49ers report card

When the 49ers were good against the Minnesota Vikings, they were very good. And when they were bad ... Well, they still were good enough to win. The Niners' weekly grades for their performance in 9-3 victory reflect that divergent display.

PASSING OFFENSE: D-plus -- It wasn't a great day for the passing game, and Alex Smith became more of a game manager as the afternoon progressed when the 49ers found themselves ahead in a low-scoring contest with their defense playing uncharacteristically well. Still, there was not much production or success through the air, and Smith's interception might have been one of his poorest decisions of the season, forcing it as he did into tight coverage against a well-covered receiver. It was his only turnover, however, and it did not end up hurting the 49ers. Smith completed 13 of 21 passes for just 105 yards and also was sacked three times and hit four other times. Outside of a 22-yard reception by Antonio Bryant and a 18-yard catch by Arnaz Battle, the 49ers did very little through the air on a day when they certainly could have used - but ultimately didn't need - more offense.

RUSHING OFFENSE: D-minus -- Frank Gore averaged only 2.2 yards on his 19 carries. It would have been far less had he not turned the corner for an 11-yard gain on his final carry that produced a first down in the final minute that forced Minnesota to burn its timeouts, effectively ending the game. Gore had 30 yards rushing on his other 18 carries, and that was more of a reflection on the blocking in front of him as he often was met by defenders at the line of scrimmage before he had an opportunity to start running downhill. The 49ers stubbornly kept trying to run against one of the NFL's best rushing defenses that was without middle linebacker Napoleon Harris, but that was not a good strategy. The 49ers were overpowered up front in the middle interior and lost this battle all afternoon.

PASSING DEFENSE: A -- The 49ers kept their coverage schemes simple and rotated a lot of players in pass coverage and, by golly, it worked. In fact, it worked quite well They got good pressure on Minnesota quarterback Brad Johnson, and two of their three sacks resulted in momentum-swaying lost fumbles by Johnson. Brandon Moore had one of those sacks, and he also had three other hits on Johnson in a career-best performance. Marques Douglas also had a sack that resulted in a fumble, as did Bryant Young, though it might have been Moore forcing the fumble Young was credited with. There also was good coverage on the back side as Walt Harris got his fourth interception of the season and the Niners knocked away five passes, making plays in coverage that haven't often been made this season. Minnesota's longest reception went for just 14 yards, and only two of Johnson's other 20 completions went for more than 10 yards.

RUSHING DEFENSE: B-minus The 49ers, playing mostly seven-man fronts, invited the Vikings to run the ball, and they did to the tune of 135 yards, averaging 4.1 a pop. Chester Taylor had 96 yards on 26 carries, breaking off the occasional healthy run throughout the day. Artose Pinner had 29 yards on three carries, ripping off a 16-yarder. Despite the numbers, it didn't seem Minnesota every really hurt the 49ers on the ground, and the Vikings' rushing output certainly had little impact on the outcome as the Vikings got passed the San Francisco 27-yard line just once the entire day. Moore was fantastic against the run, producing a career-high 15 tackles in his first start at inside linebacker, often making initial contact close to the line of scrimmage. The front four also got good push against the run against an excellent offensive line, and there was support from linebackers and safeties, particularly Tony Parrish, who had his best game of the season.

SPECIAL TEAMS: A -- The play of Joe Nedney was huge in the outcome as he scored all of San Francisco's points on field goals of 25, 30 and 51 yards, making the 51-yarder twice after the play was whistled dead as he made it the first time. Nedney also had another successful onside kick - it was a beauty - although the 49ers were unable to capitalize on the opportunity. Andy Lee was tremendous, averaging 48.5 yards on his six punts with an outstanding 42.2 net. Lee came through when the 49ers needed him in a low-scoring game when the battle of field position became prominent in the struggle. Rookie Brandon Williams continues to show promise as a return man, bringing back a kickoff 36 yards. The coverage teams again were solid, and Maurice Hicks shrugged off the concussion that forced him out of the Chicago game to record three of San Francisco's four special teams tackles. A very good effort all around here, with some parts even better than very good.

COACHING: B-plus -- A fantastic bounce-back game here, with coaches able to keep the 49ers focused and believing in both themselves and the game plan after some very harrowing and discouraging weeks. The defense kept the plan simple and, for once, had the right players in the game at the right times and in the right positions to do the right things. Mike Nolan always said his defense would work if that happened, even if the level of talent on the field wasn't always up to standards. This game proved him right, for a week at least. This was an amazing turnaround from San Francisco's 41-10 loss at Chicago the previous week, and coaching deserves a lot of credit for that. On the downside, the 49ers played not to lose on offense as the game progressed, and that strategy could have backfired - and significantly lowered this grade - if the Vikings had scored a touchdown on their final possession to win. But that's not how things turned out.


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