Three and Out: Aldon activated; what's next?
The 49ers moved past back-to-back losses by trusting Frank Gore and their phyical offensive line to carry the load. (AP)
What else could have gone wrong for the 49ers?
One of their top playmakers from the previous season, which ended with a painful Super Bowl loss, sustained a torn Achilles tendon in May.
Their best defensive player was arrested on suspicion of DUI, and later charged with two misdemeanors -- along with three felonies for possession of illegal firearms. Then, he missed five games while seeking treatment for substance abuse.
[VIDEO: Aldon activated; what's next?]
One player allegedly struck a teammate with a beer bottle during an offseason incident that did not result in any criminal charges.
On the field, the 49ers were blasted by their archrival one week and got steamrolled at Candlestick Park seven days later for the first back-to-back losses of the Jim Harbaugh era.
[RELATED: 49ers 2013 Week 3 rewind page]
But when the 49ers were at their lowest point, they recommitted to Frank Gore and their physical offensive line. The 49ers finished the first half of the season with a 6-2 record, and appear to be playing better than even the NFC West-leading Seattle Seahawks (8-1) as the second half begins.
“There’ve been a lot of adversity and a lot of challenges,” 49ers general manager Trent Baalke said. “You come off an extended season – a disheartening loss. All the other challenges we’ve faced through the first half of the season.”
What did he like most from the first half of the season?
“Just the way the coaches and players have continued to grind,” Baalke said. “The way they responded to the adversity, the injuries, the off-the-field incidents, just everything. The way they’ve been able to regain their focus and regain their determination and get themselves ready to play.”
Here’s a look back at the first half of the 49ers season:
Offensive MVP: RB Frank Gore. When the 49ers found themselves in a desperate situation, they turned to old reliable. He is the heart and soul of the 49ers’ offense. And Gore responded in a big way during the five-game win streak. He leads the 49ers with 618 yards and seven rushing touchdowns.
Honorable mention: TE Vernon Davis is averaging nearly 18 yards per reception with seven touchdowns; LT Joe Staley has clearly been the 49ers’ best offensive lineman at the most demanding position; QB Colin Kaepernick has been steady with flashes of brilliance; and WR Anquan Boldin has picked up the slack for a lack of weapons at the other outside spots.
Defensive MVP: LB NaVorro Bowman. Like Gore, when the 49ers needed players to step up, Bowman did a little bit of everything. According to the statistics tabulated by the coaches, Bowman leads the team with 97 tackles. Justin Smith and Patrick Willis both have 55 tackles. Bowman also has two sacks, two forced fumbles and six passes defensed.
Honorable mention: SS Donte Whitner is still strong in run support and he has been much-improved in coverage; Rookie FS Eric Reid is tied with Tramaine Brock for the team lead with three interceptions; DL Justin Smith has been his usual all-around force; CB Carlos Rogers has been very solid when it comes to defending the slot receiver; and after the offseason incident in which he was alleged to hit then-teammate Lamar Divens over the head with a Heineken bottle, OLB Ahmad Brooks has been a rock on the left side.
Offensive play: The 49ers, having lost two consecutive games, led the Rams just 7-3 late in the first half. Facing a fourth-and-inches from the St. Louis 34, the 49ers went for it. The 49ers ran "Power." Anthony Davis and extra blocker Adam Snyder made blocks on the inside while Mike Iupati and Garrett Celek sealed the outside, allowing Gore to break through en route to a 34-yard touchdown run.
Defensive play: In the same game, and just minutes before Gore’s touchdown run, the Rams were going in for a potential go-ahead score. Rams quarterback Sam Bradford tried to exploit Brock deep against wide receiver Brian Quick. But Brock, running stride-for-stride with Quick, batted away the pass at the goal line. Whitner came over and made an acrobatic interception in the end zone.
Offensive disappointment: The 49ers could not get any production from a No. 2 receiver. Kyle Williams has been in that role, and he’s managed just 11 receptions for 108 yards in eight games. He was mostly steady as a return man through seven games. But that changed in London when he fumbled the opening kickoff and muffed a punt.
Defensive disappointment: All-Pro OLB Aldon Smith was taken into custody on suspicion of DUI on a Friday morning. He played in the game two days later against the Indianapolis Colts. The following day he checked into a treatment facility for substance abuse. The 49ers still managed to win five consecutive games with Dan Skuta and Corey Lemonier filling in for last year’s team MVP.
Special-teams roundup: C.J. Spillman gets the nod as special-teams MVP with his outstanding play on the coverage units. Punter Andy Lee and his coverage unit are excelling once again with a 42.5-yard net average. A pair of rookies, long-snapper Kevin McDermott and Darryl Morris, have made large contributions. Morris and veteran Kassim Osgood combined for the special-teams play of the first half when Morris forced a fumble against Tennessee punt-returner Darius Reynaud. Osgood recovered it in the end zone.
Quote: ”He’s the most paranoid coach in the NFL. I promise you that. Doesn’t matter who we are playing. Doesn’t matter if it’s the last play of a practice. He makes sure we are watching our Ps and Qs, and that’s why they’re such a good coaching staff.”
--Whitner on Harbaugh and his staff
Quote II: ”I agree with that assessment.”
--Staley, confirming Whitner's statement
Looking ahead: The 49ers’ roster should be stronger in the second half with the additions of wide receivers Michael Crabtree (Achilles) and Mario Manningham (knee). Also, Aldon Smith is due back. And the 49ers should strengthen their depth with cornerback Eric Wright and defensive lineman Tank Carradine, at some point, making their 49ers debuts.
[RELATED: 49ers activate Manningham, Wright]
The Seahawks have been teetering on the edge in recent games while the 49ers have put together a string of five consecutive victories with margins of 10 or more points. The NFC West title could come down to the 49ers-Seahawks Dec. 8 meeting at Candlestick Park.
The final regular-season game at Candlestick is scheduled for Monday, Dec. 23, against the Atlanta Falcons. If the 49ers win the division, they’ll play host to at least one playoff game before the concrete edifice is razed.