By Jerrell Richardson
After the dust settled on the regular season, for the second consecutive season, the San Francisco 49ers are NFC West division champions. Their path was not easy, but after their 27-13 win over the Arizona Cardinals, the 49ers can say that they accomplished their regular season goal. Thanks to a Green Bay Packer loss, San Francisco is also the number 2 seed in the NFC, and have set themselves up in the best possible position to accomplish the team’s post season goals. With several key players nursing injuries, the extra week off, will be crucial for them being 100% when they host their eventual playoff opponent in a few weeks.
The game did not start well for the home team. Arizona jumped out to the early lead, and due to terrible field position, and an inspired Cardinal defense, the 49ers failed to generate any offense in the first quarter. In fact, until Colin Kaepernick connected with Michael Crabtree on a 49-yard touchdown pass with just over 8 minutes in the 2nd, the offense was stuck in neutral. This was not all on the shoulder of Kaepernick though, who played outstanding in his final regular season test. He completed 16 of his 28 passes for 276 yards, while throwing 2 touchdowns and most importantly no interceptions. Kaepernick and Crabtree continue to work magic together on the field, with Crabtree having a career day in the season finale.
With a depleted receiving core, Crabtree was asked to carry the load and responded with 8 receptions for 172 yards and 2 touchdowns. He won the one-on-one match up with Patrick Peterson, and when the team needed a big play they looked his way, and he delivered. The 49ers needed Crabtree’s big game as the running game was never able to get things going. Frank Gore did finish with 20 carries, but only netted 68 yards, and even with LaMichael James adding 49 yards on the ground, the running game was a step off most of the day. It’s nice to see that the team can win, when both phases are not clicking. Grade: B
After failing to stop their past two opponents, the 49er defense got back to it’s usual dominating style Sunday. Arizona was with a quarterback with very limited experience, but the team still earns high marks. The only touchdown allowed was a late score that was well after the outcome of the game was decided. Cardinal quarterback Brian Hoyer played as well as expected but was fighting a losing battle. The running game did not help his cause with the Cardinals totaling 55 yards total on the ground. The defense forced two turnovers, and were never really threatened by the Cardinal’s offensively. If Akers makes his first half field goals, the score would have allowed the defense to really pin back their ears and come after Hoyer, but had to bide their team due to the scoreboard. Grade: B+
David Akers has got to be the teams biggest concern entering the playoffs. The normally reliable kicker could not shake his season long slump and missed 2 more very make-able field goals. Coach Jim Harbaugh did show confidence in his kicker continuing to put him in the game, and Akers responded in the second half, but his inconsistent leg could be problematic in the playoffs. The rest of the special teams was solid. Andy Lee’s 46.3 yard average on 4 punts was adequate, while LaMichael James and Ted Ginn Jr. both had over 25 yards on their only returns in the game. Ginn Jr. had a mental mistake that cost the team field position, but overall the only black eye was Akers. Grade: B
Jim Harbaugh coached another solid game, but had very little to do other then screw this one up. His team was at home, in a game that the players had to be fired up for, and he had the better football team. The play calling was fine, but for some reason the team came out flat with the change of winning the division in front of them. It could have been his halftime speech or adjustments, but something woke up the team in the second half. Winning curses all, and he continues to win. His decision to bring in Alex Smith to ice the game will be talked about, but that’s because the game itself was what was expected, and there will be little else to talk about. In two seasons. Harbaugh has delivered to trips to the playoffs, and as long as he is winning, his decisions can’t really be questioned. Grade: B
The 2012 calender year ended on the right note for the 49ers. They are back in the playoffs, won the NFC West, and will be resting during the first week of the playoffs, with home field advantage in their back pocket. The offense is back to putting points on the board, the defense is back to shutting down it’s opponent and team will be as ready as they will be when they begin their playoff push. It’s hard to imagine the team asking for anything else as they head into 2013 with a very lofty goal that become a lot more attainable after another convincing win.
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Jerrell Richardson is a Bay Area native who due to a college career at San Diego State University has grown an appreciation for all things sports related in California. His heart will always remain in San Francisco though where he currently resides and covers everything from the San Francisco 49ers and Giants to the San Jose Sharks and California Bears Baseball team. His work can be found on Examiner.com.