Well, the 49ers looked like an NFL team again on Monday night, and actually showed what little audience that tuned in, their best performance of 2010, from start to finish. The victory was bitter sweet though, as star running back Frank Gore broke his leg and is done for the season.
Before I get into the game, I wanted to talk about Gore very briefly. The positive way at looking at the injury, and best case scenario, is that it takes some wear and tear of Frank in the long run and he comes back as fresh, and healthy as ever for training camp 2011. The bad part about it is it came at a time in which the Niners just got their one ray of hope for this season. After Monday's win, they're now just 1 game back of the fading Rams and Seahawks in this putrid NFC West. Still though, as much as I want to see them going, I don't see the 49ers making the playoffs this year, with or without Gore, and if he can come back healthy and strong to start 2011, than this injury shouldn't be a huge set-back. The 49ers will likely plan for the worst and pursue some back-up plan at RB this offseason in-case Gore shows lingering effects, unless Anthony Dixon absolutely takes this job and runs with it, which I'm really hoping happens. Dixon has power and Gore has that elusiveness and if Dixon can gain confidence and experience in this second half, a duo of him and Gore could be huge in 2011. That's putting a positive spin on things, but let's face it, a broken hip, especially for a running back who gets hit 25-30 times a week, is no injury to scoff at.
As important as he is, the 49ers have to move on in 2010 with Gore on the sidelines, and they showed to be very capable of doing just that on Monday. Brian Westbrook ran wild on the Cards, going for 136 yards and a score on the ground and looked very healthy himself. He and Anthony Dixon (and Gore for that matter, 52 yards on 5 carries before leaving the game) combined for 190 rushing yards and 2 touches on 37 carries. Granted, they were facing the Cardinals, who aren't an elite team, they're no slouches on defense, so it's not like the Niners offense was going up against a college level-team or anything like that. It's a good thing the running game was on too, cause Troy Smith wasn't going to beat anyone with his arm. The 49ers didn't call for many passes, as Smith was just 11-23 for 129 yards with a TD and an Int, cause they really didn't need to. Not sure if it was just because the running game was on, or maybe they're trying to have Smith throw as least as possible now, I think it's probably a little bit of both. Again, they got the early lead, and Smith did look nice on the 38-yard TD toss to Michael Crabtree at the beginning of the game, but for the second straight week, he failed to complete 50% of his passes, which is a horrible.
This game didn't really feature Smith too much though, it was all about the running game, the special teams, and rock-solid defense. Teddy Ginn's 2 big 40-yard returns each led to 49er touchdowns. I really liked the move to bring Ginn in here this summer, and I'd like to see him featured more in some role on offense, cause he's dangerous. He reminds me a little of Reggie Bush, maybe the Niners could design some Wild-Cat packages with him now that Gore's out and they'll be experimenting with the run game. Heck, I'd like to see Ginn touch the ball at least a couple of times a game on offense, whether it's screen passes, reverses or what not, get him the ball, cause he can move once he has it... I don't really want to glorify the defense too much, as they were playing against the Cardinals who do have Larry Fitzgerald, but nobody to get him to ball or create a running game with. Patrick Willis had the Niners only sack and Takeo Spikes intercepted Derek Anderson as the Niners kept the Cardinals out of the endzone... Again, big win for the 49ers, keeping them alive in 2010, but man, did it come at a cost.