49ers report card: San Francisco 27, New York 20
PASSING OFFENSE: B-plus -- The 49ers came out throwing for the first time this season, and quarterback Alex Smith delivered. Completing passes to eight different targets, Smith kept the offense moving and didn't skip a beat even after the loss of top rushing threat Frank Gore. Smith completed 19 of 30 passes for 242 yards and challenged the Giants down the field on occasion. Vernon Davis had a spectacular vaulting finish to his 31-yard touchdown reception that put the 49ers ahead to stay early in the fourth quarter. Smith was protected well against a vaunted New York pass rush and was sacked only twice. Smith made several key throws when he had to and finished with an 85.7 passer rating that would have been over 100 if Ted Ginn hadn't allowed a perfect pass to go through his hands and bounce off his helmet into the hands of a Giants defender for an interception. Tight end Delanie Walker tied his career high with six receptions as the 49ers again went to the open man and hot hand.
RUSHING OFFENSE: C-plus -- After setting a team record with five consecutive 100-yard games, Frank Gore went nowhere, finishing with zero yards on six carries. Already battling an ankle injury, Gore twisted his knee in the second quarter and never touched the ball in the second half while spending all but one play on the bench. Kendall Hunter and Anthony Dixon stepped in to replace Gore and had several key runs in the second half, particularly Hunter's 17-yard burst into the end zone for a touchdown that put San Francisco ahead by 14 points in the final quarter. Hunter finished with 40 yards as the lead back, averaging 6.7 yards on his six carries. The 49ers averaged just 3.9 yards per carry and finished with only 77 yards rushing, a total boosted by Smith's 27 yards rushing when he broke from the pocket.
PASS DEFENSE: B -- The 49ers hung in well against Eli Manning, who was in top form and kept New York in the game. Manning threw for 311 yards and made some amazing throws that no secondary could defend. Both of his touchdown passes were of that variety, fit into tight windows to beat 49ers defenders who weren't in bad position on the plays. The 49ers did get their hands on six of Manning's passes, and cornerback Carlos Rogers stepped up for two interceptions that were both key to San Francisco's win, the second setting up the Niners' final touchdown. The Niners had problems defending speedy New York receivers Victor Cruz, Mario Manningham and Hakeem Nicks – who combined for 14 receptions for 202 yards – but they made the plays when they had to, and a lot of Manning's yards came when the Giants were in comeback mode.
RUSH DEFENSE: A-minus -- the 49ers once again did a good job stuffing the run, and New York's total of 93 yards on the ground seemed to belie the impact New York's rushing attack had on the game. Lead back Brandon Jacobs had a 15-yard run, but he averaged just 3.1 per carry as the Giants stubbornly tried to keep their offense balanced with the run despite never really establishing much effectiveness on the ground. Once again, the 49ers did not allow a rushing touchdown and stretched their streak of not allowing a 100-yard rusher to 31 consecutive games. Inside linebackers NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis combined for 25 tackles and prevented the Giants from popping runs into the second level.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A-plus -- Another terrific, complete all-around performance that had a major impact on the winning outcome for the 49ers. Kicker David Akers was magnificent with six kickoffs into the end zone, four touchbacks, four field goals – including a 52-yarder – and a perfectly-executed onside kick that couldn't have been placed any better. Akers even made a tackle. Punter Andy Lee had an outstanding 50.7-yard net average on his kicks, and specialty units helped the Niners dominate the battle for field position. New York's average starting spot on its 10 drives was its own 19-yard line. The 49ers started their 11 drives at their 35. That's a huge disparity that helped lead to victory after giving the Giants long fields to navigate all afternoon.
COACHING: A -- It was a great game plan to put Smith in the driver's seat and coaches again dialed up an effective strategy to neutralize what an opponent does well. The onside kick also was a brilliant move that caught the Giants completely off guard and led to San Francisco taking its first lead. Once again, it was a total team victory for the 49ers, with coaches putting their players in a position to be successful against a quality opponent.
Cardinals report card: Arizona 21, Philadelphia 17
PASSING OFFENSE: B -- Quarterback John Skelton was far from perfect. He had two bad interceptions, and he missed some other open receivers. However, he had three touchdown passes and made other good throws. He had decent protection, partly because the Cardinals went to max protection more often than usual.
RUSHING OFFENSE: D -- Beanie Wells rushed 23 times for 62 yards, but he looked quicker than he had in more than a month. He just didn't have much room to run. The offensive line appeared to blow too many assignments.
PASS DEFENSE: A -- Eagles quarterback Michael Vick passed for just 128 yards, and the Cardinals intercepted two of his throws. A third interception was nullified by penalty. Cornerback Patrick Peterson is improving rapidly, and Richard Marshall is showing considerable versatility, playing both cornerback and safety.
RUSH DEFENSE: B -- The Eagles gained 166 yards, but 79 of it came from Vick. The Cardinals kept running back LeSean McCoy in check. A solid effort.
SPECIAL TEAMS: D -- Either of Jay Feely's two field-goal misses could have cost the Cardinals the game. He can't miss from those distances, 35 and 43 yards. Patrick Peterson had a 24-yard return nullified by penalty.
COACHING: A -- Smart game plans on both sides of the ball. Defensively, the Cardinals' speed showed whenever Vick ran. In passing situations, end Calais Campbell lined up wider than usual, a move designed to contain Vick. The nickel package, which includes Marshall moving to safety from corner, is becoming the best alignment for the club. Offensively, the play-calling was creative in the red zone. The Cardinals used a reverse, a screen and threw to a receiver who lined up in the backfield.
Rams report card: St. Louis 13, Cleveland 12
PASSING OFFENSE: C -- QB Sam Bradford passed for 155 yards, and he completed just seven passes for 79 yards to wide receivers. But one was a 7-yard pass to Brandon Lloyd for the only touchdown of the game, and Lloyd made a one-handed catch for 24 yards on that scoring drive. Bradford was only sacked once, but that came on third-and-3 from the Cleveland 9-yard line on the possession that resulted in the game-winning field goal.
RUSHING OFFENSE: A -- RB Steven Jackson had another big day, rushing for 128 yards on 27 carries and averaging 4.7 yards per attempt. He also gained 11 yards on two rushes late in the game that iced the victory for the Rams after the Browns missed a 22-yard field-goal attempt.
PASS DEFENSE: -- C -- Perhaps the grade should be higher, considering how undermanned the secondary is. A mix-up late in the first half resulted in a 52-yard pass from Colt McCoy to Greg Little and led to a field goal. McCoy completed 20 of 27 passes for 218 yards and a passer rating of 97.5. He did not have an interception.
RUSH DEFENSE: B -- The Browns had 39 yards rushing at halftime, but a 32-yard run by Chris Ogbonnaya helped the Browns drive to the field goal that put them ahead late in the third quarter. Ogbonnaya rushed for 90 yards on 19 carries.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A-minus -- It was a failing grade the week before, but in this game, the Rams won on special teams. The biggest play was a strip of Josh Cribbs on a punt return that led to the winning field goal. K Josh Brown made the decisive 34-yard field goal, although his kick out of bounds on the ensuing kickoff set the Browns up at the 40-yard line. P Donnie Jones had a net average of 42.0 yards.
COACHING: B-plus -- The coaches deserve credit for getting new players prepared to play and getting the team to compete despite the dwindling numbers due to injuries. Making adjustments when multiple players go out during the game can be difficult, but the team persevered and got a win on the road.
Seahawks report card: Seattle 22, Baltimore 17
PASSING OFFENSE: B-minus -- Tarvaris Jackson was efficient, completing 17 of 27 passes for 219 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions. Jackson was sacked one time and finished with an 88 passer rating. His top receiver was running back Marshawn Lynch, who finished with five catches for 58 yards.
RUSHING OFFENSE: A-minus -- Seattle ground out 119 yards against one of the best run defenses in the league. Marshawn Lynch finished with his second straight 100-yard rushing performance with 109 yards on 32 attempts, and his fifth straight rushing touchdown in five games.
PASS DEFENSE: B -- The Seahawks held Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco to 255 yards passing on a career-high 52 attempts. They also picked off Flacco once and had 10 pass deflections. But Seattle failed to get consistent pressure on the quarterback, finishing with just one sack.
RUSH DEFENSE: A -- Seattle held Baltimore's vaunted rushing attack to just 75 yards on the ground. Ray Rice ran the ball just five times for 27 yards, as the Ravens made the curious choice to ditch their ground game and move the ball through the air after the team fell behind 19-7 at halftime.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A -- A weakness for Seattle all year, the Seahawks finally produced some game-changing plays in their favor, including forcing two fumbles by Baltimore kick returner David Reed, and a franchise-record tying five field goals by Steven Hauschka.
COACHING: B -- Pete Carroll had one of his better coaching performances, getting his players to match the intensity of one of the most physical teams in the league. But penalties remain a major issue. Seattle had a season-high 13 penalties for 100 yards, and the Seahawks have now had five games with double-digit penalties.