Last week, I wrote about the five 49ers who had something to prove in the final few games. Here is a quick analysis on how they fared on Sunday ...
Alex Smith. For the first time in his career, Smith is getting the chance to air out the ball, and he is making the most of his opportunity. He went over 300 yards against Seattle despite seven drops by his receivers. In the last two games, Smith has been very accurate. Moreover, he has been very accurate on difficult throws, such as the one to Michael Crabtree in the end zone against Jacksonville, which Crabtree dropped. There were two throws Smith would have liked to have back Sunday against Seattle, both of which came in the final drive. On second and three, he had Jason Hill open across the middle but just missed him. Perhaps Smith wanted to play it safe and lead Hill toward the sideline, but he ended up throwing it out of reach and out of bounds. On the following play, Smith and the 49ers were surprised by the defense - one of several instances in which they were out-coached by the Seahawks down the stretch - and he threw deep to Josh Morgan deep into coverage. Smith should have gone over the middle to Vernon Davis, who would have had a big gain. Overall, however, it was another very solid performance from the quarterback and another reason to believe Smith is the future of the 49ers.
Josh Morgan. On the final offensive play (described above), it looked as if Morgan realized he was covered and gave up on the play. At the very least, he should have fought to knock the ball away from the defensive back, who nearly had an interception. In short, a weak effort by Morgan on the play. Still, Morgan had one of his best statistical games of the season, catching six passes for 56 yards, including a nifty 22-yard touchdown. Smith seemed to go to Morgan a lot over the middle when the 49ers needed a few yards for a first down, a sign that the trust between Morgan and the QB is growing.
Dre Bly. Bly didn't allow any explosive plays down field in his second straight start - paramount for the 49ers' defense - but he almost did. He was beaten soundly by Nate Burleson, who would have had a touchdown had Matt Hasselbeck's throw not hung in the air. Bly did a nice job of recovering and knocking the ball away. He remains a guy the 49ers would consider bringing back next season but only at a bargain basement price.
Delanie Walker. He had another decent role in catching three passes for 28 yards and getting a couple of calls on end arounds. His most pivotal moment came early in the game on 4th and goal from the Seahawks one. The 49ers lined up as if they were going to run the ball. Instead Walker dragged across the line of scrimmage. The hope was that he would pop wide open, but the Seahawks were not fooled. Linebacker LeRoy Hill followed him to the corner of the end zone and wrapped his arms around Walker as the ball was in the air. Maybe Walker should have gone Meryl Streep on the play in order to draw a penalty flag (which should have been thrown anyway). Instead he stuck with the play and nearly came up with the catch.
Ahmad Brooks. Brooks had his best game of the season, but perhaps the most significant effect his increased role has had is that it has lit a fire under Manny Lawson. Although Brooks has played ahead of Lawson in nickel situations the last two games, Lawson now leads the team with 5 ½ sacks and has a sack in each of the last three games. Brooks, meanwhile, got his second sack of the season and finished with a season-high five tackles. The 49ers still must think about adding a pass rusher in the offseason, but Brooks' and Lawson's play perhaps have made the position ever-so-slightly less of a priority.
-- Matt Barrows