In just a short amount of seconds, San Francisco 49ers special teams superstar wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. erased any comeback hopes for the Seattle Seahawks. Late in the fourth quarter at Candlestick Park, he returned both a kick return and a punt return for unbelievable touchdowns that culminated an ambitious debut for new head coach Jim Harbaugh's 49ers. Pete Carroll's defending NFC West champions had been soundly defeated 33-17 right before our collective eyes after coming within two points in a comeback. They had scored ten unanswered points to set the score at 19-17 before the Ginn machine was introduced.
The expectations of San Francisco 49er faithful fans after the exhibition season was timid at best, considering that we had struggled to showcase our identities both as individuals and as a collective team after a long NFL lockout that robbed the league's coaches and players of any reasonable training camp time. But in this debut, the collegiate collective juices of what makes a coach tick seemed to flow heavier then normal between the two arch rivals', Carroll from USC and Harbaugh from Stanford.
First and foremost, let's discuss the positives of Jim Harbaugh's debut, starting with special teams coach Brad Seely. So much is often made public and lauded about when comparing the offense with the defense and talk is made cheap between off-setting coordinators. Even when it is due, very little credit is given to the special teams coach for a job well done and this was a result of some rather unique coaching and training with a two-time Special Teams Coach of the Year.
Brad Seely has also coached three Pro Bowl return specialists and won three Super Bowls with the New England Patriots in his illustrious 22-year career. Now he has elevated the San Francisco 49er special teams unit to an all new champion-like level in breaking team history by having Ted Ginn Jr. return a kick and a punt for a touchdown in the same game. What was even more enthusiastic was the way Ted Ginn Jr. handled the fame and glory by keeping the footballs he returned and presenting them to his twin children.
Special teams played a huge part in the overall context of this victory with new kicker David Ackers making all four of his field goal attempts on offensive drives that stalled inside the red zone. Punter Andy Lee averaged a remarkable 59.6 yards on his five punts with a 54.2-yard net average, both of which being career highs. The coverage units executed remarkably well as the Seattle Seahawk average offensive starting line was at their own 22-yard line while ours was at our 38-yard line.
The fact that the special teams unit played so well and executed on a dime is a testament to some great coaching and placing an emphasis on the importance of what this unit does and can make happen on a moments notice within the games framework. Brad Seely is a coach that deserves immense credit for helping find talent he can mold into a force to be reckoned with as the season moves forward.
San Francisco 49er defensive coordinator Vic Fangio is also a hero within this debut as his unit created multiple headaches for Seahawks quarterback Tavaris Jackson, who threw a late 55-yard touchdown pass to former Stanford star receiver Doug Baldwin, but was limited to 21 completions out of 37 for just 197 total yards.
Jackson was also sacked five times for a loss of 42 total yards, fumbling three times and losing two of them. He went on to throw an interception and ended the game with a 78.3 quarterback rating. San Francisco defensive linemen Justin Smith and Ray McDonald harassed Jackson all day while collecting sack trophies and creating intense pressure on the mobile quarterback. This helped keep Seattle's total net yardage at 219-yards. One can give credit to Parys Haralson who played his heart out in this game in order to keep first round draft pick Aldon Smith watching from afar. Haralson forced a fumble on Tavaris Jackson and finished with a sack.
Besides shutting down the passing game with a totally revamped secondary that played collectively very well, the 49ers contained the Seattle big horse in Marshawn Lynch. He was limited to 13 carries for 33 total yards and a 2.5-yard average which, in all aspects, is difficult to do with such a bruising big running back like him. Credit for this victory must also be attributed to the brilliant execution of all players on the defense, despite some personal fouls resulting in unnecessary roughness that were, in my opinion, bogus at best.
Harbaugh's parents, Jack and Jackie, watched as their son took his first NFL victory from the Seahawks and applauded Jim's antics on the sidelines as he openly embraced and congratulated different individuals for their outstanding efforts on the field. Even Alex Smith did enough to be credited with management of the game, avoiding the pass rush courtesy of his solid offensive line that played and executed without much flaw. Smith even made a sprint for a touchdown while taking a hit and spinning into the end zone for the score.
The 49er offense was officially labeled "vanilla" in this game and had only 124 total yards passing and 59 total yards by Frank Gore. Smith completed 15-of-20 passes and finished with a rating of 90.4. He was never sacked and he fumbled only once, but it was recovered by the 49ers. The team couldn't convert on third down completing only 1 of 12. This was attributed to getting into too many third and long situations and we seemed to run a lot on third down, which was an irritation to some degree because we weren't sustaining drives as we should've been.
The long pass down the field only happened once, a 27 yard pass to veteran Braylon Edwards, who is setting a fine example of what a player does to find the first down marker. The pass protection on the offensive line was stout but their ability to create running lanes for Frank Gore was seemingly difficult. I think more appearances by back-up running back Kendall Hunter would've helped for a fresh set of legs at times. I come away after watching this game with jubilation for the victory, but still have concerns about the consistency level at which Alex Smith must execute and play, especially with the Dallas Cowboys coming to town.
Sources of Information: Mercury News.com, SF Gate.com, Inside Bay Area.com, NFL.com and my own personal analysis and opinion.