UPDATED WITH GAME GOLD NUGGET AWARDS: The San Francisco 49ers picked up right where they left off last season, with a 30-22 win over the Green Bay Packers in the season opener. Quarterback Alex Smith outplayed Aaron Rodgers all game which helped the 49ers maintain a lead for most of the contest. Smith won the quarterback-rating battle over Rodgers, 125.6 to 93.3, which helped the 49ers snap the Packers 13-game home winning streak and won for the first time in Green Bay since 1990.
Great teams hold off for the win. Despite the replacement referees, the 49ers showed resiliency and why they are strong contenders to make the Super Bowl this season by defeating a team that went 15-1 last season. Not many people gave the 49ers a chance to win at Lambeau Field, nor did anyone think Smith would outplay his counterpart Rodgers, as he looked more like the reigning MVP QB in game. The 49ers defense did its part all game and held off a comeback from Rodgers with less than a minute left in the game. The 49ers Faithful could not have asked for a better performance by the offense, defense and special teams, as the team won in all aspects of the game. Let’s hand out some Game Gold Nuggets awards.
Game Gold Nuggets Scale:
= VERY GOOD
The most important stat to take away from the game for the offense was the 49ers scoring two touchdowns in two trips to the red zone. The offense totaled 377 yards, averaged 5.8 yards per carry, and at one-point in the game, they scored points on five straight drives after opening the game with a three-and-out. Another equally important stat for the offense was zero turnovers in the game.
Frank Gore (112 rushing yards, 1 TD) led the production on offense and the Packers defense did not have an answer for the 49ers running game which compiled 186 rushing yards. The offense ran all over the Packers defense with Gore averaging 7 yards per carry in the game.
The 49ers two offseason additions at wide receiver made an impact in the game. Randy Moss bested Mario Manningham stats, with four catches for 47 yards and one touchdown. Manningham also had four receptions but for only 29 yards and zero touchdowns. Moss’ lone touchdown, a 14-yarder, was the first of the day for the 49ers that put them up 10-0. Moss was used sporadically, but when he was on the field he was effective. Alex Smith’s second touchdown pass went to Vernon Davis for a 4-yard score in the third quarter, which put the 49ers up 23-7.
Michael Crabtree led the way for the receivers with 7 receptions for 76 yards. Even though he did not score a touchdown, for first time in a game Crabs looked like a superstar receiver the 49ers thought they drafted three years ago. Smith and Crabs were in sync on plays and passing routes throughout the game.
We all know how great the 49ers defense was last season and we expected them to continue where they left off this season. But, honestly, I did not think the 49ers D would dominate and stop Aaron Rodgers and the Packers passing attack. The defense did give up 303 passing yards, but they only surrendered 45 rushing yards. Rodgers had 27 of those 45 rushing yards.
With Packers running back James Starks not playing because of a toe injury, the team had Cedric Benson running the football. The problem is Benson has only been with the team for a few weeks, which rendered him ineffective in the game. The 49ers D knew they could take advantage of the injury by dropping more defenders into coverage to stop all of the Packers’ receivers. The defense dared the Packers to run the football by dropping seven defenders, all of them cornerbacks or safeties, into coverage. Even with being outnumbered up front, the defense still stopped the run and had Rodgers scrambling all day, with the defense recording three sacks and five hits on him. The Packers stayed with the pass all game by throwing 44 times versus running the football 14 times.
All of the secondary for the 49ers did an outstanding job. The highlight from the crew was Carlos Rogers’ fantastic job of covering Greg Jennings all game by limiting him to just 5 receptions for 34 yards.
As well as the secondary played, the MVP on defense was linebacker NaVorro Bowman started off 2012 with a band, recording 11 tackles, two passes defended and, most importantly, had a huge fourth-quarter pick that changed the momentum back in the 49ers favor, after the Randall Cobb returned a punt for 75 yards. Bowman’s interception led to Gore’s 23-yard touchdown, which put the 49ers up 30-15.
What is amazing about the 49ers defensive play was how silly they made Rodgers and his offense look at times in the game. Last season, the Packers offense averaged almost 34 points per game and had not been held to under 24 points at home since 2010. The 49ers D held the Packers to just seven points through three quarters as they built a 23-7 lead heading into the fourth quarter. It was only fitting someone from the secondary, cornerback Chris Culliver, would make the play on fourth down that sealed the victory for the 49ers with 54 seconds remaining.
Here is the stat of the day for the defense: The Packers ended five of their first six drives with punts.
The special teams were almost perfect. If not for the Cobb’s 75-yard return for a touchdown, it would have been a perfect game for the unit. The highlight of course, was David Akers 63-yard field at the end of the first half that tied an NFL record. Akers is the best kicker in the NFL today, but even I didn’t think he would make the long field goal. As the kick hit the crossbar and landed through the uprights, you had to have known the 49ers were going to win the game. After the kick, I tweeted, “The crossbar is my new best friend.”
Akers joined three kickers in the NFL record book, Tom Dempsey (Saints, 1970), Denver’s Jason Elam (Broncos, 1998) and Sebastian Janikowski (Raiders, 2011).
Oh, yeah, and Akers also made field-goal tries of 40 and 43 yards.
It should be noted that Kyle Williams fielded four punts and had zero fumbles! He only returned one, which lead to Akers’ 63-yard field goal.
Jim Harbaugh and his coaches came up with a brilliant game plan for the Packers. Offensive coordinator Greg Roman ran a balanced attack with 26 passes and 32 rushing attempts. The offense scored on both trips inside the red zone. Roman used so many different formations and personnel groups, by using extra linemen in jumbo formations on some rushing plays that gained a lot of positive yards. One was Gore’s 23-yard TD run in the fourth quarter that gave the 49ers a two score lead.
Harbaugh and Roman used Moss cautiously, but effectively in the game. He was on the field for about 20 plays and showed he will block even if the play called is not targeting him. Just to show the Packers respected his presence on the field, on one play in the third quarter Moss was lined up on the left side and ran a deep post. The defense focused on Moss as Vernon Davis was on the right side and ran underneath Moss, allowing him to catch a 29-yard pass with almost no one around him.
Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio knew his the Packers offense would not be able to run against his defense, so he dropped more people into coverage. Even though it came at the expense of Patrick Willis not being on the field at times when they used four cornerbacks and two safeties for coverage, the strategy was hugely successful.