LEVI’S STADIUM — In a game devoid of any offensive prowess, the 49ers (7-4) needed a fourth quarter touchdown to narrowly avoid a catastrophic collapse to a lowly Washington football team (3-8).
Three turnovers and a myriad of punts nearly cost San Francisco a very winnable game, but Carlos Hyde’s four yard touchdown run with 4:43 left salvaged the 49ers winning effort en route to a 17-13 victory, keeping them in the thick of a closely knit playoff hunt.
It took a mixture of both 12-year veteran Anquan Boldin and rookie Hyde to help Colin Kaepernick accomplish what he had failed to do all season long — find the end zone in the fourth quarter.
Boldin made a number of clutch receptions during the final scoring drive, including a 29-yard bomb that included an additional 15 yards tacked on following a brutal hit by FS Ryan Clark.
San Francisco would then put their drive on the back of Hyde, who showed his ability to run with both finesse and power as he plunged into the goal line after a pair of carries for a 4-yard score and a 17-13 advantage.
After his nine-catch, 137-yard outing was almost the 49ers singular source of offense on a day where there wasn’t much of it to go around, Boldin spoke about stepping up in a struggling offense:
“We just feel like we are in the playoffs, that’s our mindset. We feel like we gotta win at all costs. Every week it’s gonna be somebody different making plays, and somebody’s gonna step up and rise to the occasion.”
Kaepernick, who completed 20-of-29 passes for 256-yards while tossing one touchdown and an interception throughout the contest, relied on Boldin to move the stagnant offense, looking to him with a team high 12 targets.
During the game’s most crucial moment, Kaepernick said it was the trusted veteran that he looked for:
“He’s proven time and time again that he’s a reliable receiver. And he’s always a person that’s gonna make big plays and he did right there for his team.”
Although it was just the first time Kaepernick had led his team on such a drive, the score could not have come at a better time for a team struggling to stay afloat. After the game, head coach Jim Harbaugh praised Kaepernick’s ability to fight through adversity for the winning touchdown:
“Great effort. That’s under a lot of pressure. He takes the ball, takes it the length of the field and scores the game winning touchdown. That’s big time stuff.”
In what could have potentially been a trap game for San Francisco, the offense came out swinging against a beleaguered Washington team. The offensive line provided plenty of time in the pocket for Colin Kaepernick, who hooked up with his number one receiver Boldin for 48 yards and a touchdown while cruising to an early 7-0 lead.
Although Washington’s offense had looked horrendous earlier in the game, netting 28 total yards in the first quarter while gaining just two first downs, the 49ers inefficiency to move the ball left the door open for Robert Griffin III to mount a game-tying drive later in the frame.
With a momentum shift looming over San Francisco, the 49ers built their second scoring drive of the game before closing out the half.
Kaepernick took to the air, connecting with four different 49ers before finding Michael Crabtree deep down the sideline for an athletic 25-yard connection on a back shoulder pass. With San Francisco in field goal range with 5 seconds left, Phil Dawson split the uprights on his 41-yard attempt to send his team into the locker room with a 10-7 advantage at the half.
Half time offered no resolution to either team’s offensive woes as the third quarter quickly became a punting clinic with both teams floundering during their possessions.
Another potentially promising 49ers drive came to a sudden conclusion as Kaepernick hurled an ill-advised pass deep downfield over the head of the intended receiver Boldin and into the hands of Washington CB Greg Ducre for the second turnover of the game.
Then officials flagged the 49ers for helmet-to-helmet contact, giving Washington 15-yards and a fresh set of downs to continue their drive. Washington capitalized on its opportunity with Kai Forbath nailing a 27-yard chip shot to tie the game at 10-10.
A rare Frank Gore fumble brought the 49ers struggles to a pinnacle of frustration. Washington turned their big defensive play into their first lead of the day, as Forbath completed his second straight field goal attempt, this time from 46 yards out.
With the game, and potentially the season on the line, the 49ers needed someone in their floundering offense to answer the call during the game’s most crucial drive with the clock winding down. Boldin and Hyde stepped up to the challenge.
Hyde’s powerful plunge up the gut gave the 49ers a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. While the rookie has made a number of impressive moves this season, Hyde said the touchdown showed his aptitude at running between the tackles:
“I’m not a skyback. I just try to get my pads north and south and get to the end zone.”
It was only fitting then that the defense, whose scrappy and tenacious nature kept the 49ers in the game amidst the offensive trouble, drove the nail in the coffin as DT Justin Smith laid the fifth, and most important sack of the day on Griffin, jarring the ball loose and into the hands of OLB Ahmad Brooks to secure the winning effort.
With the defense playing at an exceptional level, the 49ers will need to shore up their offensive inconsistencies in order to stay in the playoff hunt, a change that Boldin feels the team can make in a hurry:
“The mistakes that we are making are very much correctable so it’s not something that is earth shattering or anything. It’s very correctable.”
The 49ers will take on Seattle on a Thanksgiving day showdown at 5:30 at Levi’s Stadium in a battle for second place in the NFC West.