The 49ers‘ long-struggling offense didn’t exactly “pop” as coordinator Greg Roman predicted it would in the run-up to Monday night’s game. But it definitely showed signs of expansion during the 27-6 win over the Washington Redskins, especially in the second half.
Colin Kaepernick, limited to dinks and dunks in the previous two games, finally was able to flex his right arm against a leaky Redskins defense, and he hit favorite targets Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis for second-half touchdowns.
Boldin finished with 94 receiving yards and two touchdowns, his best performance since a 208-yard debut for the 49ers in Week 1.
The key performer, however, was Kaepernick, who was facing his first real scrutiny since taking over as starter last season, including from former 49ers-quarterbacks-turned ESPN analysts Steve Young and Trent Dilfer, who watched from the sideline Monday.
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Kaepernick threw for 235 yards – only the third time he's broken the 200-yard barrier this season – and, perhaps more importantly, he picked up big chunks of yardage with the 49ers‘ ground game sputtering and finishing with only 76 yards. Kaepernick had a 134.5 passer rating, the best of his career.
Afterward coach Jim Harbaugh said he noticed his quarterback's resolve during the week of practice and complimented Kaepernick on Thursday.
“Very strong, very tough,” Harbaugh said of Kaepernick. “Some people have baby deer skin. Some people have armadillo skin. He's got armadillo skin. It was just strong, good leadership.”
On of the main criticisms of Kaepernick is he hasn't been going through his progressions after dropping back and is locking in on one target.
At the Redskins’ 6-yard line in the third quarter, however, Kaepernick’s first read was to his left. When that wasn’t available, he started moving to his right to avoid pressure while keeping his eyes on potential targets in the end zone. Boldin finally broke free, and the quarterback fired a pass into the receiver's belly.
“Great job of reading the coverage and throwing it to the one-on-one coverage,” Harbaugh said.
Over the last two weeks, the formula for beating San Francisco has been to stack the line of scrimmage against Frank Gore and the running game and take your chances with Kaepernick beating you deep.
He couldn’t do that in recent losses to Carolina and New Orleans. Against the Panthers, his longest pass play was just 14 yards. A week later against the Saints, it was 17 yards.
Against the Redskins, however, Kaepernick had five completions of 20 or more yards, including a 40-yard pass to his best deep threat, Davis, who finished with four catches for 70 yards, including a 1-yard touchdown in the third quarter.
Boldin and Davis remain the only 49ers who have caught touchdown passes this year. Still, Kaepernick did a better job of working others into the passing offense
Five of the quarterback's first six passes were to Mario Manningham, who entered the game with just 38 receiving yards but had 35 yards by the end of the first quarter.
After sputtering on the 49ers’ first two drives, Kaepernick hit Manningham with an 11-yard pass on third down. Then he went to his favorite target, Boldin, on a 24-yard pass that Boldin snatched over the head of Redskins cornerback Josh Wilson.
On the next play, Wilson became tuned around while covering Boldin, and Kaepernick hit the receiver in the corner of the end zone from 19 yards
With the win, the 49ers (7-4) hold the fifth playoff seed in the NFC and kept pace with the division rival and sixth-seeded Cardinals, who also are 7-4. The 49ers currently hold a tiebreaker against Arizona after beating the Cardinals in October. They visit Arizona in the season finale.
“We feel like our destiny’s in our hands,” Boldin said. “If we come out and take care of business, we write our own story.”