Handing the Cowboys a 11-point defeat in Dallas – could the San Francisco 49ers have imagined a better Week 1 of their 2014 regular season?
Aside from losing both of its starting cornerbacks to injury in this opener, which is no small concern, all was right with this one.
The so-called “team of the 1980s,” San Francisco (1-0), bested the so-called “team of the 90s,” Dallas (0-1) on Sunday afternoon. After 60 minutes of football, the scoreboard at the red-and-blue AT&T Stadium read 28-17 – and it wasn't that close.
Now the question is: Will the 49ers be the team of this decade?
Jim Harbaugh and Co. have visited three straight NFC Championship games and getting back is a part – really, just the start – of the team’s goal.
Tony Romo, who threw three interceptions to the team’s decimated secondary, and his Cowboys have finished each of the last three seasons 8-8.
But the 49ers need to steam-roll these teams, too, if they have designs on playing in February. We’re still in September, but this was a good first impression.
Kaepernick was 16-of-23 passing for 201 yards and two touchdowns.
Cornerback Tramaine Brock (toe) went to the sideline during Dallas’ second series of the game, and he was carted off of the field midway through the first quarter. Veteran reserve Perrish Cox replaced Brock, who was deemed “questionable” to return, in the lineup. Cox played admirably in his stead, snaring a second-quarter interception on a long toss from Romo to Dez Bryant. The pick was Romo’s third.
Brock returned to the sideline soon after the team’s other starting corner, Chris Culliver, left the game on the penultimate play of the first quarter. Culliver, who suffered a concussion while trying to tackle Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray, walked off under his own power. He was also termed “questionable” initially until being ruled out.
A third defensive back, rookie Jimmie Ward, was being examined on the bench late in the fourth quarter. There was no immediate news on his status.
The notes: The 49ers to not suit up for this one: quarterback Josh Johnson, wideout Quinton Patton, cornerback Chris Cook, right tackle Anthony Davis (hamstring), center Marcus Martin (knee) and defensive tackle Quinton Dial.
2. Antoine Bethea made his 97th straight start, the most among active NFL safeties, after suffering a concussion in Week 3 of the preseason.
3. Credit outside linebacker Dan Skuta as much as Culliver for the cornerback’s 35-yard touchdown run-back on the third play of the game. Skuta, starting at outside linebacker for Aldon Smith, poked the ball out of Murray’s grasp, giving Culliver the opportunity to high-step down the sideline.
4. In addition to Skuta, Ian Williams started at nose tackle and Michael Wilhoite began the game at inside linebacker. The defense’s eight other players were all locks to be in coordinator Vic Fangio’s opening lineup. Of the three newbies, Williams may have the weakest hold on his spot, as Tony Jerod-Eddie also got playing time at nose tackle.
5. On the offensive side of the ball, Joe Looney started ahead of Alex Boone, who held out of training camp before returning to the team, at right guard. Jonathan Martin filled in for Davis (hamstring) at right tackle and Daniel Kilgore made his first NFL start, meaning San Francisco returned just two of its five starting offensive lineman from a season ago, left tackle Joe Staley and left guard Mike Iupati. Boone entered the game at times as an sixth, extra blocker on the line of scrimmage.
6. They pass-protected well. Kaepernick connected with wideout Anquan Boldin (37 yards) and tight end Vernon Davis (29-yard touchdown) on the unit’s first drive. Davis juggled the ball twice before securing his reception with both hands in the corner of the end zone.
7. Perhaps lost in free safety Eric Reid’s 48-yard interception return is that he broke the tackle of Cowboys tight end Jason Witten, one of the NFL’s biggest, strongest pass-catchers.
8. When Kaepernick threw a second touchdown pass to Davis (two yards) on the next play, giving San Francisco 21 points after just four snaps on offense.
9. It was Brandon Lloyd – not Stevie Johnson – to line up with Boldin and Michael Crabtree in the offense’s first three-wide receiver set. But Johnson entered the game late in the second quarter in a trips formation and caught a 21-yard pass.
10. Frank Gore ran up the middle for 20 yards on his first carry, early in the second quarter. Gore gained his 34th yard of the game on a third-quarter carry, giving him 10,001 yards for his career. He became the 29th running back in NFL history to cross that threshold.
11. Rookie running back Carlos Hyde entered the game on a second-quarter third down and pass-protected well, while reserve LaMichael James was called upon for an option play. Hyde ran with his usual ferocity on back-to-back plays in the second quarter, gaining 13 yards on one up-the-gut scamper before his four-yard touchdown rush.
12. Ward, a first-round NFL Draft pick, made his mark on the game by downing an Andy Lee-booted punt at the Cowboys 1-yard line before halftime. With fellow defensive backs Brock and Culliver out of the game, Ward yielded to Cox and rookie Dontae Johnson on the outside but still entered the game in the nickel package. Ward also served as a gunner on the punt squads. Johnson, for his part, had two nice pass break-ups in his NFL debut.
13. Rookie wideout Bruce Ellington – not James – was lined up deep to return kickoffs and punts. Ellington’s special teams versatility likely gave him the nod over second-year wideout Quinton Patton on the 46-man gameday roster.
14. The second of defensive tackle Justin Smith’s two sacks was due, in part, to a stunt. Smith lined up as the right-side defensive tackle before coming around the left edge to run smack-dab into Romo. Smith celebrated with rookie pass-rusher Aaron Lynch, who was playing ahead of veteran Ahmad Brooks at times. Brooks also recorded a sack in the third quarter.
15. 49ers alumnus Dwight Clark and others commented on how much red and gold they saw at AT&T Stadium, also known as "Jerry's World."
16. Harbaugh is now 4-0 in season openers as coach.
The advance: The 49ers return home to Santa Clara on Sunday night and will resume practicing on Tuesday. Harbaugh will address the media on Monday to review this one and preview the team’s Week 2 home opener against the Chicago Bears. San Francisco will look to begin the Levi’s® Stadium era with a win over the team that Harbaugh once played for and that Colin Kaepernick made his NFL debut against. We’re looking forward to it.