SAN FRANCISCO, CA - SEPTEMBER 11: Alex Smith #11 of the San Francisco 49ers drops back to pass against the Seattle Seahawks in the second quarter of an NFL football game at Candlestick Park on September 11, 2011 in San Francisco, California. the 49ers won the game 33-17. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Fooch's Note: We'll be breaking down all 18 regular and postseason games of the 49ers 2011 season over the course of the next couple months. After reading through this first one, if there is any additional details you might like from a game, mention it in the comments.
On September 11th, 2011, the 49ers had their debut game under new head coach Jim Harbaugh. In Harbaugh's 1st professional game as a head coach, he would take on the division rival Seattle Seahawks. The Seahawks are now led by a familiar foe of Harbaugh's; in former USC coach Pete Carroll. It was a matchup between two young teams playing under relatively new regimes - both teams with talent.
To start the season, the San Francisco 49ers had Braylon Edwards and Joshua Morgan as the starting receivers. Chilo Rachal and Moran Norris were also starting for the 49ers offense. Even Madieu Williams started in place of Dashon Goldson, who was out for the first game.
In this piece, we will do a quarter-by-quarter recap of the 49ers first outing in 2011 against the Seahawks.
The 49ers defense came out stingy, but appearance-wise, didn't have the same confidence in week 1 as they did toward the end of the year. The Seahawks went 3-and-out of their first drive and Ray McDonald got the first sack of the season for San Francisco on a 3rd down.
Braylon Edwards and Joshua Morgan were the first two receivers to take the field for the 49ers, but Crabtree was in on the very next play. They do a great deal of variation with the receivers depending on the play design. This is the reason why I don't put too much stock into who the starting wide receivers are for 2012.
The 49ers ran Gore on their first drive on a 3rd and 7, which failed and drew the ire of the crowd. The team was very conservative early in the year; they ran Gore consecutively on two third and longs which ended their first two drives.
The Seahawks came out with another attempt that was stuffed by a Justin Smith sack for a loss of 9 yards on a third down. Smith bull rushed the middle, wrapped up Tavaris Jackson and slammed him down to the ground for the second sack of the game.
Even in the first quarter, Alex Smith looked more calm and loose, taking his time during pre-snap.
It didn't take long for All-Pro punter Andy Lee to have a circus punt, which teetered on the goal line before being downed at the Seahawks own 2-yard line. Lee's first two punts went for 64 and 61 yards.
Aside from the defense beginning to swarm in the first, Ted Ginn Jr. had big punt return in first quarter for 31-yards into the Seahawks zone. Alex Smith also ran a memorable misdirection play where he was the lead blocker for Gore; a trick run that lead to a 49ers first down.
The defense continued to get pressure, with Justin Smith just looking powerful all game - constantly hammering Jackson and anyone unfortunate enough to get in his way. San Francisco's depth began to show itself when Will Tukuafu recovered a fumble forced by Parys Haralson who whacked Jackson from the blindside.
The 49ers settled for their third field goal after reaching red zone three times to take a 9-0 lead over Seattle. But Alex Smith was clearly working through his progressions, reading defenses and displayed pocket presence.
Alex Smith led a drive at the end of the first half, going 4-for-4, 2 minute drill, no huddle at times, ball placement downfield, connecting with targets, scrambling a first down and a touchdown. The 49ers had scored 4 times in 4 drives, but should be up 28-0 instead of 16-0.
In the first half, the Seahawks had 11 rushing yards on 12 carries and 37 total yards; they were also 0-for-7 on third down. The half even ended with a Tramaine Brock interception.
The Seahawks offense came out playing much better in the second half, moving the ball downfield on the 49ers and scoring on a passing touchdown from Jackson to receiver Golden Tate - a 56-yard drive ending in a score.
Now 16-7, Seattle was looking good and more confident in the third quarter, while 49ers lacked the oomph they had in the first half. The third quarter moved slowly, but had an appearance by the 49ers first rounder. There was an awfully athletic pass deflected by Aldon Smith as he used his long arms and excellent balance to interrupt a pass intended for Golden Tate.
The Seahawks inched closer, now with 10 unanswered points, making the score 16-10. But the 49ers held tight and continued their conservative offensive attack with short passes, dives and off-tackle runs. San Francisco's first third down conversion didn't come until early in the 4th quarter.
There were flashes of late-2011 Alex Smith when he connected on a 26-yard rope down the sideline to Joshua Morgan. It was a dart in between defensive backs Marcus Trufant and Kam Chancellor that Morgan had leapt up and brought down.
But another red zone trip ended in a field goal, making it 19-10 in the fourth quarter. In 5 red zone trips, the 49ers had come away with 4 field goals.
Doug Baldwin, former Stanford receiver and rookie, caught a short pass from Jackson and gashed the 49ers for a score to make the game 19-17 after the 49ers started the game 16-0.
But directly following the Baldwin touchdown, Ginn returns the kickoff 102 yards to the house to make it 26-17. Candlestick erupted.
With Seattle back on offense trying to compose a late-game comeback, Justin Smith gets his second sack on another third down to force Seattle to punt. Jon Ryan punts the ball to mid-field and it's taken by Ginn. Ginn bobbles it but regains control, returning it 55-yards for a score to put San Francisco up 33-17 and close the game for the Niners.
San Francisco starts 2011 1-0.
Notes of the Game:
-Justin Smith, Ted Ginn Jr. and Ray McDonald were the stars for San Francisco
-Earl Thomas and Doug Baldwin were the stars for Seattle
-Jim Harbaugh gets a win in his first career game as a head coach in the NFL