The San Francisco 49ers (11-4-1-) finished strong in 2012, closing the regular season with a win over the visiting Arizona Cardinals.
The team clinched the division title for a second year in row, which is very impressive considering where this team was at only a few seasons ago. After a sluggish start to Week 17, the Niners dominated Sunday's game at the The 'Stick.
We'll break down some highs and lows from Sunday.
Highlight: Crabtree Explodes
Michael Crabtree has had a breakthrough year in his fourth season. On Sunday, No. 15 tore through the Cardinals, shredding them for 8 receptions for 172 and two touchdowns.
This game marked the 7th career 100-yard game by Crabtree – four of which came during the 2012 season. This was far and away his best season as a pro, and hopefully a sign of things to come. His rapid development with QB Colin Kaepernick has been clutch as San Francisco heads into the postseason.
They’ve been finding one anther, converting many crucial third downs. Kaepernick has also been excellent reading him and throwing him open. Crabtree is finally showing his ability to go deep on a consistent basis.
In Week 17, Crabtree collected more than enough yardage to claim his first 1,000-yard season. This breaks a decade long spell for 49ers, who haven’t had a wide receiver hit that mark since 2003 (Terrell Owens).
Crabtree finished the season with 85 receptions for 1,105 and 9 touchdowns.
Lowlight: Akers’ Struggles Continue
It was not encouraging to see the 49ers struggle on special teams. One of their most valued assets from 2011, David Akers, has gotten into a funk that he can’t seem to break. It’s affected his game dramatically, as his lackluster season performance continued on Sunday.
Akers missed went 2-for-4 on the day, missing from 44 and 40 yards out. However, Harbaugh showed faith in his kicker and continued to bring out the field goal unit from similar ranges. After going wide left twice in the first half, Akers hit from 43 and 26 yards.
This season will be remembered as one of his worst, unfortunately. But it’s not over yet. David Akers can still save his season with a clutch postseason performance. He’ll have the bye week to work on his issues.
Highlight: 49ers Win the West, Clinch 1st Round Bye
For a second consecutive year under Harbaugh, the Niners have become NFC West champs. San Francisco’s second-year head coach became the eighth man in league history to achieve such a feat.
This game also marked the 19th time in franchise history the 49ers clinched a division title. The real benefit going forward will be the bye week, which will allow time for guys to heal up and get rest.
They will also home field advantage in the divisional playoff round once again.
Lowlight: Davis Being Phased Out
One of San Francisco’s best overall players has been a non-factor for the past six weeks. Since Kaepernick took over at quarterback, Vernon Davis has been much less of a focus in this offensive attack.
In Kaepernick’s first start against Chicago, Davis finished with 6 receptions for 83 yards and a touchdown. In six games since then, he’s only amassed 6 grabs for 61 yards and has been scoreless.
Vernon Davis caught fire in last year’s playoffs and needs to get back involved. San Francisco has to start calling his number more often. With the rise of Crabtree and consistency of Gore, incorporating Davis could make this offense really dangerous in the postseason.
Highlight: Gore Solidifies Spot in Franchise History
Frank Gore is officially the 49ers all-time leader in rushing yards (8,839) and rushing TDs (51). His goal-line score on Sunday cemented his spot as one of the franchise’s best ever. In one of the most prestigious organizations in all of sports, Gore, and his underdog story, will forever have a place with the Faithful.
San Francisco has another shot this year to bring home a championship. A lot of the veterans like Gore, nearing or on the wrong side of 30, are hungry for a title right now. The sense of urgency is greater for players in his position.
Gore capped off a tremendous season in 2012, finishing with 1,214 yards and 8 touchdowns. The "Inconvenient Truth" managed 4.7 yards per attempt, a very solid average that was indicative of his effort this year.
Lowlight: Defensive Line Exposed
The 49ers looked weak at times on defense, and it was because they were not winning in the trenches. For a second game in a row, Justin Smith watched from the sidelines as Ricky Jean-Francois got the start in his place.
The Cardinals had some success early, finding gaps in the middle that otherwise wouldn’t be there if Justin Smith were roaming free. Even though the Niners eventually ran away with the game, the slow start was slightly alarming. Arizona is not contender, which would lead us to believe that a halfway competent team might have been able to mow through the 49ers.
Even though Smith said he’d be ready for the postseason, he won’t be 100-percent. He has a torn tricep tendon that will require surgery and there is no way of getting around that. Hopefully he can still be a factor in a couple weeks when San Francisco hosts the divisional round at Candlestick.