49ers report card

Handing out top grades all around to the 49ers after their 30-10 victory over the St. Louis Rams, possibly San Francisco's best game of the season.

QUARTERBACKS: Tim Rattay exceeded all expectations in his first NFL start. His first six completions went to six different receivers, and he ended up spreading the ball around to nine in all. He was poised in the pocket and displayed fine touch. He also got the ball downfield, having a completion of 18 yards or longer to six different receivers. The offense seemed to purr under his direction, and his three touchdown passes and 110.7 passer rating were as good as the Niners have received from the position this season. Grade: A

RUNNING BACKS: Garrison Hearst rushed for 80 yards on 17 carries and Kevan Barlow had 76 yards on 14 carries as that tailback duo sparked the offense by controlling the ball on the ground against a defense that has been tough against the run. They also combined for four receptions for 43 yards. Fullback Fred Beasley's blocking was excellent, and he also contributed with the ball, picking up a first down on his only carry and ending up as San Francisco's leading receiver with three receptions for 46 yards. Hearst lost a late fumble at the St. Louis 13-yard line that prevented the final score from being even more lopsided, but we'll subtract that from the final grade. Grade: A

RECEIVERS: Terrell Owens, Cedrick Wilson and Brandon Lloyd each caught two passes and Tai Streets had three. Streets made a fantastic one-handed grab in traffic for his touchdown reception, and Lloyd laid out for a diving reception on his 27-yard score. Owens also brought down his TD catch in traffic at the back of the end zone. There was some good blocking downfield and every reasonably catchable ball was caught. Grade: A

TIGHT ENDS: Aaron Walker had a nice 22-yard grab on San Francisco's first offensive play, but he sustained a concussion on the play and missed the rest of the game. That left Jed Weaver to hold down the position the remainder of the afternoon - the Niners started the game in a two-tight end set - and he had two receptions and contributed in blocking for the running game. He also missed a block in pass protection that resulted in Rattay's only sack. Grade: B+

OFFENSIVE LINE: There were some absolutely huge holes up the middle as center Jeremy Newberry and guard Ron Stone had one of their best combined efforts. The Niners also did a fine job of protecting Rattay, who is not known for his mobility. Stone was called for a hold and tackle Derrick Deese for a false start, but they were insignificant penalties. Grade: A

DEFENSIVE LINE: The Rams never got a running game started, finishing with only nine yards rushing, and there was good pressure up front on St. Louis quarterback Marc Bulger, who was hit often. Only one of San Francisco's five sacks came from this unit, but the line played well and batted down three passes. Bryant Young continued his resurgent play with three tackles, a sack and a forced fumble. Grade: A

LINEBACKERS: Julian Peterson had a sack and knocked away three passes in another havoc-causing, all-over-the-field performance. Jeff Ulbrich had five tackles, a sack and batted down a pass. Jamie Winborn had a sack and Derek Smith recovered a fumble as this unit made plays all afternoon and contributed to St. Louis abandoning its run game. Grade: A

SECONDARY: Cornerbacks Ahmed Plummer and Mike Rumph combined for 13 tackles and both made plays in coverage. Rumph had an interception and provided some good heat on corner blitzing, recording a 12-yard sack. Safety John Keith, elevated earlier in the week from the practice squad, was solid and had five tackles. Tony Parrish had an interception and knocked away another pass, but he made a few errors in coverage that resulted in St. Louis' two longest pass plays. Nickel back Rashad Holman also contributed as the Niners allowed a lot of yards but basically shut down the NFL's No. 1 passing attack. Grade: B+

SPECIAL TEAMS: The Niners' return game finally came to life - and in a big way. Cedrick Wilson's 95-yard TD return of the opening kickoff got things started, and Jimmy Williams had a 41-yard kickoff return and also showed some spark returning punts. The coverage units were excellent with Terry Jackson (three tackles) leading the way. And new kicker Todd Peterson showed some immediate dependability and production. Grade: A+

COACHING: The inconsistent Niners came out ready to play this time, and the offensive game plan was well-suited to Rattay's strengths. The defensive plan which completely neutralized the NFL's No. 1 offense was exceptional. Without their Pro Bowl quarterback and three defensive starters, the Niners were well prepared to handle a top opponent. Grade: A

OVERALL: Considering the opponent and the situation, this was the Niners' best game of the year. Whether it's a performance that turns their season around remains to be seen, but it definitely is a major positive to send them into their bye week and gives them something still to play for when they return. Grade: A


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