NFL: 49ers show they're serious NFC contender in Week 1
The San Francisco 49ers showed all the same poise and big playmaking ability not to mention dominant defense against NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers in a season-opening statement victory at Green Bay as they did in coming so close to a Super Bowl last season.
Who said the reigning NFC West champions couldn't do it all again even with a far more daunting schedule?
"It's a big win," three-time Pro Bowl running back Frank Gore said Monday, a day after rushing for a key 23-yard touchdown with 8:41 left at Lambeau Field. "We've got to keep going, keep working."
The Niners snapped an eight-game losing streak in Green Bay dating to 1990. More than that, they showed they are a legitimate NFC contender for the second straight season.
From the day the schedule came out, many looked at San Francisco's games and saw the list as much more challenging than a year ago starting in Week 1 on the road against the Packers.
Even coach Jim Harbaugh acknowledged his team might not have as many wins in 2012. Now, the Niners are 7-2 on the road since he took over before last season and became NFL Coach of the Year. That road mark ranks second in team history to George Seifert, who won his first 16 road games.
"Poise comes from confidence. You'd be darn surprised if they didn't have confidence, they work extremely hard, they prepare so well and that's something that we need to keep doing," Harbaugh said Monday. "The way we work, the way we prepare is one of the best things we've got going for us. You want to see that continue."
Alex Smith was an impressive 20 of 26 for 211 yards and two touchdowns for a 125.6 quarterback rating despite being sacked four times. He has thrown 185 straight passes without an interception to break Hall of Famer Steve Young's franchise mark of 184. Smith, the 2005 No. 1 overall draft pick, tossed only five interceptions all of last season. He rallied his team from behind five times, including a 36-32 victory against the favored Saints in the NFC divisional playoffs.
The defense that impressed each week during the 2011 resurgence didn't back down from Rodgers all day, either, capitalizing with NaVorro Bowman's fourth-quarter interception to set up Gore's touchdown run.
"You turn on the TV or you hear people say, 'No, the Packers are going to beat them by two or three touchdowns' and you hear everybody saying all this and that," linebacker Patrick Willis said. "But we know what we have and we have complete confidence in one another here across the board offense, defense and special teams. As long as we have that and we're still together, I think we're capable of doing anything."
And All-Pro kicker David Akers did it yet again, nailing a 63-yarder for one of his three field goals on the day all from at least 40 yards. Akers set the NFL single-season record for made field goals with 44 in 2011, his first season with San Francisco.
The 63-yarder hit the crossbar and went through the uprights, tying an NFL record. It came on the final play of the first half to give Harbaugh's group some momentum in a hostile environment.
"You know you don't get the opportunity too often, so we went out there and we were like, 'All right, let's see what we can do,'" Akers said. "I didn't want to over kick it."
Randy Moss certainly left his mark on the game, too. Moss scored San Francisco's first touchdown early in the second quarter on a 14-yard pass from Smith.
He has played some of his best games at Lambeau Field. Even at age 35. Even after a year out of the NFL.
Moss, playing in an NFL regular-season game for the first time since Jan. 2, 2011, for Tennessee, added another touchdown to his remarkable list of them in front of the Wisconsin Cheeseheads. Moss has 14 career TDs in the regular season against the Packers and 16 total nine of those at Lambeau.
"Terrific performance by Randy and all the receivers," Harbaugh said. "Randy was outstanding coming off the ball, good speed, etc."
Just stepping onto the field, he takes pressure off Gore, and tight ends Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker.
"I'm happy for Moss, first game to get a touchdown," Gore said. "He helps our team out a lot."
Moss was hardly the only one earning praise from the coach Monday, when players had the day off before returning to work Tuesday to prepare for another key NFC matchup: against the 1-0 Detroit Lions in prime time Sunday night at Candlestick Park.
"Just got to start back, keep going, keep working," Gore said, "try to get better and try to get a victory this week."
A balanced offense is what the 49ers are hoping for every Sunday, with Gore leading the way in the running game and a more wide-open passing game with Moss and Michael Crabtree, Davis and Walker.
It sure worked Sunday. Upgrading the receiving corps was a top priority this offseason after the unit managed only one catch for 3 yards in a 20-17 overtime loss in the NFC title game to the eventual Super Bowl champion Giants.
"We came into it with a will-to-win attitude," Davis said. "As you can see, we ran the ball, we passed when we needed to and we made the plays made it happen."
Harbaugh said he's a "big believer" in the strides a team can make between the first and second games, and that's a focus moving ahead with this week's preparations for Detroit.
"You always feel like you're either getting better or you're getting worse," he said. "You never stay the same. We've talked about that."