Sunday night games drive me crazy. You sit around watching football all day, waiting for 8 PM to finally roll around so you can see the Eagles in action. If the early games go well, things are great. That didn't happen on Sunday. Washington upset Green Bay, which absolutely infuriated me. The Giants destroyed the Texans, who now look like pretenders more than contenders. I sort of expected that outcome. I was in a foul mood in the late afternoon, but there was a ray of sunshine that came my way. The Titans beat the Cowboys in an exciting game to push Dallas' record down to just 1-3.
Before our game even started there was some real pressure put on us. With the Skins and Giants winning, we needed to win to keep pace and stay tied for the division lead. We also wanted to create space between us and Dallas, which puts enormous pressure on them. Sunday's game with the Niners was important no matter what, but became even more important because of the early games.
The team wasn't focused on these peripheral issues. They just wanted to play well and erase the memory of the loss to Washington from the previous week. Andy Reid was tough on his players. He knew that we weren't physical enough with the Skins. The Niners are a very physical team. We couldn't afford another showing like that or we'd lose. I don't know how he got his message across, but it worked.
We controlled the line of scrimmage against San Francisco, on both offense and defense. Making this even more impressive is the fact that we lost a couple of starting linemen in the game and had to go with backups. King Dunlap took over for Jason Peters at left tackle. Antonio Dixon took over for Brodrick Bunkley at right defensive tackle. We still won the battle up front.
Our offense was able to rush for 125 yards. LeSean McCoy ran for 92 yards. Our defense held the Niners to just 74 yards. Stud running back Frank Gore only had 52 and didn't even average 3 yards per carry. Star inside linebacker Patrick Willis was basically a non-factor. He had six solo tackles, but didn't make any big-time plays. We ran the ball between the tackles consistently. Willis didn't get any big time hits on McCoy. We did a good job on him.
Let's stick with the offensive line. Mike McGlynn played the best game of his career. He did a good job of handling the nose tackle, which is critical when you play a 3-4 defense. Dunlap was up and down. I was very frustrated when watching the game live, but felt better about him after studying the tape. He still gave up a couple of sacks, but wasn't getting beaten as frequently as it seemed. Kevin Kolb generally had a good pocket to throw from.
Left guard Todd Herremans was all over the place, literally and figuratively. We'll start with the bad plays. He had a holding call that wiped out a touchdown run. He had a false start penalty that really hurt a promising drive. He was beaten for a sack. Sounds bad, huh? The highlights were pretty impressive. Herremans had some outstanding blocks on run plays. He blocked Willis several times and gave McCoy regular running room. Herremans did a good job on defensive linemen. He helped on the nose tackle at times. He had to reach block the defensive end at times. The best highlight proved to be a very important play. In the middle of the fourth quarter we ran a screen away from Herremans. He blocked his guy then hustled over to the right in case something crazy happened on the play. It did. McCoy fumbled and the ball was lying on the ground for anyone to take. Herremans made a sliding recovery and that gave us the ball at the Niners' 32-yard line. Even better, we got a first down on the play. A few plays later we kicked a field goal to go up 27-17. That hustle may have been the difference in us winning and losing.
I was impressed with our blitz pickup and the way we handled stunts. Kolb got sacked four times, but those plays were individuals getting beat and not the whole line making mistakes. That's the opposite of the way things happened early in the season. You still don't want to give up sacks, but you'd rather have a player get beaten by an opponent than all kinds of defenders running free to the quarterback due to confusion and miscommunication.
Kolb played well. He answered some of the questions about him by throwing the ball vertically and leading us to points. We had four pass plays of at least 20 yards. They weren't short throws that turned into big plays. Each of them was at least a 20-yard throw. Kolb tried to connect with Maclin for a long touchdown on the right side. He missed a couple of downfield throws to Celek. Checkdowns were part of the offense, but not the focus of the passing game. Kolb finished 21 of 31 for 253 yards and a touchdown. I thought he threw the ball well and looked confident in the pocket. He even ran for a first down on a third-and-18 situation.
Kolb's highlight play was his touchdown pass to Celek on the opening drive. Celek did a poor job in pass protection and his rusher tried to sack Kolb. Celek didn't just stand and watch. He went upfield as a receiver. Kolb got away from the pressure and rolled out to his right. Once away from the defenders he stopped and scanned back over the middle. He saw Celek open at the 2-yard line. Kolb made a good throw. Celek got it and fought his way in for the score. Some of Kolb's critics have talked about him being too nervous. That play should answer some of those concerns. Kolb was aware of the pressure, but never panicked. He bought time for his receivers by eluding the pressure. He stayed focused downfield. That was the kind of play that good quarterbacks make.
Our best offensive player was LeSean McCoy. He played brilliantly. McCoy ran for 92 yards. He caught five passes for 46 yards. He scored a touchdown on a 29-yard run. McCoy made some amazing cuts and moves. He left a pair of tacklers grasping for air on one run. He got the best of Willis on a run play. McCoy ran through the hole and then made a terrific cut to his left at the last second. Willis was right in front of him. McCoy got wide and turned upfield. Willis never got a hand on him. That was some good stuff. There were a couple of mistakes. McCoy had the fumble in the fourth quarter. To his credit, this wasn't like McCoy's fumbles from last year that were due to being careless with the ball. A defender put his helmet right on the ball and knocked it out. That will happen.
The most bizarre moment of the game came inside the two-minute mark. McCoy caught a swing pass and started up the left side. He made a defender miss and had room to run. All we needed to do was get 13 yards and we'd have a first down and could start running out the clock. McCoy got close and then went down. He thought he had the first down and wanted to protect the ball. Good intentions, bad results. That could have cost us the game, but luckily it didn't. You can be sure McCoy won't let that happen again.
The defense did a great job of bottling up Frank Gore all night long. You have to give credit to everyone for that. We played very good run defense as a whole. It wasn't like one player was sensational. Defensive tackles Antonio Dixon and Mike Patterson were very good. They clogged up the running lanes and combined for 5 solo tackles. Moise Fokou got the start at SAM linebacker and played well. He gave us a more physical presence at that position. He only had a couple of tackles, but did force a fumble with a major hit on Gore. Fokou also battled blockers all night long. The stat sheet doesn't reflect the impact he had on the game. Fellow linebacker Ernie Sims did a good job of attacking the fullback on run plays and boxing in Gore. Sims recovered the fumble that Fokou created and then Sims forced one of his own.
Safety Quintin Mikell had a very good game. He led the team in tackles. He recovered the ball that Sims knocked loose. Mikell's biggest play came in the fourth quarter when he scooped up an Alex Smith fumble near midfield and ran it back for a touchdown. That play really changed the game. It gave us a 24-10 lead and our first breathing room of the second half.
The pass rush was inconsistent in the game. Dixon and Brandon Graham each had a sack. We got pressure on Smith, but he was able to run from it and throw or scramble for a gain on several plays. I do have to give Trevor Laws special mention. Once again he did a good job of pressuring the passer. He hit Smith on the Niners' final play. That caused the pass to flutter and we picked it off to seal the game. Laws barely registered on the stat sheet, but he had some big plays in the game. He also should have drawn at least one holding call in the fourth quarter. I guarantee you that Smith and the Niners right guard know how well Laws played.
This wasn't an overly impressive victory, but it was a big win. We remain tied for the division lead. Kolb showed that he could start, play well, and win. That should ease some of the pressure on him and the coaches in that regard. We also showed that we can be a tough, physical team. Anyone who thought we couldn't play stout run defense was proven wrong. Shady McCoy continued his emergence into a big-time player. We've still got things to work on, but life is always better after a win. And a Cowboys loss. Sunday turned out pretty good after all.