49ers report card

Handing out a collection of quality grades to the 49ers for their performance in Sunday's 34-20 victory over the Oakland Raiders.

PASSING OFFENSE: A -- Oakland cornerback Stanford Routt jumped in front of Antonio Bryant on a hook pattern to intercept Alex Smith on the first play of the second quarter, but that was about the only thing that went wrong for San Francisco's second-year quarterback, who continued to show poise and command along with comfort in the pocket while having the most efficient game of his career. With the game plan focused on running the football, Smith completed 15 of 19 passes for 165 yards and three touchdowns - the first multiple-touchdown game of his career - and finished with a career-high passer rating of 120.5. He also displayed pinpoint accuracy around the goal line on his two short touchdown passes to Arnaz Battle, the first two-touchdown game of Battle's career. Maurice Hicks a turned well-devised screen play into a 33-yard catch-and-run for the first receiving touchdown of his career. The pass blocking was generally excellent, and Smith deftly stepped away from pressure when it wasn't - he was hit just two times - as the 49ers didn't allow a sack for the second time this season. The loss of left tackle Jonas Jennings on San Francisco's seventh offensive play didn't hurt the Niners as Adam Snyder slid over from left guard and handled the position admirably the rest of the game, as usual. It's hard to knock practically anything about this performance as the 49ers didn't even attempt to throw long, taking just one shot down the field the entire game because they were able to exploit the Oakland defense in other areas.

RUSHING OFFENSE: B -- A determined Frank Gore answered his critics with another tremendous performance, breaking several runs - including a 26-yarder - while showing his usual power while moving the pile between the tackles. Lugging the ball 27 times for a career-high 134 yards rushing, Gore also didn't fumble in a game for the first time this season, something he needed to show himself and others. The blocking in front of Gore was very good, particularly in the early going. Center Eric Heitmann had one of his better games and the 49ers showed no drop-off when Tony Wragge came in to replace Snyder after he replaced Jennings. The big markdown here was San Francisco's inability to pick up the necessary yard in two fourth-and-1 situations, which appeared critical at the time as the Niners came away with no points after reaching the Oakland 9- and 19-yard lines on consecutive possessions. Bad spots, however, might have contributed to the failure both times. Michael Robinson, used often in short-yardage situations, never got untracked, averaging just 1.8 yards on his 12 carries.

PASSING DEFENSE: A -- The 49ers gave up some big plays to the Raiders in the passing game, free safety Mike Adams had a particularly rough afternoon in coverage and San Francisco again struggled to put pressure on a team that ranked last in the NFL in sacks per play entering the game. But the Niners get the high mark because of their four second-half interceptions that turned a halftime deficit into a lopsided laugher. Walt Harris had three of those picks, and he continues to play and lead by example with the smooth assurance of an 11th-year veteran who's playing some of the best football of his career. Chad Williams also had an interception as the 49ers got them in bunches in the final two quarters after going the first 4½ games this season without any picks. The 49ers finished with only one sack, by defensive end Bryant Young at the line of scrimmage, but they did get five hits on Oakland quarterbacks Marques Tuiasosopo and Andrew Walter, who were limited to a combined passer rating of 58.3. The Raiders threw for 216 yards, but only 78 came after halftime.

RUSHING DEFENSE: C-plus -- The 49ers were gouged by the Raiders for 154 rushing yards, the most San Francisco has allowed on the ground this season. A chunk of that yardage came late against nickel and dime packages when the 49ers had their defense geared to stop the pass. Nonetheless, San Francisco surrendered an average of 6.7 yards per carry, though the impact of Oakland's running game never seemed to be much of a factor in the game. The front wall didn't consistently plug gaps like it usually does to bog up traffic, and linebacker Jeff Ulbrich again had trouble fighting off blocks and getting to the ball. The 49ers have been playing good rushing teams tough this season, but seemed to take a step back here against a middle-of-the-pack rushing team. A big plus - good for a C-plus - was Melvin Oliver's awareness to pick up a backwards lateral nobody else seemed to want and return it 12 yards for a touchdown that settled any doubt about the final outcome.

SPECIAL TEAMS: A-minus -- After an uncharacteristically poor effort in last week's loss at Kansas City, San Francisco's specialty units returned to their usual quality performance and they had an impact on turning the game in San Francisco's favor. Manny Lawson's blocked punt set the tone for the remainder of the second half, and the coverage units did a fine job containing Oakland's shifty returner Chris Carr. The Niners only punted once - in the final seconds of the game, no less - a real rarity for them. San Francisco also did well on its limited return chances. Rookie Brandon Williams took back his only punt return 17 yards, Hicks had a 30-yard kickoff return and rookie Delanie Walker - taking a short kickoff at the 11-yard line - danced and juked his way for a 25-yard return on the first such opportunity of his career. The 49ers have to try and find more ways to get the football in his hands. Another key play was Antonio Bryant standing in strong to recover a high-bouncing onside kick while taking a hellacious bang-bang hit that resulted in a gash on his lip that required five stitches. The lone markdown here is due to Joe Nedney's miss of a 49-yard field-goal attempt, which hooked badly to the right. Something doesn't seem quite right with Nedney, who already has missed four field-goal attempts in five games after missing just two in 15 games last season.

COACHING: B -- Kudos to offensive coordinator Norv Turner, who obviously had a great game plan ready against his former team as the 49ers skated 72 yards down the field for a touchdown the first time they touched the football. The plan to go straight at Oakland's weak rushing defense and attack underneath in the passing game exploited the Raiders and never really was stopped the entire afternoon. Coach Mike Nolan again had some time management issues, however, and his decision to pass up sure points on routine field goals to go for it twice on fourth-and-1 deep in Oakland territory became somewhat dubious when the 49ers failed again the second time, giving the Raiders an opening to grab the lead at halftime. Perhaps Nolan could have challenged some obviously bad spots, but that's a tough call from the sidelines. That said, Nolan had the 49ers ready to play after last week's disaster in Kansas City, and that counts for plenty. This was a convincing win over an inferior opponent - how many times will the 49ers be able to say that this season? - but San Francisco should have finished with more points on the scoreboard, not that the Niners actually needed them in the end.


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