the pick-six he threw on the 49ers’ opening possession. The second-year quarterback finished the first half with two touchdown passes, a 20-yard touchdown run and 11 carries for 107 yards. Kaepernick was the best player on the field for most of the game. That was one reason the 49ers converted seven of 10 chances on third down in the first half, up from converting five of 28 chances in two playoff games last season. They finished the game with 579 yards.

Receiver Michael Crabtree, second to Wes Welker in yards after the catch by ESPN’s charting, continued his surge with Kaepernick at quarterback. His two first-half touchdown receptions helped the 49ers take a 24-21 lead through two quarters. Crabtree finished with nine receptions for 119 yards and two touchdowns. He is clearly the team's go-to target in the passing game. Tight end Vernon Davis, a nonfactor in the receiving game lately, drew a penalty for interference before making a 44-yard reception, a welcome sign for the 49ers.

The San Francisco defense was back to its old ways, getting enough pressure without blitzing, particularly as the game progressed. The sack numbers were not there for San Francisco, but it's not like Aaron Rodgers was comfortable in the pocket, either. The 49ers kept the Packers' big plays to an acceptable level given how dangerous Rodgers can be. Rodgers averaged 6.6 yards per pass attempt with two touchdowns, only one of them meaningful.

What I didn’t like: The pick-six Kaepernick threw early in the game gave the Packers a huge break, keeping the score closer than it should have been given how thoroughly the 49ers were dominating time of possession. That was about all there was not to like.

Back in action: Smith’s triceps injury threatened to declaw the 49ers’ defense. The Pro Bowl defensive end started the game, stayed on the field across all situations and played at a high level without obviously favoring his injured arm. All's well for the 49ers on defense when Smith is available and playing at this level.

Gutting it out: Niners left tackle Joe Staley appeared to suffer an arm injury early in the game. He was obviously in pain. Staley fought through the injury and fared well against Packers linebacker Clay Matthews, who had won their individual matchup with 2.5 sacks back in Week 1. Kaepernick didn't have to worry about Matthews chasing him down. Of course, Kaepernick's mobility gave Matthews more to think about in this game relative to the Week 1 game featuring Alex Smith at quarterback. That helped out Staley and the other linemen.

What’s next: The 49ers face the Seattle-Atlanta winner in the NFC Championship Game. They would play the Seahawks at Candlestick Park. They would play the Falcons in the Georgia Dome.

LANDOVER, Md. -- Thoughts on the Seattle Seahawks' 24-14 victory over the Washington Redskins in a wild-card playoff game Sunday at FedEx Field:

What it means: The fifth-seeded Seahawks will face the Atlanta Falcons in a divisional-round game in the Georgia Dome on Sunday at 1 p.m. ET. This was their first road victory in a playoff game since the 1983 season. They will face a Falcons team that has not won a playoff game with Mike Smith as head coach. The Falcons rode Matt Ryan's stellar play and the NFL's easiest schedule to the top seed in the NFC. The Seahawks have now won a playoff game following two of Pete Carroll's first three seasons as head coach.

What I liked: The Seahawks stuck with their plan and kept plugging away even though they weren't getting points for long stretches. Marshawn Lynch atoned for his fumble near the Washington goal line by breaking a 27-yard touchdown run on third-and-5 to give Seattle its first lead of the game. Quarterback Russell Wilson was out front blocking on this play and others.

Seahawks free safety Earl Thomas showed outstanding range in sprinting over to pick off a deep pass from Robert Griffin III. That play showed the Redskins wouldn't be able to throw the ball down the field without incurring significant risk. Thomas had three picks during the regular season. That's a good number for a safety, but Thomas has the talent to produce more turnovers. This was a big one.

The Seahawks took advantage of matchup advantages at tight end. Zach Miller made a difficult catch early and his catch for a two-point conversion was key. Miller also had a 22-yard reception on his way to a four-catch, 48-yard game. Washington allowed 10 touchdown passes to tight ends during the regular season, third most in the NFL.

What I didn't like: Seattle's defense got steamrolled in the first quarter as the Redskins amassed a 129-9 yardage lead and 14-0 scoring lead. Alfred Morris ran without much resistance. Griffin threw two short scoring passes. Just like that, Seattle was behind by 14 points, its largest deficit of the season and largest since New England led the Seahawks by 13 points.

Tight end Anthony McCoy dropped a pass shortly before halftime, one reason Seattle settled for a field goal when a touchdown would have put the Seahawks into the lead. Lynch then lost a fumble on a run from the Washington 1-yard line on the first possession of the second half. Those miscues cost Seattle as many as 11 points, keeping the Redskins in the lead, 14-13, through three quarters.

The Seahawks kept racking up yards without getting enough points over the second and third quarters. Wilson took five sacks. He has now taken 11 sacks over his past two games after taking eight over his five previous games combined. Wilson also appeared to make a couple of questionable decisions, a rarity for him. He was fortunate Washington did not intercept him in the end zone during the first half.

My field position: Redskins owner Daniel Snyder is worth how much again? More than a billion, right? That kind of loot would buy a lot of sod. The playing surface at FedEx Field was a disgrace. It's tough to know whether it contributed to a couple of knee injuries suffered in this game, but why take the risk? The weather was beautiful for January, but the field looked as though it had weathered a tractor pull recently.

Injury update: The Seahawks lost defensive end Chris Clemons to a knee injury in the second half. Kicker Steven Hauschka returned after suffering an injured ankle. Punter Jon Ryan kicked off while Hauschka was out.

Lynch does it again: Lynch carried 19 times for 131 yards, his 11th game of the season with at least 100 yards rushing.

Second-guessing Shanahan: The Redskins left Griffin in the game even though it was clear early that a knee injury was hurting him. The move backfired. Griffin struggled as the game progressed. He then injured the knee even worse in the fourth quarter. Washington declared him out. The Redskins had won a game with Kirk Cousins in the lineup this season. They couldn't have been worse on offense with Cousins in the game once it became clear Griffin couldn't function.

What's next: The Seahawks face NFC South champions Falcons at the Georgia Dome.

Rapid Reaction: Seahawks 20, Rams 13

December, 30, 2012
12/30/12
7:49
PM ET

Thoughts on the St. Louis Rams and Seattle Seahawks following Seattle's 20-13 victory Sunday at CenturyLink Field:

What it means: The Seahawks are heading into the playoffs as the fifth-seeded team in the NFC. They will face the winner of the Dallas-Washington game on the road in the wild-card round. This game against the Rams lost its meaning for seeding purposes when San Francisco defeated Arizona. But with Russell Wilson leading a 90-yard drive to the winning touchdown, Seattle moved into the playoffs with an 11-5 record. The 49ers won the NFC West title and will get a first-round bye as the No. 2 seed in the NFC.

The Rams more than held their own on the coaching front in this game, not the first time Jeff Fisher and staff have come out ahead against an NFC West opponent. Their quarterback, Sam Bradford, also seemed to fare well much of the time, at least until Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman picked him off in the final minute to preserve the victory for Seattle. The Rams can feel good about going 7-8-1 for the season after posting a 15-65 record over their previous five.

What I liked: The Rams' blitzing defense was as good as advertised. Chris Long collected three sacks. He and teammate Robert Quinn both hit double digits for the season. Quinn's speed was problematic for Russell Okung, the Seahawks' Pro Bowl left tackle.

Even when Wilson bought additional time, he often couldn't find open receivers down the field. The Rams did a very good job limiting his scrambles for much of the game. Both games against the Rams were a grind for Wilson. The difference this time was that Wilson had improved enough to remain efficient and ultimately lead the winning drive. The Rams get credit for making him work. They kept the game close and had a chance until the end, which is more than recent Seattle opponents could claim.

Seattle’s Chris Clemons, left off the NFC Pro Bowl roster despite a third consecutive season with 10-plus sacks, unleashed an all-star move on Rams left tackle Rodger Saffold early in the game. Clemons’ move to the inside made Saffold lose his balance and put him to the ground. Clemons then moved directly for the quarterback and brought down Bradford.

Bradford did a good job completing passes after scrambling. He has done a better job using movement to his advantage this season.

The Seahawks know they're set at quarterback when what was often a tough game for Wilson ends with a stat line featuring 15 completions in 19 attempts for 250 yards with one touchdown passing, another touchdown rushing and a 136.3 NFL passer rating. Wilson most likely set a franchise single-season record for passer rating.

What I didn't like: Both teams suffered from sloppy play featuring penalties (including 12 men on the field for the Rams) and dropped passes. Both coaches lost replay challenges. Seattle failed to execute an onside kick for the second time in two games against the Rams. Marshawn Lynch, despite rushing for 100 yards, fumbled deep in Seattle territory when a turnover would have been disastrous. Fortunately for him, the Rams continued to have a terrible time recovering opponent fumbles. They recovered only four of 17 opponent fumbles all season.

Jackson over 1,000: Rams running back Steven Jackson moved past 1,000 yards rushing for an eighth consecutive season. He did it with an aggressive run up the middle for a 14-yard gain. Only Emmitt Smith (11), Curtis Martin (10) and Barry Sanders (10) have put together longer strings of seasons with at least 1,000 yards. LaDainian Tomlinson and Thurman Thomas also hit that milestone in eight consecutive seasons.

Wilson and the record: Wilson entered this game needing one touchdown pass to tie Peyton Manning's single-season rookie record of 26. Wilson tied the record with a 10-yard scoring pass to Michael Robinson late in the third quarter. The scoring pass gave Seattle a 13-10 lead.

Zuerlein tails off: Rams kicker Greg Zuerlein was a game-changer with his long field goals early in the season. He made all four tries from 50-plus yards through Week 5. Zuerlein hasn't been nearly as good since then, however. His miss from 51 yards late in the first half Sunday dropped him to 3-of-9 from 50-plus yards since Week 6.

Injury impact: The Rams lost linebacker Rocky McIntosh to a concussion. Defensive tackle Michael Brockers left the game with an ankle injury. McIntosh and Brockers are key players for the Rams against the run. Brockers has had ankle trouble all season. The offseason will give him a welcome opportunity to get healthy. He dominated at times this season.

What's next: The Seahawks open the playoffs on the road against the NFC East champion. The Rams are finished for the season.

Rapid Reaction: Seahawks 42, 49ers 13

December, 23, 2012
12/23/12
11:33
PM ET

SEATTLE -- Thoughts on the Seattle Seahawks' 42-13 victory over the San Francisco 49ers at CenturyLink Field in Week 16:

What it means: The Seahawks improved their record to 10-5 and secured a playoff berth while establishing themselves as arguably the hottest team in the NFL. Their quarterback, Russell Wilson, strengthened his credentials as a candidate for offensive rookie of the year. The 49ers can still claim the NFC West title with a home victory over Arizona in Week 17, but securing a first-round bye appears less likely. That could be a concern for San Francisco given injuries affecting key players Justin Smith (elbow), Vernon Davis (concussion) and Mario Manningham (knee).

Playoff picture: Green Bay can secure the second seed in the NFC and a first-round playoff bye with a victory over Minnesota in Week 17. Seattle appears likely to become the fifth seed, but if the Seahawks beat St. Louis and the 49ers lose at home to the Cardinals, the Seahawks would get a home game as the third seed. I'll post the official scenarios once I get them. Check out ESPN's Playoff Machine for potential outcomes.

What I liked: Seattle's physical play on both sides of the ball and on special teams stood out from the beginning. Guard J.R. Sweezy, a surprise starter at right guard, took out Pro Bowl linebacker Patrick Willis at the knees to help spring Marshawn Lynch's 24-yard touchdown run. Left tackle Russell Okung drove back the 49ers' Aldon Smith to spring Lynch on another run. Safety Kam Chancellor put big hits on Davis, Bruce Miller and Frank Gore to set the tone. And when Red Bryant blocked a David Akers field-goal try to set up Richard Sherman's fumble return for a touchdown, the Seahawks were on their way.

Seattle receivers Doug Baldwin and Sidney Rice made difficult catches in this game. That was a huge change from when the 49ers claimed a 13-6 victory over the Seahawks in Week 7. That was one of the main reasons Seattle jumped to an early lead.

For San Francisco, Willis' acrobatic interception of a pass out of Robert Turbin's hands gave the 49ers a chance to stem the Seahawks' momentum.

The 49ers also did a good job maintaining their pass coverage down the field when Wilson scrambled to buy time. Wilson took sacks for a short loss and gained small amounts in situations in which lesser defenses have allowed the quarterback to complete passes down the field. Wilson's serpentine scramble for a 6-yard gain was impressive, but Seattle still had to punt on the next play. That was a victory for the 49ers' defense.

Michael Crabtree beat Sherman for a 35-yard gain early in the third quarter.

What I didn't like: Officials called a couple 15-yard penalties on plays that appeared to be big hits, not dirty ones. Chancellor's big hit for Seattle knocked Davis from the game. Officials flagged Chancellor, but nothing about the hit appeared outside the rules. Later, officials flagged the 49ers' Chris Culliver for hitting Baldwin while safety Dashon Goldson was putting a WWE-style body slam on the wideout. This play appeared consistent with what we've come to expect when these teams battle it out.

Later in the game, the 49res lost Manningham after Seahawks linebacker Leroy Hill hit Manningham low. Years ago, that type of hit might have sparked a brawl. But with current rules discouraging players from hitting high, that type of play could become more common.

The 49ers have proven they can win in hostile environments. Victories at Green Bay, New Orleans and New England provide all the evidence anyone should need. Still, there have been some game-management issues that could be concerning. Fumbled snaps were the issue at New England. This week, the 49ers wasted timeouts and took delay penalties while trying to operate amid deafening noise. Some of those issues are understandable, but the 49ers should expect better on that front.

San Francisco, despite having rushed for 175 yards against Seattle in the previous meeting, went three-and-out with three passes on its first drive. Rainy conditions seemed to make this an ideal time to test a Seattle defense that had allowed a league-worst 5.3 yards per carry from Week 7 through Week 15. The score was out of hand before the 49ers had a chance to establish anything on the ground. Of course, having Gore cough up the football when Chancellor took him down hard might have suggested this was going to be a tough night for the 49ers regardless.

QB comparison: Wilson, ranked second in NFL passer rating and first in Total QBR since Week 6, continued his recent run of efficient play. His four scoring passes more than offset the one pick he threw on a pass off his receiver's hands. Kaepernick struggled with crowd noise and wasn't as accurate or sharp as he had been recently. He threw a pick in the end zone and was fortunate Seattle could not hold onto another pass thrown into coverage. Wilson was much more purposeful than Kaepernick in the way he moved to buy time and avoid sacks.

Third-down domination: The Seahawks converted 11 of 12 times (92 percent) on third down against the 49ers. They scored four touchdowns on four possessions in the red zone. Seattle's defense held the 49ers to 3-of-11 (27 percent) on third down and one touchdown on four red zone possessions.

Stuck on 19.5: Aldon Smith still needs 3.5 sacks to break Michael Strahan's single-season record since 1982, when sacks became an official stat. Smith went without a sack against the Seahawks, leaving him at 19.5 for the season. He faces an Arizona defense that has improved its pass protection despite allowing three sacks to Chicago's Julius Peppers on Sunday.

Lynch does it again: Lynch topped 100 yards rushing for his third consecutive game against the 49ers.

Another block: Bryant's blocked field goal was his fourth over the past two seasons. He has also blocked an extra-point attempt during that time.

Davis concussed: The 49ers announced with 10:19 remaining in the second quarter that Davis would not return to the game. Davis plays nearly all the offensive snaps when healthy. He hasn't been a big factor as a receiver lately, but they valued him for his blocking and for the attention he drew as a big receiver with speed. Garrett Celek took snaps in the two-tight-end sets once Davis departed.

Brown shaken up: The 49ers lost starting cornerback Tarell Brown to injury with 9:17 remaining in the second quarter. Brown was injured while Wilson scrambled for a short gain. He was down on the ground for several minutes as trainers tended to him. Medical staff helped Brown off the field. Brown was able to return a short time later.

Ironman streak ends: 49ers defensive end Justin Smith was named inactive with an elbow injury, ending his streak of starts at 185 regular-season games. That was the longest active streak for a defensive lineman in the NFL. Ricky Jean Francois started in place of Smith at right defensive end.

What's next: The 49ers are home against Arizona. The Seahawks are home against St. Louis.

Rapid Reaction: 49ers 41, Patriots 34

December, 17, 2012
12/17/12
12:14
AM ET

Thoughts on the San Francisco 49ers' 41-34 victory over the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium in Week 15:

What it means: The 49ers clinched a playoff berth by improving to 10-3-1 with a critical road victory. They can win the NFC West title by winning one of their final two games, either at Seattle or against Arizona. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick threw an interception and had trouble with center exchanges, but his four touchdown passes played a leading role in the 49ers' victory. The 49ers' ability to strike quickly after blowing a 31-3 lead just might have saved their season.

What I liked: Kaepernick's early 24-yard touchdown pass to Randy Moss gave the 49ers some margin for error on a night when wet conditions made it tougher to operate efficiently. Michael Crabtree topped 100 yards receiving. His 38-yard touchdown catch with 6:25 remaining broke a 31-31 tie and ended a streak of 28 consecutive points by the Patriots.

Kaepernick's four touchdown passes exceeded by one his total for the season before Sunday. The man he replaced, Alex Smith, never tossed more than three scoring passes in a game since San Francisco drafted him first overall in 2005. Kaepernick completed 14 of 25 passes for 216 yards with four touchdowns, one pick and a 107.7 NFL passer rating.

Defensively, Aldon Smith got pressure on Tom Brady early in the game. Ray McDonald had two sacks. He and Ricky Jean-Francois had sacks on consecutive fourth-quarter plays as the 49ers made a key stop while holding a 38-31 lead. Aldon Smith and Carlos Rogers each had an interception off Brady, who entered the game with only four all season.

Donte Whitner's big hit on Stevan Ridley forced out the football and set up Dashon Goldson's return deep into Patriots territory. Rogers played well against Patriots receiver Wes Welker, one key to building that 31-3 lead.

On special teams, Andy Lee changed field position significantly with a 64-yard punt in the fourth quarter. Rookie LaMichael James' 66-yard kickoff return following the Patriots' tying touchdown put the 49ers in position for Crabtree's go-ahead scoring reception. Lee pinned the Patriots at their 3-yard line in the final three minutes. His late punts proved critical as the 49ers scrambled to hold their lead without injured defensive end Justin Smith.

What I didn't like: The repeated problems with center exchanges had to be maddening for the 49ers. Those troubles could have cost San Francisco the victory. Patriots nose tackle Vince Wilfork was extremely disruptive on the interior. That was probably one reason Kaepernick and center Jonathan Goodwin had so much trouble.

Rogers' interception was terrific, but he failed to reach the end zone when Brady tackled him. That cost the 49ers points.

Kaepernick threw an interception on a first-and-5 play when he apparently did not see safety Devin McCourty closing from the back side of the play. The 49ers had driven from their own 30-yard line to the New England 33 on their first drive of the second half. They held a 17-3 lead and were in prime position to get more points. Fortunately for the 49ers, their defense produced Goldson's fumble return on the Patriots' ensuing possession.

Cornerback Chris Culliver gave up a 53-yard pass reception as the Patriots rallied in the fourth quarter.

Questions for Ginn: 49ers return specialist Ted Ginn Jr. nearly muffed a punt in the first half when he came dangerously close to touching a loose ball. He muffed a fourth-quarter punt return and was able to dive on the ball. The 49ers cannot tolerate those sorts of miscues given the similar troubles that cost them in the NFC title game last season. Perhaps the wet conditions were a factor. Whatever the case, the 49ers need Ginn to get back to his former sure-handed ways.

West takes Pats: The NFC West finished the 2012 season with a 3-1 record against the Patriots, including 2-0 at Gillette Stadium. Brady threw four touchdown passes with five picks in defeats to San Francisco, Arizona and Seattle. He attempted 65 passes Sunday and had a 68.9 NFL passer rating.

Injury concerns: Justin Smith tried to return from an elbow injury, but he lasted just one play and could not finish the game. Smith is one of the 49ers' most important players. That injury will be one to monitor closely as the 49ers prepare for Seattle.

What's next: The 49ers visit the Seattle Seahawks in Week 16.

Rapid Reaction: 49ers 31, Saints 21

November, 25, 2012
11/25/12
7:43
PM ET

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.

Rapid Reaction: 49ers 32, Bears 7

November, 19, 2012
11/19/12
11:33
PM ET

Thoughts on the San Francisco 49ers' 32-7 victory over the Chicago Bears at Candlestick Park on Monday night:

What it means: The 49ers can feel better about their future at quarterback after watching Colin Kaepernick dominate the Bears with his arm and even with presnap reads. How long before the future arrives? That is the question. Kaepernick was so good in just about every conceivable area. The 49ers drafted him in 2011 to be their eventual starter, trading up in the second round to get him. Alex Smith has performed capably in the meantime. I'm not sure he has ever looked as good as Kaepernick looked in this game, however.

The 49ers improved to 7-2-1 to expand their NFC West lead over second-place Seattle (6-4).

What I liked: The 49ers came out throwing when the Bears expected them to run the ball. I like the strategy in retrospect, hindsight being 20/20. The 49ers obviously felt Kaepernick could handle the aggressive strategy. His offensive line gave him ample time. Kaepernick appeared comfortable. He made challenging throws with authority and accuracy. Tight end Vernon Davis reemerged as a result.

Kaepernick completed 16 of 23 passes for 243 yards with two touchdowns and a 133.1 NFL passer rating.

The 20-0 lead Kaepernick built allowed the 49ers' defense to unleash its fury against the Bears' overmatched offensive line. Aldon Smith collected 5.5 sacks. He might have been most impressive when teammate Justin Smith beat him to the quarterback in the fourth quarter. Aldon Smith bull-rushed tackle Gabe Carimi and sent him hurtling onto his back. Justin Smith collapsed running plays and collected his first half-sack of the season. Patrick Willis knocked away passes and punished with his tackles, overpowering blockers when he did not elude them. Tarell Brown and Dashon Goldson picked off passes.

The Bears had 35 yards of offense in the first half. The 49ers held a 236-20 lead in yardage at one point.

San Francisco avoided turnovers against a defense known for forcing them. The Bears came into this game with an NFL-high 19 interceptions. Charles Tillman had forced seven fumbles. The 49ers protected the football in part because they protected Kaepernick so well. Kaepernick had fumbled twice against St. Louis last week. He was well protected in this game. Left tackle Joe Staley appeared to do a terrific job against Bears defensive end Julius Peppers.

What I didn't like: The 49ers had trouble converting third-and-short situations. They threw incomplete on third-and-1 early in the game. They threw incomplete on a third-and-2, then gained only a yard on a third-and-2 completion to Michael Crabtree.

Those eager to see the 49ers activate running back Brandon Jacobs can cite those stats. Jacobs converted eight first downs on 11 rushes in third-and-2 or shorter while with the New York Giants over the 2010 and 2011 seasons.

From a coaching standpoint, the 49ers punted or attempted field goals on multiple fourth-and-1 situations. The percentages often favor going for first downs on those plays.

That's all I've got.

What's next: The 49ers visit the New Orleans Saints in Week 12 for a rematch of their NFC divisional-round playoff game from last season.

Rapid Reaction: Rams 24, 49ers 24 (OT)

November, 11, 2012
11/11/12
8:13
PM ET
Thoughts on the St. Louis Rams' 24-24 tie with the San Francisco 49ers at Candlestick Park:

What it means: The Rams proved they'll be a tough out for every team in the NFC West, not just for Arizona and Seattle. They'll be tough on quarterbacks now that Jeff Fisher is their head coach. And with Sam Bradford at quarterback, they can challenge a quality defense on the road with strong fourth-quarter play. But they were a mess when it mattered, committing penalties and making questionable use of timeouts.

Meanwhile, the 49ers suddenly appear vulnerable heading into a highly anticipated "Monday Night Football" matchup against the Chicago Bears. They have injury questions after quarterback Alex Smith suffered a first-half concussion and did not return.

What I liked: This was another rough-and-tumble game in the NFC West. It was looking for a few weeks as though the Rams might not have enough to sustain the early fight they showed this season. Those concerns went away quickly Sunday. The Rams took the game to San Francisco by winning at the line of scrimmage in shocking fashion. They also took the initiative with aggressive plays, symbolized by the fake punt they converted from their own end zone while holding a 14-7 lead late in the first half.

Niners linebacker Patrick Willis and Rams running back Steven Jackson staged a memorable battle over the first-down marker on a third-and-long play. Both were the best players on bad teams in the past. They've become symbols for excellence no matter the circumstances. Jackson fought forward for the first down and got help from teammates, it appeared. His helmet popped off, allowing for a clear shot at just how much he was straining for extra yardage. For Jackson, losing the helmet carried practical value, too. It ended the play, pre-empting what might otherwise have been ruled as a fumble.

The 49ers' special teams haven't been as good overall this season, but they came through at least once when needed Sunday. Tramaine Brock's forced fumble during a Rams kick return set up Frank Gore's 20-yard touchdown run as the 49ers took a 21-17 lead midway through the fourth quarter. Gore ran with great effort.

The Rams succeeded on two fake punts, including one to prevent a three-and-out while trailing 21-17. Bradford, one of the better fourth-quarter quarterbacks this season, found Danny Amendola over the middle on third down to keep the same drive moving. Jackson did a great job picking up the blitz to allow Bradford's 2-yard scoring pass to Austin Pettis as the Rams took a 24-21 lead with 1:09 remaining.

What I didn't like: Roughing up the opposing quarterback is always the goal, but it's never good when anyone suffers a concussion. Smith suffered his second in as many seasons. He had completed 7 of 8 passes with a touchdown before departing in the first half. A hard hit from Rams linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar might have been the culprit.

Smith joined Arizona's Kevin Kolb (sacked nine times by Rams) and Seattle's Russell Wilson (picked off three times by them) as quarterbacks suffering through rough games against St. Louis. His replacement, Colin Kaepernick, struggled with accuracy, missing Vernon Davis and Kyle Williams when they were open. But his scrambling ability was critical for the 49ers as they clawed their way back into the game.

The Rams, meanwhile, played without receiver Chris Givens and cornerback Janoris Jenkins. Both were inactive for violating team rules. Givens and Jenkins let down their teammates heading into a critical game as the Rams were looking to bounce back from a couple of tough defeats.

Question for the coach: Fisher deserves scrutiny for calling timeout before the Rams scored their go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter. That left the 49ers with additional time to move down the field for the tying field goal. San Francisco did just that. The Rams' defense couldn't hold a fourth-quarter lead at Detroit in Week 1, and the same was true in this game.

Penalty problems: The Rams had completed what they thought was an 80-yard pass to Amendola early in overtime. They would have had possession in position to score the winning touchdown with a first-and-goal.

But officials flagged that left tackle Rodger Saffold did not report as an eligible receiver. These types of penalties often result from the wide receiver failing to line up properly. Receiver Brandon Gibson apparently wasn't on the line of scrimmage at the snap. That was a horrible error in a critical situation.

The Rams later had two players in motion while trying to move into position for an attempt at the winning field goal in overtime. They were also flagged for delay of game while Greg Zuerlein's attempt at the winning kick in overtime sailed through from 52 yards. That was the 12th penalty assessed against the Rams. The team still had a timeout to use, so there was no reason to take the delay.

What's next: The 49ers face the Bears at home on Monday night. The Rams are home against the New York Jets.

Rapid Reaction: 49ers 24, Cardinals 3

October, 29, 2012
10/29/12
11:31
PM ET

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Thoughts on the San Francisco 49ers' 24-3 victory over the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium in Week 8:

What it means: The 49ers affirmed their status as the most complete team in the NFC West and the clear favorite to win the division. Their 6-2 record gives them a two-game lead over Seattle and Arizona, with St. Louis lagging three games back. San Francisco appears ready to pull away from its rivals over the second half of the season. The Cardinals appear less likely than Seattle to challenge for a playoff spot.

What I liked: The 49ers' Michael Crabtree and the Cardinals' Patrick Peterson went head to head on a national stage. The young first-round draft choices matched up several times in the first half. Crabtree enjoyed a clear advantage this time. He now has won two of their past three matchups.

Crabtree outmuscled Peterson to grab a high pass in the end zone. He broke away from Peterson and kept his balance during a 22-yard reception to set up a David Akers field goal. Later, Crabtree left Peterson on the grass en route to another scoring reception. The 49ers' passing game hadn't gotten going like this since the game against Buffalo three weeks ago.

Alex Smith's finger injury obviously isn't a factor any longer. He completed 18 of 19 passes for 232 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. Smith got the ball to his receivers and let them do much of the work, including when Randy Moss shook Jamell Fleming and Paris Lenon along the sideline for a 47-yard touchdown.

For the Cardinals, Daryl Washington collected two more sacks, giving him eight for the season. That's tremendous production from an inside linebacker. Washington should challenge for a Pro Bowl berth this season, particularly with Dallas' Sean Lee out for the year. The 49ers' Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman also are in the mix for Pro Bowl berths at inside linebacker, of course.

Cardinals rookie receiver Michael Floyd, although inconsistent, flashed talent by making a left-handed grab while falling to the ground in the final minutes.

What I didn't like: The Cardinals' defense had no answer for the 49ers' offense. San Francisco ran the ball at will early in the game, then succeeded through the air before and after the catch. Arizona has been much better on defense much of the season. However, four of the Cardinals' five most recent opponents -- Miami, Buffalo, Minnesota and San Francisco -- have moved the ball too easily on the ground, through the air or both ways.

This was the first time all season Arizona allowed more than 21 points in a game.

Of course, Arizona's offense deserves a fair amount of the blame. The defense can't do everything. Quarterback John Skelton threw inaccurately with and without imminent pressure. That has been typical for him. On some plays, inaccuracy made it nearly impossible for Cardinals receivers to make gains after the catch. Receivers had to reach for balls just to make catches, allowing defenders to close ground.

Smith, despite his strong passing performance, held the ball too long, taking sacks. He risked injuries unnecessarily while setting back the offense. Smith took hard hits from Calais Campbell and Darnell Docket after having time to unload the ball.

Also, 49ers guard Alex Boone committed a face mask penalty to kill a promising San Francisco drive early in the game.

Advantage, Goldson: Niners safety Dashon Goldson leveled Cardinals receiver Early Doucet following a short reception over the middle. Goldson celebrated by holding both arms skyward. This one might have been personal.

Goldson and Doucet brawled during a Week 11 game between the teams last season. The league levied a $25,000 fine against Goldson and a $10,000 fine against Doucet. Doucet was the instigator, but the NFL cited him for only unnecessary roughness, while Goldson was cited for fighting, which carries higher fines.

Doucet returned to the game.

Draft-pick comparison: The Cardinals selected Peterson fifth overall in 2011 when they could have taken Aldon Smith, who went to the 49ers two picks later. Both have been impact players overall, but Smith had the better night Monday. He had two sacks.

Fitzgerald shaken up: Larry Fitzgerald remained in the game and was on the field in the final minutes despite getting shaken up when he went face first into the grass during the first half. There was no injury announcement made in relation to Fitzgerald. He returned to the game quickly.

Roof open: While states in the East weathered Sandy, the Cardinals opened the roof for this game. The official play-by-play sheet said the temperature was 90 degrees at kickoff. The thermometer on my rental car read in the 80s several hours earlier. Either way, the NFL lucked out with its scheduling for this game.

Not the 2002 Raiders: Arizona is the first team since the 2002 Oakland Raiders to go from 4-0 to 4-4. Those Raiders went 11-5 and reached the Super Bowl thanks to MVP quarterback Rich Gannon.

What's next: The Cardinals visit the Green Bay Packers in Week 9. The 49ers have a bye before facing the St. Louis Rams at Candlestick Park in Week 10.

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