49ers/Browns: Thumbs up and thumbs down
Thumbs up: The first skyward thumb goes appropriately to running back Frank Gore, the new second-leading rusher in franchise history. Gore once again was terrific while charging past Roger Craig into second place on the 49ers' list of all-time leading rushers. Gore was the offensive star of the game yet again, churning for 134 yards and a touchdown rushing on a career-high 31 carries to give him 7,089 career rushing yards in his seven seasons as a 49er. Gore rushed for 125 yards or more for the fourth consecutive game – becoming the only player to do that in the NFL this season and giving him four consecutive 100-yard rushing games for the first time in his career.
Thumbs up: The 49ers are unbeatable when they just hand the ball to Gore and let him pound the rock. San Francisco is now 15-0 in games in which Gore carries the football 24 or more times.
Thumbs up: Talk about balanced offense. The 49ers finished with 174 net yards rushing and 174 net yards passing. You can't get any more balanced than that.
Thumbs down: What exactly were the 49ers doing letting the Browns hang around at the end of this game anyway? After taking control early against an overmatched opponent, we would have liked to have seen the Niners display more killer instinct rather than coasting behind their defense when their offense went stale in the second half. That allowed the Browns to climb within 17-10 and make it interesting for a few minutes there late in the fourth quarter.
Thumbs up: October was a good month for the 49ers. San Francisco went 4-0 and outscored its opponents 117-55 during the month, giving the Niners their first undefeated October since 1997.
Thumbs up: Alex Smith didn't seem to have much trouble getting things done through the air against the NFL's top-ranked passing defense. Smith had another productive day passing to complement San Francisco's strong running game, and he could have had an even bigger day if he hadn't had a few near-misses on passes to open targets deep down the field. But Smith once again played winning football while finishing with 177 yards passing and 98.8 passer rating. With 22 yards rushing, Smith also climbed to seventh in franchise history among quarterbacks with 519 career yards rushing.
Thumbs up: Ahmad Brooks would get a lot more attention as a force on San Francisco's defense if everybody else wasn't so good around him on the Niners' dominant front seven. Brooks brought great heat from the left edge on passing downs throughout the afternoon, setting the tone defensively with a sack and forced fumble of Cleveland quarterback Colt McCoy on the game's second play from scrimmage. That was one of two sacks on the day by Brooks, who also had three tackles and two other QB hurries.
Thumbs up: Gotta love seeing left tackle Joe Staley record his first NFL reception, and a 17-yarder at that – the longest reception by an offensive lineman in the NFL since 2006. Staley, remember, was a record-setting sprinter in high school and has great speed and athleticism for a big man. He brings some energy and intensity with it, as Staley displayed when he jumped up and exuberantly pointed forward with both arms to signal a first down.
Thumbs up: And then, to see nose tackle/fullback Isaac Sopoaga slip out of the backfield for his first career reception almost was a good as watching Staley do it. Sopoaga's was much more consequential, coming as it did on San Francisco's final drive, converting a 3rd-and-three play that saw Sopoaga rumble for 18 yards in the open field top set up the field goal that clinched San Francisco's victory. Sopoaga's 18 receiving yards are the third-most by a defensive lineman in the NFL since 1996, and he also recovered a fumble on defense to boot.
Thumbs up: Nice to see Michael Crabtree get in the end zone with a scoring pass for the first time this season on a classic West Coast short-yardage passing play that saw him get wide open in the flat for an easy touchdown. Crabtree also had a 41-yard reception, his longest of the season, and continues to make more big plays down the field.
Thumbs down: It's getting a little picky, but rookie Chris Culliver dropped a pick on Cleveland's second offensive possession that could have allowed the 49ers to stick another early dagger into the Browns that could have put this one away early.
Thumbs down: Free safety Dashon Goldson apparently is developing a reputation around the league as a headhunter that's making officials quick to throw a flag against him when he delivers a crushing hit. Goldson did not deserve the 15-yard penalty for unnecessary roughness he received after his big hit on Cleveland wideout Greg Little late in the second quarter, a play that led to a field goal that accounted for the Browns' first points of the day.
Thumbs down: But that roughing the passer penalty on Justin Smith was even worse in the game's final minutes. Smith put a hearty hit on McCoy but did so as the quarterback released the ball, appearing to hit McCoy with the middle of his chest. He drew the flag anyway. "No, I don't think (the call) was accurate," Smith said. "When a guy's shorter than you, I don't know how you're supposed to hit him."
Thumbs up: But Goldson got some retribution in the third quarter, playing a perfect center field and displaying his ball-hawking skills to record an end-zone interception – his first pick of the season – that thwarted one of Cleveland's best scoring opportunites of the day.
Thumbs down: Tarell Brown has been solid as the 49ers' starting right cornerback this season, but he was double-bad on Josh Cribbs' 45-yard touchdown reception that quickly got the Browns back in the game with 6:17 to play. Brown not only let Cribbs get behind him and beat him on the play, but he failed to make the tackle or push Cribbs out of bounds, allowing Cribbs to go the distance into the end zone on a day when the Browns were having all kinds of trouble the closer they got to the San Francisco red zone.
Thumbs up: Once again, an opposing running back didn't come close to ending The Streak. It's now been 29 consecutive games since the 49ers have allowed a 100-yard rusher, with Cleveland's leading rusher Chris Ogbonnaya finishing with just 37 yards. The 49ers allowed just 66 yards on the ground, the fourth time this season they've allowed that many or fewer in a game.
Thumbs up: Leading the way for the shutdown described above, the dynamic duo of Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman was fantastic again. Bowman had a game-high 11 tackles and Willis had his first sack of the season as the pair combined for 18 tackles, with three behind the line of scrimmage.
Thumbs down: The 49ers were solid most of the afternoon blocking for the run, but they needed to do a better job of picking up linebacker D'Qwell Jackson and keeping him out of their backfield. Jackson beat the Niners for five tackles behind the line of scrimmage while leading the Browns with 10 total tackles.
Thumbs down: It had little impact on the game, but the 49ers finished the afternoon with just 51 return yards on Ted Ginn's two punt returns and two kickoffs returns. Ginn was outgained 136-51 in return yardage by Josh Cribbs, who got three more return opportunities.
Thumbs up: The Niners had another five passes defensed, raising their NFL-leading total to 54. They also had three forced fumbles to raise their season total to 10 in that category, which ranks second in the NFL.
Thumbs up: The 49ers continue to put the rest of the NFC West further behind in their rear-view mirror. The second-place Seattle Seahawks lost again Sunday at home, extending the first-place 49ers' lead to four games in the division. And we're not even at midseason yet.
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