49ers report card

The 49ers earn numerous top grades for their performance in Sunday's 24-7 rout of defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay, an effort that might have been just a handful of mistakes short of being the perfect game.

QUARTERBACKS: Jeff Garcia was magnificent working the offense against a formidable defense that needed a corner blitz to record its only sack. Garcia threw for 253 yards and two touchdowns and displayed more strength and accuracy on his deep passes. His numbers could have been much better had Terrell Owens not dropped two passes that Garcia put on Owens' hands in the end zone. Garcia also was responsible for both San Francisco turnovers. Grade: A-

RUNNING BACKS: Garrison Hearst and Kevan Barlow were as good a one-two complement as they've ever been, and fullback Fred Beasley's blocking was consistently crushing and tremendous. The 49ers' domination began with the effectiveness of Hearst (117 yards on 20 carries) and Barlow (75 on 15) who both ran hard and refused to be denied, getting plenty of tough up-the-middle yards to keep the offense moving. Hearst also had three receptions for 38 yards, including a 26-yard gain. Grade: A

RECEIVERS: Terrell Owens had a spectacular 75-yard touchdown catch-and-run, the best example this season of his game-breaking ability in the open field. He also reeled in a 43-yard bomb from Garcia and had a couple of other nice plays on catches that he turned into first downs. But he had two drops in the end zone, and that's two too many. Tai Streets made a great hurdling effort on his touchdown catch to give the Niners the lead for good, and Cedrick Wilson contributed two catches. Grade: B

TIGHT ENDS: The blocking of Jed Weaver and Aaron Walker contributed to the successful running game, and Weaver's only reception went for 16 yards. Grade: B+

OFFENSIVE LINE: In a stunning development, the 49ers manhandled one of the best defensive lines of this NFL era. Rookie Kwame Harris, again starting in place of injured veteran Derrick Deese, pounded with his run blocking and held Simeon Rice - the NFL leader in sacks - without a sack. Kyle Kosier also played well in place of injured Eric Heitmann at left guard, and center Jeremy Newberry and left guard Ron Stone returned to Pro Bowl form. The line gave Garcia time to throw and paved the way for 212 yards rushing in a truly impressive performance. Grade: A

DEFENSIVE LINE: Possibly the best game of the season for this unit, which got good, consistent pressure on Tampa Bay quarterback Brad Johnson, who has been one of the NFL's best-protected quarterbacks this year. This steady pressure was instrumental in setting the tone for the entire defense. Tackle Bryant Young collapsed the pocket like the Young of old. Chidi Ahanotu and Andre Carter brought good pressure from the edges, with Ahanotu using bull-rush power and Carter his speed. Grade: A

LINEBACKERS: Julian Peterson made his weekly impact with seven tackles and an interception. His continued development at an elite level is making it more difficult now for opponents to run outside on the Niners. Jamie Winborn forced and recovered a fumble, and Jeff Ulbrich and Derek Smith both had some nice solo hits. Unit also played very well in the passing game, making quick tackles after numerous Tamap Bay dump-off passes. Grade: A-

SECONDARY: Cornerbacks Ahmed Plummer and Mike Rumph both had strong afternoons against one of the NFL's top passing attacks. Both recorded interceptions and had tight coverage. This would have been an outstanding overall effort by unit except for safety Zack Bronson's two gaffes in coverage. Bronson took a poor angle trying to bat away a pass that resulted in Tampa Bay's only score, a 75-yard pass from Johnson to Keenan McCardell. He also misjudged a leap that resulted in a 40-yard reception by McCardell. More than one third of Tampa Bay's entire offense for the day - and all its points - came on those two plays. Grade: B

SPECIAL TEAMS: Bill LaFleur had a fabulous 45.3 net average on his three punts - 10 yards better than Tampa Bay's average. The coverage units were again decent, but the punt and kickoff returns were again weak. And kicker Owen Pochman, despite some deep kickoffs, was abysmal, missing on partially-blocked field-goal attempts of 31 and 39 yards and also from 50 yards. His job isn't in jeopardy yet, but it will be if this kind of thing continues any longer. Grade: D

COACHING: Plan to go right at formidable Tampa Bay defense and stick with running game was excellent. It also opened up other things for the offense, which now is hitting more often down the field and clicking on all cylinders - it rolled up a whopping 458 yards against an arguably great opponent. Defensive strategy to blitz less and sit back in coverage also was perfect for the opponent. Grade: A

OVERALL: The Niners picked a good time to put it all together. The slapped around the defending Super Bowl champions from start to finish, and now there can be legitimate talk again of saving the season. The game actually was more lopsided than the final score and, if not for numerous mistakes by the Niners that have become characteristic of the team this season, this could have been the perfect game. Grade: A


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