49ers vs. Raiders: Thumbs up and thumbs down
Thumbs up: How's this for getting started and leaving behind the misery of last week's start? The 49ers took the opening kickoff Saturday night and assembled an impressive 16-play drive to the Oakland 2-yard line, a nice mixture of run and pass during which the Niners collected six first downs and ate almost 10 minutes off the clock. San Francisco started the preseason last week with four three-and-outs before picking up its initial first down in a 24-3 loss to New Orleans.
Thumbs down: Unfortunately, the 49ers couldn't punch it into the end zone on first-and-goal from the 8, so the field-goal unit came out for a 22-yard try which never got into the air. Holder Andy Lee bobbled the snap, then suffered a hip injury when he was walloped while attempting to unload a pass on the broken play. A two-time Pro Bowl punter, Lee had to be helped up after subsequent holds on PAT attempts and he did not attempt a punt in a game for the first time since joining the 49ers in 2004.
Thumbs down: Coach Jim Harbaugh said after the game that he didn't think Lee's injury was "a serious thing," but Lee is a tough guy who was looking hurt afterwards, and if the injury is anything significant, it would be a serious blow to the 49ers as Lee is one of their few indispensable special-teams players.
Thumbs down: Before we delve further in the game, we must deliver the biggest of all thumbs down to the senseless violence that rocked Candlestick Park on Saturday both during and after the game. There were a few donnybrook melees in the stands during the game, but that's not unusual when the Raiders and 49ers meet in the Battle of the Bay. But then some knuckleheads took it too far after that. Early reports late Saturday night had two men fighting for their lives at area hospitals after one was savagely beaten unconscious in an upper-level restroom and the other was shot multiple times in the parking lot after the game. A third man was shot in the face 20 minutes after the game but apparently suffered only superficial injuries. There is simply no place for this kind of thing, at 49ers games or anywhere else.
Thumbs up: Back to football, and how about that Kendall Hunter? Give the speedy rookie scatback an inch, and he'll take a mile, or at least 53 yards up the gut for a touchdown. It looks like the 49ers have another weapon on offense now after their fourth-round draft pick added several other nice runs to his scoring dash while finishing with a game-high 105 yards rushing on just nine carries.
Thumbs up: Alex Smith still is inconsistent, but when he is on, he is on. San Francisco's two longest passing plays of the evening were perfectly thrown spirals that Smith threaded over defenders, particularly his 32-yarder to Braylon Edwards that was as good as that pass can be thrown. Smith also had a 32-yarder to Josh Morgan and was much sharper than his previous performance, completing 8 of 13 passes for 126 yards to stay ahead of rookie Colin Kaepernick in the starting quarterback derby.
Thumbs up: While Smith put the pass on the money, Edwards still had to make a circus catch to haul it in, reaching out with his left arm along the sideline to grab the ball with an Oakland defender running with him step for step. It was his best catch so far as a 49er.
Thumbs down: One had to cringe watching kicker David Akers punting in place of Lee, particularly when he was drilled by an Oakland defender while getting his second punt partially blocked. Akers' valuable left leg was put in an extremely vulnerable position on that play, and the Niners are fortunate he wasn't hurt.
Thumbs up: Is it running back by committee when every running back runs like a starter? All four 49ers halfbacks who carried the ball Saturday had a field day, and each averaged at least 4.4 yards per carry while combining for 239 yards on the ground. Anthony Dixon (12 carries for 53 yards) and Xavier Omon (14 for 62) were the thunder to Hunter's lightning.
Thumbs up: On that note, let's give it up for the offensive line, which had an impressive bounce-back game after its shaky performance at New Orleans. Not only did they open all those holes in the run game, but they also made quantum-leap improvement in pass protection, particularly the first unit.
Thumbs up: It was a superb all-around performance by the San Francisco defense, led by inside linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman, who swarmed the football when they were in the game. The 49ers also got steady and solid performances by each of their top four edge linebackers – starters Parys Haralson (a big sack on fourth-and-goal) and Ahmad Brooks and backups Aldon Smith and Antwan Applewhite.
Thumbs up: Two veteran backups pushing for playing time in the secondary – Tarell Brown and Madieu Williams – made it a pick party Saturday with outstanding plays in coverage to grab interceptions, both thwarting two of Oakland's best drives of the evening. On both picks, Brown and Williams read the play perfectly and put themselves into position to make a play on the ball, which both did.
Thumbs down: He looked more comfortable throwing the ball, completing 6 of 8 passes for 52 yards, but Kaepernick took two more sacks in a three-play span, raising his preseason total to six. He needs to get rid of the ball more quickly when he sees the pocket breaking down.
Thumbs up: It didn't look like he was being bothered much by his surgically-repaired ankle when Phillip Adams broke loose for a 32-yard punt return. Adams continues to look like a keeper with everything he does, and since he can contribute at cornerback and on several special teams, he can do a lot.
Thumbs up: The 49ers converted 62 percent of their third-down opportunities, making first downs on 8 in 13 tries. That's winning football, and that's how a team ends up with 402 yards of total offense and a nearly 14-minute edge in time of possession.
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