(By Daisy Barringer)
I like to use this space to congratulate players who were key to any 49ers victory. And so today, I start this column by thanking the guy whose arm and decision-making changed Sunday's game completely: Texans QB Matt Schaub. I appreciate Schaub’s consistency and his dedication to keeping streaks alive, specifically the one where he’s the first QB in NFL history to throw a pick-six in four consecutive games.
Of course, Schaub didn’t do all of the work. Yes, he made the passes, but it was CB Tramaine Brock who was there to catch them. Two of them, in fact. Both in the first half. Brock is the 49ers’ No. 3 cornerback, but he played like a pro. Right now he’s just filling in for an injured Nnamdi Asomugah (knee) to whom he lost the job in training camp, but after last night’s performance, I imagine there might be a bit of a competition for the spot. After all, there’s nothing like an 18-yard pick-six on the third play from scrimmage to set the tone of the game.
Which over all was a glorious game indeed. Candlestick benefited from our Indian summer. In fact, walking around the parking lot before the game, it was almost—dare I say—too hot. And that wasn’t just because my blood boiled a bit when I saw the exact same two SFPD officers who had lied to and placated me after I was assaulted in September at the 'Stick. They were leaning against a van, smoking cigarettes, taking their same casual “I don’t give a crap” approach to fan security.
In fact, speaking of fan security, I noticed nothing different yesterday. I assumed that Candlestick might step things up a bit after fan violence made the national news two weeks ago, but instead things seemed slacker than ever. I actually walked into the stadium without having my bag—which was filled to the brim (with layers I never needed; I stayed in a t-shirt the entire night)—checked. The security guy looked at it, said, “Wow, you’ve got a lot of stuff in there,” and then waved me through. And sure, the only thing I was hiding in there was a couple of beers, but it easily could have been a gun. (The guy who wanded me did not wand my bag.)
In addition, after getting through security without a second glance, I then walked right into the stadium without ever showing my ticket to anyone.
So let me recap: I could have walked into Candlestick without a ticket and with a gun. Fan safety—it’s totally a priority!
Luckily, I only saw a few fights. For once, people getting totally wasted before the game seemed to curb violence because instead of starting fights, they were falling asleep in their seats. Literally. The guy behind me who spent the entire first half screaming profanities in a way that made me seriously question if he had Tourette’s, was completely passed out—with a string of drool coming out of his mouth—by the half. Which was fine by everyone in my section (including the parent of a 10-year-old boy). Whatever it took to shut him up.
Anyway, back to what’s important: WINNING! Which the 49ers are finally doing. Yes, Matt Schaub’s three INTs were key to the victory—and certainly made the game exciting—but the Niners played well all around.
I’m sure everyone was disappointed when they found out that Patrick Willis wasn’t going to suit up for the second game in a row. And, of course, Aldon Smith is still in rehab, but the Niners D didn’t let that affect them at all. I mean, they dominated. Michael Wilhoite (filling in for Willis) had 11 tackles, 3 for a loss, and NaVorro Bowman (13 tackles) continues to shine. I think also that the D sensed Schaub was coming out scared and took advantage. The Niners defense set the tone and the Niners offense played their part by running the ball and letting the defense do the heavy lifting.
Of course, that’s not to diminish Gore’s performance. He ran 17 times for 81 yards and a TD and certainly would have gotten more touches if not for the fact that the Niners totally ran the score up on Houston and had to give LaMichael James and Kendall Hunter the ball to keep them happy (and Gore healthy). Also, shout out to the O-line who had a great game after stumbling a little bit earlier in the season.
C.J. Spillman also deserves a nod for his huge hit on the kickoff return. Great hits like that are what make football so fun to watch.
The only disappointment of the night was Colin Kaepernick. He only completed 6 of his 15 pass attempts for a total of 113 yards. But since Schaub was doing his best to win the game for us, it didn’t really matter. Kaepernick did just enough, didn’t turn the ball over, and that’s fine by me... as long as his “just enough” isn’t his new “best.”
(Also disappointing, but in a way that’s not his fault, obviously: DT Ray McDonald left in the third quarter with a bicep injury. He’s getting an MRI today, but fingers crossed it doesn’t sideline him.)
Houston fans started pouring out of the stadium sometime in the third quarter and though I would never ever travel to a game and leave early (hell, I would never leave early no matter what), I kind of felt for them. They came all the way to San Francisco, they might as well go enjoy one more sourdough bowl of clam chowder at Pier 39 before they head home. (Seriously though, I talked to a bunch of Texans fans before the game and every single one was staying at Pier 39. They complained about the bars closing early and I was like, “I have no idea what goes on down there after dark.” It’s so weird to me that people come to SF and that’s the picture of the city they take home with them. Can we do something about that or is it destined to be like that forever?)
All in all, a poor performance by Houston’s offense and a great performance by San Francisco’s defense contributed to what was a fun game to watch on a warm Sunday night. With Seattle’s loss to the Colts (how great was that?) and the Niners win, SF is officially back in the NFC West hunt. And I like it.
Next up, the Cardinals at home. I think we’ve got this.