The San Francisco 49ers entered the 2014 season with question marks on defense and rightfully so.
Linebacker Aldon Smith got suspended for the first nine games of the season, NaVorro Bowman will miss at minimum six games while he continues to recover from a torn ACL and PCL, defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey is out with a torn bicep and gone are safety Donte Whitner (Cleveland Browns) and Carlos Rogers (Oakland Raiders).
Michael Wilhoite replaced Bowman in the lineup, Antoine Bethea signed as a free agent started at safety and not known for being as big of a hitter as Whitner, surely made Dez Bryant aware of his ability to hit, Dan Skuta started at outside linebacker as Smith’s replacement, Ian Williams who won the starting job at defensive tackle in 2013, yet got hurt early on replaced Dorsey and at cornerback Chris Culliver started after missing all of 2013 with a torn ACL and Tramaine Brock got the start at cornerback.
With a number of new faces in the lineup against the Dallas Cowboys it didn’t take long for the defense to make plays. On the Cowboys third play from scrimmage, Skuta stripped DeMarco Murray of the football before his knee could hit the ground, Culliver recovered the fumble and returned it for the 49ers first points of the 2014 season and first lead.
The Cowboy moved the ball down the field aided twice by illegal hands to the face penalties and an offsides penalty by outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks. With Dallas on the 11 and getting down to the 2-yard line, Justin Smith sacked Tony Romo and after an incomplete pass, Dan Bailey kicked a 29-yard field goal.
On the 49ers first offensive possession of the game Colin Kaepernick went 3/3 for 73 yards and a touchdown. The drive started with a seven yard completion to Anquan Boldin, a pass interference call resulting in a first down, back to Boldin for a 37 yard gain and Vernon Davis picked up his first touchdown of the day with a 29 yard reception that he bobbled momentarily before bringing the football in.
Kaepernick did a great job of escaping pressure on the throw and a breakdown in coverage allowed Davis to become wide open in the end zone.
San Francisco forced the second turnover of the game with an interception by safety Eric Reid who returned the football to the 2-yard line. Kaepernick rolled out and found Davis for his second touchdown of the game and the 21-3 lead. At the end of the first quarter, the 49ers held possession of the football for a little over a minute-and-a-half, yet led by 18.
Even after the fumble Dallas continued to get Murray the football and drove down to the 5-yard line before Tony Romo threw his second interception of the game. If he had gotten rid of the football quickly Dwayne Harris was open instead he tried to force the football to Jason Witten who had no chance, yet the 49ers didn’t capitalize off the turnover and ended up punting.
It didn’t get better for Romo as he got picked off for the third straight possession this time by Perrish Cox who took the place of Brock who left the game with a reported toe injury. Rookie Carlos Hyde got his first two carries of his NFL career with the second one resulting in a touchdown shortly before halftime, also during that offensive series Steve Johnson caught his first pass as a 49er.
Offensively San Francisco struggled during the second half, with the only opportunity a field goal by Phil Dawson that got missed. Meanwhile late in the third quarter Murray gave the Cowboys their first touchdown of the season, yet it took over six-and-a-half minutes to do so. Dallas wasn’t able to score another touchdown until a little under two minutes remaining in the fourth.
Boldin recovered the onside kick, Frank Gore carried three times for 12 yards to seal the 28-17 win.
Leading the way for the Cowboys offensively and defensively:
Romo completed 23/37 passes for 281 yards a touchdown and three interceptions and got sacked three times, Murray carried the football 22 times for 118 yards and a touchdown and Harris led the way with 56 yards receiving on his only reception of the afternoon, Dez Bryant was held in check with four receptions and 55 yards and Terrance Williams and Cole Beasley added four receptions.
Defensively Justin Durant and Rolando McClain each led the way with eight tackles and Bruce Carter registered six tackles and a sack.
Kaepernick completed 16/23 passes for 201 yards, two touchdowns and got sacked once, Gore finished with 16 carries for 63 yards, Hyde picked up seven carries for 50 yards and a touchdown, Boldin caught eight passes for 99 yards, Davis had four receptions for 44 yards and two touchdowns and Steve Johnson and Michael Crabtree each caught two passes.
Defensively Bethea and Willis recorded six tackles along with J. Smith who also added two sacks and Wilhoite contributed five tackles.
Note: Brock returned to the game late in the fourth after rookie Jimmie Ward apparently suffered a head injury. Culliver left the game and did not return after suffering a concussion. Gore achieved a milestone in the win by surpassing the 10,000 yard rushing mark.