Welcome back to The Booth Review. The final opening day at Candlestick Park - ever - was certainly a memorable one as the San Francisco 49ers defeated the Green Bay Packers by a score of 34-28.
The Green Bay Packers will never forget.
They had the entire offseason to ruminate over their humiliating elimination from the playoffs at the hands, or rather, legs of Colin Kaepernick and the San Francisco 49ers.
Just eight months ago, Kaepernick torched the Packers on the ground for 181 rushing yards - an all-time league record for quarterbacks in a postseason game. Deploying plays out of the read-option, Kaepernick dismantled an entire defense. And when it wasn't Kaepernick, it was Frank Gore, who recorded 119 rushing yards of his own. In total, the Niners leveled 323 yards and four touchdowns against a Green Bay defense that was clearly confused and flustered. And when they couldn't find an answer, they turned against each other.
After the season, the Packers, quite literally, went back to school and studied up under the guidance of Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin - a sort of read-option sage in his own right. When it was revealed in April that the two teams would face each other on opening day, the Packers made sure to do their homework this time around.
Fast forward to Sunday.
In many ways, it was the heavyweight bout we all expected to see. Two high-profile NFC powerhouses, in their inaugural game of the season, trading haymakers back and forth to the bitter end. In other ways, we never saw it coming.
ANYTHING YOU CAN DO...
Out of the gate, the Packers sought to establish the run while the Niners took to the air. This is curious considering how San Francisco handled business last season. They pulverized their opposition on the ground (I mean, ask the Packers, they know all about that), averaging 155.7 rushing yards per game - fourth-best in the league.
But on Sunday, San Francisco's running game was nowhere to be found. At the half, the Niners had mustered just 20 yards on 13 carries. A miserable figure for sure, but offensive coordinator Greg Roman and Kaepernick seemed content going against the grain.
If Kaepernick ever wants to break a league record or set a personal best, it seems like all he has to do is play the Packers. Kap once again had a career day, but this time, he took a page out of Aaron Rodgers' book and got it done with his arm instead of his legs. His throws were awe-inspiring. Watching the game with a few close friends (two Eagles fans and one Packers fan), there were at least a handful of passes that roused a collective "Wow" from everyone in the room.
"Really special performance by [Kaepernick]," said head coach Jim Harbaugh after the game. "[There were] some laser-like throws. Some downfield, pinpoint accuracy. Managing the chaos of the game, [he] never blinked, never flinched at any time, and just kept executing. Consistently really good."
For Kap, it was really two career days rolled into one as he celebrated both his first 300-yard game as well as his first 400-yard game. The last time Kaepernick threw for 400 yards? His freshman year at Nevada against Louisiana Tech. Even so, he wasn't completely satisfied.
"I feel like there were more throws I should have made out there," admitted Kaepernick. "There were plenty of times I feel like I should have completed passes that I didn't. That's something I have to get better at."
An exercise in humility for Kaepernick who finished the day with 412 passing yards, three touchdowns, and no interceptions. Had it not been for Peyton Manning's superhuman performance against the Baltimore Ravens on Thursday, Kaepernick's passing totals would have been the best all week.
To the rest of the league, his performance on Sunday was a statement: 'Go ahead and stop me on the ground, I'll beat you through the air.' Kaepernick proved he isn't a "running quarterback", but rather a quarterback capable of running. He proved that he can roll with the Bradys and the Mannings and the Rodgers of the football world. He worked incessantly in the offseason to improve as a passer, and on Sunday, we saw the payoff as clear as day. Kaepernick is better today than he was in February. A lot better.
Boldin is golden
The primary beneficiary of Kap's record-setting day was veteran wideout Anquan Boldin, quietly acquired from the Ravens in March. If there were still any concerns over the absence of Michael Crabtree for the next couple of months, they were quickly laid to rest on Sunday.
The way Kaepernick was connecting with Boldin, it seemed as if they had been playing together for years. You know that rare, inexplicable kindred connection that some quarterbacks seem to have with their receivers? Peyton Manning to Marvin Harrison? Kurt Warner to Isaac Bruce? Steve Young to Jerry Rice? At least on this day, Kaepernick and Boldin had that connection.
"I think the more that we play together, the better we'll be," said Boldin. "I think the great thing me and Kap have is communication. We've been able to communicate throughout the entire camp on every play. I think whenever you have that communication, it bodes well for a receiver and a quarterback."
"Whenever you have a quarterback like Kap, he can get outside of the pocket and make plays happen," Boldin explains. "So if a play does break down initially, you have to stay alive for him. Because he's great at getting outside of the pocket and throwing the ball accurately even if it's across his body."
The electrifying Boldin finished the day with 13 receptions for 208 yards and a touchdown. And so far, everyone seems pretty happy to have him.
"He went out there and played like a grown man today," said Kaepernick. "He made plays even when he shouldn't have. If he [continues to play] like that, he's going to get the ball even more."
"It feels great to have him. We did give up a trade choice for him, paying him a lot of money," said Harbaugh, "but I definitely think he's worth every penny."
Harbaugh lets out a laugh and repeats himself: "Think he's worth every penny."
Consider that Boldin was acquired for nothing more than a sixth-rounder. Now it just seems downright absurd, doesn't it?
"Yeah, I think we got the better end of that deal," said a smiling Kaepernick.
- Aldon Smith during pre-game introductions Jeff Gross/Getty Images
- Kyle Williams clearly psyched to be back on the field Jeff Gross/Getty Images
- Boyz II Men were back singing the anthem. Rodgers still not wearing an Alex Smith jersey! Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
- Yeeeeaaaa...Kap is out of bounds Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
- I still don't know how Clay Matthews wasn't tossed Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
- Clay Matthews blew up this running play shortly after Kendall Hunter got the handoff Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
- Colin Kaepernick getting out of the pocket, eventually would throw to Bruce Miller for seven yards Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
- C.J. Spillman going after returner Jeremy Ross Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
- C.J. Spillman after a big special teams tackle Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
- Vernon Davis catches his first touchdown of the game Jeff Gross/Getty Images
- Anquan Boldin probably deserved to sit down and take a breather after his big day Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports
- Kap scrambling for a first down - This was either Frank Gore or Anquan Boldin following a big block Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports
- Kap throwing on the run - helps on throws like this to have that cannon of an arm Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports
- Vernon Davis with a leaping catch (I think the leap was necessary in this case) Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports
- Packers eventually scored, but Donte Whitner with a huge force out on this play Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports
- This was Eddie Lacy's day for the mo Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports
- Vernon Davis....TOUCHDOWN Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports
- Clay Matthews can't quite get to Kap on this throw Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports
- Aldon Smith on the run Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports
- Kap getting Joe Staley to cool down after the Clay Matthews late hit Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports
- Anquan Boldin....TOUCHDOWN Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports
- Jermichael Finley reaches for the touchdown Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports
- IT'S A FUMBLE! Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports
Not to be outdone, Vernon Davis turned in a heck of a show himself. It was a perfect illustration of the type of mismatches Davis can create for defenses. Davis finished with six receptions for 98 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
When Kaepernick came on halfway through the year last season, Davis' production saw a significant drop. It's quite obvious that the two spent a lot of time together in the offseason getting onto the same page.
I can just imagine a brooding Clay Matthews sitting in a dark room in front of a projector screen, rewinding Kaepernick's game tape over and over and over again this past offseason.
Matthews had Kap's number all day. During the second quarter, the Niners were knocking on the door - 3rd and 6 at the 10-yard line. Kaepernick was flushed out of the pocket and made a run for it. With at least one foot planted firmly out of bounds, Matthews flies into the frame, wraps up Kaepernick, and slings him backwards onto the turf.
There's jostling, shoving, pulling, yelling. Left tackle Joe Staley engaged Matthews, and Matthews appeared to strike Staley twice in the facemask, and the flags fly.
"I watched it. Joe did exactly what we coached him to do. When somebody is taking a cheap shot or trying to do something after the whistle, we teach them just to lock up," explains Harbaugh, extending his arms forward to illustrate.
"He did that, and then Matthews throws two punches at him. So the officials had their explanation, maybe they saw some other things I didn't see, but for it to be offsetting, I didn't see it that way from my vantage point."
Of course, Harbaugh is referring to the fact that referee Bill Leavy mistakenly 'rewarded' the Niners with an extra third-down play when, in fact, it should have been fourth down due to offsetting penalties. On their second third-down opportunity, Boldin made a reception on a crossing route and got into the end zone for the touchdown.
Was it a bungle on behalf of the refs? Most definitely. However, the NFL has since come out and made an official statement on the matter: "After reviewing the play, Vice President of Officiating Dean Blandino determined that Joe Staley should not have been penalized."
So in other words, the Niners were unnecessarily penalized and should have actually received a 1st-and-goal at the three-yard line. But considering San Francisco scored on the drive anyway, it's kind of a moot point. Put away the pitchforks, Packers fans.
Kaepernick continued to be harassed throughout the day. Early in the fourth quarter, Kap was forced out of the pocket and tried to make a play when Green Bay cornerback Tramon Williams wrapped him up behind the line of scrimmage for a three-yard loss. With Kaepernick still on the ground, Williams dropped down on all fours and appeared to yell something into Kap's ear.
Were the Packers using scare tactics? If they were, Kaepernick didn't seem to mind.
"That's football. You expect to get hit," says Kaepernick. "If intimidation is your game plan, I hope you have a better one."
Linebacker NaVorro Bowman admits that the level of physicality on Sunday was turned up an extra notch.
"[Clay Matthews] made it that way," says Bowman. "We probably would have come in and played a normal football game, but he woke us up a little bit. And then they get the personal foul on Kap, and that woke us up some more.
"We're always ready to play, but when you want to fight, we're ready to fight."
Down to the Wire
With about five minutes left in the game, the Niners held a slim lead at 31-28. They started the drive at their own 35-yard line with a two-fold purpose: widen the margin and, more importantly, eat up as much time as possible.
They manage to make it to Green Bay's 36-yard line with exactly three minutes left on the clock. On fourth down, the coaches send the offense back out onto the field and attempt to draw the Packers offsides, but to no avail. Clay Matthews sniffs it out immediately, frantically waving his arms to let his defense know to stay put.
The Niners spend their final timeout. However, the offense returns to the field anyway on a gutsy attempt to convert.
Kaepernick takes the snap and initially finds nothing but keeps his eyes down-field working the right side of the pocket. Eventually, he pulls the trigger and finds - who else? - Anquan Boldin for the 15-yard reception and that all-important first down conversion.
The clock comes back to life and begins to fall. Tick tock, tick tock...
After Phil Dawson sinks a 33-yarder to make the score 34-28, Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay offense got the ball back with 26 seconds and a prayer.
On first down, Rodgers fires down the field and completes to Randall Cobb who attempts to fall out of bounds to stop the clock. He is denied by a diving Donte Whitner at San Francisco's 42-yard line. The clock continues to fall. Rodgers spikes the ball to save a few precious seconds left on the clock for one last opportunity, but it is squandered as Aldon Smith wraps around the waist of Rodgers to force an errant throw.
The clock reads "0:00," and the Niners take a victory over the Packers for their third consecutive meeting.
"Our guys really prepared for it, did a great job in their preparation for this game against one of the best teams in football and in the NFC," said Harbaugh. "We knew what was coming, and we wanted to finish it."
San Francisco certainly finished and couldn't ask for a better start to their season. Unfortunately, their course doesn't get any easier. Next Sunday, the team heads north for what promises to be a hotly-contested divisional game against the Seattle Seahawks who many feel is the 'team to beat' this year. To say the Niners struggled at CenturyLink Field last season would be a massive understatement - they fell to the Seahawks, 42-13. This will be the first road test for Kaepernick and company, and it will definitely be a worthy one.