Three and Out: Rookies make impact; the 18-play drive
Vernon Davis is the first 49ers tight end to have scoring receptions of 60 yards or more in back-to-back weeks. (AP)
Programming note: Watch Monday’s 49ers press conference with head coach Jim Harbaugh live at 12 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet Bay Area, and streaming live online here
What you need to know: For a team that continues to have its struggles on offense, the 49ers are sure scoring a lot of points.
The 49ers’ 32-20 victory over the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday marked the first time in a decade the club has scored 30 or more points in three consecutive games.
It certainly did not start out that way, however. And the 49ers’ offense got a lot of help from the team’s turnover-generating defense along the way.
The offense struggled early, failing to cash in interceptions by Eric Reid and Carlos Rogers into touchdowns. The 49ers did not collect a first down on their first four drives of the game.
Then, tight end Vernon Davis and Colin Kaepernick heated up.
“When you’re in the zone, it’s like you’re on a high and you can’t come down,” Davis said. “It’s a beautiful thing. He was able to find me several times. We started to click and we were on the same page.”
There were grumblings emanating from the stands at Candlestick Park after four unproductive offensive series, two of which concluded with short Phil Dawson field goals. Then, Arizona receiver Larry Fitzgerald blasted through the 49ers’ secondary on a mad dash after taking Carson Palmer’s pass for a 75-yard scoring play.
The 49ers’ defense, once again, proved to be their best offense when rookie outside linebacker Corey Lemonier sacked Palmer in the end zone for a safety.
Then, Davis took over.
Kaepernick took advantage of an offside penalty to look downfield for Davis, who had a few steps on Cardinals cornerback Jerraud Powers as he angled across the field. Davis caught the pass in stride and turned it into a 61-yard scoring play.
Two possessions later, after the two-minute warning, Davis leaped over safety Yeremiah Bell for a 35-yard touchdown reception.
Davis accomplished his regular-season career high of 171 yards – in the first-half alone. He finished with 180 yards on the game to match his career-best performance against the New Orleans Saints in the playoffs following the 2011 season.
Davis is the first 49ers tight end to have scoring receptions of 60 yards or more in back-to-back weeks. And he’s the first NFL tight end since Cincinnati’s Bob Trumpy in 1969 to accomplish the feat.
“They have a very good run defense,” 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said of the Cardinals, “and they committed an extra player in the box and went with man-coverage and at times zero-coverage. And that gave Vernon a chance to win and make the big play. And those were great plays that he made, too.”
Kaepernick completed 16 of 29 pass attempts for 252 yards with two touchdowns to Davis and one interception. It was the first time Kaepernick has thrown for more than 200 yards since his 412-yard opening-game performance against the Green Bay Packers.
“As long as we come out with a win, that’s a good script to me,” Kaepernick said.
Grinding it out: The 49ers ultimately demonstrated good balance on offense. In the first half, it was Davis. In the second half, the running game took over.
Frank Gore was held to just 20 yards on 10 rushing attempts in the first half. He finished with 101 yards on 25 attempts. It was the first time since the days of Terrell Owens and Garrison Hearst in 2003 that the 49ers had a 150-yard receiver and 100-yard rusher in the same game.
The 49ers improved to 27-7 when Gore rushes for 100 yards. With 34 games of 100 yards or more rushing since he broke into the league in 2005, Gore ranks second during that time behind only Adrian Peterson (39).
The 49ers put the game away with a scoring drive that lasted 18 plays – the longest offensive possession through six weeks of the NFL season. The 89-yard march lasted 9 minutes, 32 seconds.
Kendall Hunter’s 6-yard touchdown run gave the 49ers a 29-20 lead with 6:35 remaining in the fourth quarter. Fullback Bruce Miller gained a crucial first down on a fourth-and-1 running play – his first rushing attempt of the season.
“We got some of the top offensive players in the league and fourth and 1, I was expecting Frank to get that carry,” Miller said.
Gore got plenty of carries on the drive, too. The 49ers ran the ball 12 times. Offensive coordinator Greg Roman called the same play, “Power 94,” five times on the drive. It’s a run play designed over right guard Alex Boone with left guard Mike Iupati – and Adam Snyder, who played several snaps while Iupati was out with a stinger – pulling and following lead-blocker Miller into the hole.
No surprises: Cardinals first-year coach Bruce Arians opted to go for two points in the middle of the third quarter after Arizona pulled to within two points, 22-20, of the 49ers on Michael Floyd’s 10-yard scoring pass from Palmer.
Then, the Cardinals attempted to surprise the 49ers with some trickery. Cornerback Patrick Peterson, who is occasionally used on offense, lined up in the right slot. He went in motion and took a pitch from Palmer. Peterson then reversed field and came back to his right, looking to pass. Nobody was open, and he threw the ball away.
If the 49ers looked as if they knew what was coming, it’s because they practiced against that very play. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio had the defense prepared to stop that play. It did not work in practice, and it didn’t work in the game, either.
“Vic and his staff had seen that, had put it on the cards and our defense, our scout team ran it and executed it in practice and did a good job defending it in the game,” Harbaugh said. “So the credit goes to those coaches for preparing us for that.”
Depth on D-line: Ian Williams, who began the season as the starting nose tackle, is out for the year with a fractured ankle. Backup Glenn Dorsey, who has played well after taking over as the starter, left the game in the first quarter with a right hamstring injury.
Dorsey said he’s had injuries such as this previously in his football career, and he downplayed the severity of the injury.
“It’s cool,” Dorsey said. “It’ll be all right.”
Tony Jerod-Eddie and Demarcus Dobbs are the only backup defensive linemen on the 49ers’ roster. But help should be on the way, as rookies Tank Carradine and Quinton Dial are eligible to begin practicing this week off the reserve/non-football injury list.
“We got some guys that’ll be in the mix this week, Quinton Dial and we’ll see about Tank Carradine, but I think he’s ready,” Harbaugh said. “I think both of those guys are ready and can start practicing this week.”
Turnovers galore: The 49ers forced four turnovers on the day, leading to 16 points for the offense. After Reid and Rogers intercepted Palmer passes early in the game, the 49ers had two fumble recoveries that led to 10 points in the fourth quarter.
Linebacker Patrick Willis made one of the key plays in the game when he stripped Fitzgerald of the ball with the Cardinals driving for the potential go-ahead score late in the third quarter. Reid recovered at the 49ers’ 11-yard line, which was the starting point for San Francisco’s game-clinching, clock-chewing drive.
Later, Lemonier forced a fumble against running back Alfonso Smith, and NaVorro Bowman recovered at the Arizona 31. That turnover set up Dawson’s third field goal of the day. Dawson made kicks from 35, 26 and 44 yards.
Boldin’s milestone: It was a quiet day for 49ers wide receiver Anquan Boldin, who caught just three passes for 28 yards. But one of his catches was a critical third-down conversion for 6 yards on a third-and-2 play at the beginning of the 49ers’ 18-play drive.
But Boldin also reached a milestone. He reached the 800-career-receptions mark in the fourth-fewest games in NFL history. Boldin caught No. 800 in his 146th game. Marvin Harrison (131), Andre Johnson (137) and Torry Holt (142) are the only receivers to accomplish the feat in fewer games.
When asked what the accomplishment means, Boldin answered, “Nothing. We’ve got to win. That’s all that matters.”
Quote of the day: ”Once I got out there and started moving around, I was like, ‘Aw, shucks, I didn’t know it was going to feel like this.’ . . . Yeah, I try to substitute words sometimes so that I don’t say the bad words.”
--Willis on not being quite 100 percent after returning to action after missing two games with a groin strain.
Looking Ahead: The 49ers, who moved into second place all alone with a 4-2 record, begin a two-game, two continent road trip on Friday when they travel to Nashville, Tenn. The 49ers face the Tennessee Titans on Sunday. The Titans (3-3) were 20-13 losers at the NFC West-leading Seattle Seahawks on Sunday. Immediately following the game, the 49ers will fly to London, where they’ll practice all week leading up to their Oct. 27 game against the Jacksonville Jaguars in London’s Wembley Stadium.