Alex Smith struggles, Gore comes to the rescue

The offense was offensive for most of Thursday night in San Francisco, but when the 49ers needed to move the ball in the second half, they turned to Frank Gore. And it worked.

Gore showed off his usual mix of speed and power, finishing the game with 16 carries for 131 yards, and the 49ers beat the Seahawks 13-6.

The 49ers needed Gore to turn in a big game because quarterback Alex Smith struggled for the second consecutive week. Although Smith reduced his interceptions from three in last week’s loss to the Giants to one on Thursday night against the Seahawks, that one was a bad one in the end zone, and Smith wasn’t particularly effective doing anything other than dumping short passes off to Gore: When throwing to Gore, Smith completed five of six passes for 51 yards, but when throwing to anyone other than Gore, Smith was just 9-for-17 for 89 yards.

But the 49ers’ offensive effort was enough because the Seahawks couldn’t move the ball, either. Like the 49ers, the Seahawks’ offense was limited mostly to giving the ball to the running back: Marshawn Lynch had 19 carries for 103 yards, but quarterback Russell Wilson completed just nine of 23 passes for 122 yards, with one interception. Wilson will have growing pains as a rookie starter, but the Seahwaks need him to get better if they’re going to be a playoff team. Read more…

Lambeau, Schlambeau

Lambeau, Schlambeau.

Erasing a blemish that’s been oozing since 1990, the San Francisco 49ers ventured triumphantly onto the humid tundra of Green Bay and served notice to the rest of the NFC that the long and winding road that leads to funky New Orleans in February of 2013 still parades it’s way through smelly Candlestick Park.

The Beatles (whose final U.S. Concert was at the even-then smelly Candlestick Park) sang “All you need is Love”, but for Alex Smith the song goes “All you pretty much need is Wide Receivers.” To which I add: And Frank Gore, David Akers and that Defense, with a capital D. To further butcher the fine lyrics of the Lads from Liverpool “There’s nothing you can do that they can’t stop.”

If Punter Andy Lee doesn’t out-kick his coverage team in the 4th Quarter, and if Randall Cobb of Green Bay doesn’t run it back all the way for a TD, and if the sometimes pathetic fill-in officials don’t blow an obvious blocking in the back penalty on the return then the game is no where near as close as the score. It was 23-7 at the end of the 3rd, thanks in part to Kicker David Akers NFL record-tying 63 yard field goal just before halftime that received a beneficent bounce off the crossbar of the goal post.

The 49ers brought in Randy Moss to help bolster their anemic 2011 red-zone performance, and Moss did catch his first touchdown pass since 2010 in the first half, yet if 49er Quarterback Alex Smith wasn’t so fixated on Moss near the goal line in the 3rd Quarter, he might have taken advantage of Green Bay’s blown defensive coverage and found Michael Crabtree all alone in the corner of the end zone. I believe Green Bay ended up with a Defensive End covering Crabtree. No matter, Smith hit Tight End Vernon Davis with a four yard throw for a TD, capping the 49ers red-zone efficiency at a nice round 100%. Besides, Green Bay played the gracious host and provided several other blown defensive coverages, most of which Smith was able to fully exploit. At one point, the ‘Niners ran off three straight 20 yard-plus plays.

Smith looks different this year. He seems to have shaken off the 49ers flirting with Peyton Manning and re-embraced Head Coach Jim Harbaugh. There was nothing he could do about all the offensive coordinators and head coaches and turmoil in the front office, but maybe he has learned how to be Alex Smith in time. He completed 76% of his passes, 15 to wide receivers, 3 to TE Vernon Davis, and only 2 to running backs. His 20 of 26 day with 2 TD’s and 0 interceptions added up to a quarterback rating of 125.6, which is just below Peyton Manning and above Tom Brady. More importantly, Smith led the 49ers to a crucial 4th quarter score after Cobb’s electric punt return brought the Green Bay crowd back from wherever they had gone to be quiet together.

Frank Gore looked good, with over a hundred yards and a 7 yard-per-carry average. Kendall Hunter proved an able back-up, taking 9 carries and averaging 4.6 yards per-carry. The offensive line is big and fast and has had a year to gel. Harbaugh is inspired, and obviously has the attention of his team. Yes, it’s a long season, but Harbaugh, Smith, Gore and Willis may be the new Fab Four: “Nothing you can say but you can learn how to play the game. It’s easy.”