Colin Kaepernick faked an inside handoff, broke left on an option run and kept running, and running, and running, and he didn’t stop until he had obscured the events of Sunday’s 49ers-Dolphins game.
Not the result, of course. His 50-yard touchdown run with 2:10 to play was the coda in San Francisco’s 27-13 victory, one which advanced them one game closer to Atlanta in the National Football Conference, kept them at arm’s length from the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC West, and in general did them no appreciable harm.
On the other hand, it didn’t make anyone feel appreciably better about them, either. This game wasn’t meant to reveal much about the longer term. It was meant to be what Jim Harbaugh said it was.
“These are really hard games to play,” Harbaugh said. And it showed.
Miami is not a good team, but it plays hard, and it defends the run well. Indeed, until Kaepernick sprung himself free for the spread-covering score, the 49ers were averaging a desultory 3.9 yards per carry, and converted only 1 of 9 third downs. In fact, they had the ball for only 55 offensive plays, and are tied for last in the league in that arcane statistic.
In other words, they do not have an easy time impressing people with their overall offense. They have their moments – the Kaepernick run, Frank Gore’s catch-break-five-tackles-and-run, Michael Crabtree’s 25-yard reception to set up the 49ers’ go-ahead field goal at the end of the half – but for the most part, they are under Kaepernick what they were under Alex Smith.
A team of grinders. Grinders do not wow casual fans.
Grinders also do not beat the New England Patriots in Foxborough, so Sunday’s game really didn’t help anyone more fully understand the way next Sunday night’s game will play out. 49ers-Patriots is the game that will tell us just how Super-Bowl-able the 49ers actually are in the Kaepernick Era.
But they don’t let you play games out of order, at least not without the benefit of more universes than the one in which we dwell, so we take what we are given and try to make sense of it.
Kaepernick did grind the 49ers through 10 possessions, of which only two were three-and-outs. He missed only five of 23 passes, threw neither a touchdown nor an interception, and other than a fumble on the game’s fourth play (that was recovered by tackle Anthony Davis) and four sacks, he did your standard credible quarterback’s job.
Again, a lot like Alex Smith’s standard credible quarterback’s job.
And we don’t bring that up to try to fan the dying embers of a quarterback controversy that died three weeks ago. We bring it up only to remind you that the 49ers are at their very essence a flash-free football team. They do not spice the game with exotica, nor do they win the day for fantasy leaguers. That is not who they are offensively – not through 31 games of the Harbaugh dynasty, anyway.
And since that is what Miami strives to be once its roster gets a few more miles on it, Sunday’s game did not promise a lot of entertainment. So when it did not deliver a lot of entertainment, few were surprised.
You want the game explained? Okay. Donte Whitner took down Reggie Bush with a full-on Cael Sanderson one-armed amateur wrestling takedown in the third quarter. Bush got up and gestured that he was too mighty to be hurt, Whitner got up and swaggered like he knew better, and they were both right. Only Whitner was righter, because the 49ers were up 13-3 at the time and were never threatened thereafter.
This was, put bluntly, a game the 49ers had to get through without mishap, blunder or injury. They succeeded at all three, and Kaepernick’s moment made it look slightly more one-sided than it was. In the style-points era of 49er football, this would have been a disappointing afternoon. These days, it is (and God help us for going this way) only what it is.
But New England in Foxborough . . . ahh, that will give us more of a lead-in to January. The Patriots are real, they amass points in vast bins, and they want you to try and score with them. The 49ers are their polar opposite. Styles, as they say, make fights.
“We’re going to be able to see where we are as a defense,” Whitner said. “We understand who’s going to have to win that football game, and we think it’s going to be the defense. And they understand that their offense is going to try and control the ball and get some big plays and put some points on the board. And we can’t allow that, so we’ll be ready.”
This game didn’t have much style. So it wasn’t much of a fight. It didn’t have to be. Next week’s does.