49ers report card

Handing out grades to the 49ers after their stunning 15-10 upset victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers:

RUSHING OFFENSE: How did that go again? The 49ers ground game, which had been held below 60 yards in half of its games this season, methodically controls the tempo of the game with a season-high 158 yards rushing against the NFL's No. 1 rush defense. A lot of credit goes to the guys up front, who had their best game of the season. The right side of Kwame Harris, Eric Heitmann and center Jeremy Newberry were notable for the way they handled the line of scrimmage against an elite opponent. Justin Smiley continues to fire out on run blocks and left tackle Anthony Clement deserves mention for his improved play. Fullbacks Fred Beasley and Chris Hetherington also provided some quality blocking to break some runs. But deserving credit here also should go to tailback Kevan Barlow, who continues to transform himself from a hesitant runner into a hard-charging power back who finally is hitting holes again with authority. He had a season-high 101 yards rushing, the fifth 100-yard game of his career, and Frank Gore once again was an able complement with 40 yards rushing. Considering the opponent, this was a near masterful performance by a beleaguered unit, and it provided the offensive dimension that won the game for the 11-point underdog 49ers. Grade: A

PASSING OFFENSE: The 49ers continued to regress in the passing game, as far as results are concerned. That's not to be unexpected with a change in quarterbacks that results in a starter who was third-string just two weeks ago. Ken Dorsey was shaky in his first action of the season, overthrowing Brandon Lloyd in the end zone and misfiring several other times at open targets. His 40 yards passing on 8 completions in 17 attempts is the most meager output by a San Francisco starter in recent memory. He didn't commit any turnovers, however, and San Francisco quarterbacks weren't sacked for the first time since November of 2003 after being dumped 15 times in the past three games. The pass blocking was much improved even with the relatively immobile Dorsey behind center. Cody Pickett completed his only pass for a pivotal first down that kept a late, clock-eating drive moving. There also is something to be said for the way Dorsey and Pickett managed the game with San Francisco holding the lead. A passing game can't be all bad when your team wins, but this was pretty close. No turnovers was the decisive factor in this grade. Grade: D

RUSHING DEFENSE: The ground game is the bread and butter of the Tampa Bay offense, and the 49ers did a determined job all afternoon stuffing the NFL's fifth-ranked rushing attack. The play up front by ends Bryant Young, Marques Douglas and the tag-team nose tackle tandem of Anthony Adams and Isaac Sopoaga was by far the best it has been all season and held the point of attack from the onset. Adams also had some nice moments at end as Tampa Bay had problems attacking San Francisco's shifts up front. The front wall showed the kind of power pushing Tampa Bay's offensive line backward that has been unseen previously this season. The linebackers also did a good job plugging holes quickly, particularly Derek Smith, and limiting Tampa Bay to just 43 yards rushing on 20 attempts, a 2.2 average, was a great performance that led to an unexpected victory. Grade: A

PASSING DEFENSE: The 49ers dared Chris Simms to beat them through the air, and he couldn't do it as he was rattled by pressure all day. The front wall came to play here, too, providing the kind of consistent pressure against a good offensive line that hasn't been seen often this season. Young had his third multi-sack game of the season and was a handful all afternoon. Adams and Andre Carter also had sacks as the 49ers had five overall. A lot of credit here also goes to a secondary that was able to stay with receivers even when Simms had time to throw. The linebackers also got in the act in pass coverage as the Bucs unsuccessfully tried to curl receivers and tight ends behind them. Simms' decent numbers – 21 completions in 34 attempts for 264 yards passing – weren't a true indication of his tentative, drive-stalling performance. Shawntae Spencer and Brandon Moore both had their first career interceptions and the 49ers got their hands on some other passes, knocking down eight in all. The lone glitch was a coverage breakdown that allowed Joey Galloway to streak 78 yards for a touchdown to put the Bucs right back in it in the fourth quarter. Grade: B+

SPECIAL TEAMS: Keith Lewis had a rough start with two penalties on coverage units in the early going, but the coverage teams ultimately excelled again – as they have been throughout the season – to help the 49ers win the battle of field position on a day when that became a key factor. San Francisco's return game was nothing special, but Maurice Hicks' 30-yard kickoff return in the final seconds of the first half helped set up a field goal. Andy Lee punted nine times and had decent hang time. But the hero here was kicker Joe Nedney, who provided all of San Francisco's points with five field goals. He also put all five of his kickoffs inside the Tampa Bay 5-yard line – or better. Grade: A-

COACHING: To think that the coaching staff could keep this team organized, involved and focused after last week's disaster in Washington is something just short of remarkable. The 49ers played with emotion and the kind of determined skill that seldom has been seen in the past two years. Defensively, the plan could not have been any better. Coach Mike Nolan knew the Bucs were vulnerable with a new starting quarterback and designed a defense that forced Chris Simms to beat the 49ers. He didn't really even come close, as the Niners clearly out-coached the opposition. The offensive play-calling was controlled and conservative, but that was understandable considering the circumstances, and it was enough to get a win against a heavily-favored opponent: Grade: A-

OVERALL: Appearing to be clearly the NFL's worst team entering the game, the banged-up and beleaguered 49ers took down the team with the NFC's best record in the NFL's biggest upset of the week. The 49ers won a game without scoring a touchdown for the first time since 1978, and they did it with a defense that was dominant just one week after that unit couldn't stop anything that came at it. The team concept Nolan has been stressing since he arrived never has been more evident, and it was enough for a reeling team to end a five-game losing streak against an opponent that, on paper, was clearly better. Grade: A-


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