Halfway through their season, the 49ers have enjoyed several standout performance on their way to a 6-2 start. With this in mind, 49ers.com picked the best of the best in terms of players, highlights and coaching decisions to date.
The choice here is Frank Gore. At age 30, Gore continues to produce at a high level and has been the team’s consistent bell cow during a recent five-game winning streak. The 49ers currently have the NFL’s No. 1 rushing attack, averaging 153 yards per game. San Francisco also leads the league with 15 rushing touchdowns – seven of those scores have come from Gore. The nine-year veteran has also been one of the team’s best blockers. Whether it’s blitz-pickups or springing perimeter blocks for his quarterback, Gore has been a valuable player in both the run and pass game. Most recently, Gore recorded back-to-back, two-rushing-touchdown games before the bye week. He currently has 146 carries for 618 rushing yards (4.2 yards per carry).
READ: Gore Goes Off in St. Louis
NaVorro Bowman has been the unit’s constant with fellow linebackers Patrick Willis and Aldon Smith absent at times. With 97 tackles (58 solo), by the coach’s count, he should finish a third straight year with the most on the team. Bowman’s best performance came when the 49ers needed him most: With a 1-2 record and without Willis in uniform, the fourth-year pro made nine tackles, including two sacks and a forced fumble of St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford in Week 4. It’s no coincidence that this game was the first of five straight San Francisco victories.
READ: Bowman, 49ers Defense Limit Rams
San Francisco’s much improved special teams units are led by C.J. Spillman, who also leads the 49ers with 11 special teams tackles, including seven solo stops. Spillman recorded 10 special teams tackles a season ago. The fifth-year pro is one of the best gunners in the NFL and is a difficult blocking assignment whenever the 49ers kick or punt the football. Spillman’s consistent play has allowed San Francisco’s coverage units to cut down the large kick returns that plagued the unit in 2012.
WATCH: Weekly Conversation - Special Teams Aces
Anquan Boldin was one of the best offseason pickups by any team, but this move was especially important for the 49ers. With Michael Crabtree and Mario Manningham sidelined the first eight games of the season, Boldin has beat double-teams with regularity. His 10-catch, 208-yard debut in Week 1 earned him NFC Offensive Player of the Week honors. Boldin leads the squad in receptions (38) and yards (551). He’s also reached the 800-reception and 60-touchdown plateaus for his career so far this season.
READ: Boldin Posts 208-Yard Debut
The 49ers entered 2013 with two new starters on defense. Eric Reid, the No. 18 overall draft pick out of LSU, has been everything the team wanted and more as a starter at the free safety position. Reid has started every game and is sixth on the team with 47 tackles. He also leads the 49ers with three interceptions and is second among all rookies. Reid continues to improve as he solidifies the back end of San Francisco’s defense. The rookie safety recorded nine tackles in the team’s win in London, tying a season-high mark. Reid also has recorded six pass breakups and has one fumble recovery.
READ: Eric Reid Outshines the 'Honey Badger'
Patrick Willis didn’t remember which hand he used to force Jacksonville Jaguars tight end Marcedes Lewis’ fumble in Week 8 – it was his right – but he did remember trying to block for Dan Skuta. The latter linebacker picked up the loose ball and ran it 47 yards into the end zone for the first touchdown of his five-year career. The sequence was also impactful because it put the Jaguars to bed for good. With so many moments to contend with – emerging cornerback Tramaine Brock provided more than one – this play stands above the rest.
READ: Willis Forces Fumble, Skuta Scores First TD
San Francisco’s longest play from scrimmage resulted in a 64-yard touchdown reception by Vernon Davis against the Houston Texans on “Sunday Night Football.” The 49ers tight end lined up in the left slot and ran a flag pattern without any defenders in sight. Davis hauled in an over-the-shoulder reception and out-ran future Hall of Fame safety Ed Reed for the final touchdown of a 34-3 victory. Davis celebrated one of his team-high seven touchdown catches with his signature jump shot through the uprights at Candlestick Park.
READ: Kaepernick Connects with Davis in Win
A perfect storm of events put rookie cornerback Darryl Morris in the right position to tackle Tennessee Titans punt returner Darius Reynaud at his own 11-yard line in Week 7. Reynaud would fumble the ball into the end zone, where Morris’ peer at the gunner position, veteran Kassim Osgood, fell on it for a touchdown. Consider that Morris, an undrafted free agent signee promoted from the practice squad on Sept. 24, had manned the gunner position just twice before all year long. His timing and tackle was so good that Jim Harbaugh said he looked like “an arrow going through snow.”
READ: Morris, Osgood Make Special Teams Highlight
Colin Kaepernick hadn’t scored a rushing touchdown all season until the 49ers dialed up a zone-read play for the 49ers quarterback in Tennessee. Facing a 3rd-and-7 from the Titans 20-yard line, Kaepernick faked a hand-off to Gore in the pistol formation and then proceeded to follow his running back around the left edge for his first rushing touchdown of the year. San Francisco’s coaching staff had sprinkled in the occasional pistol formation play in the first six weeks of the season, but the road win in Tennessee was the most it had been utilized in 2013. Kaepernick has scored three touchdowns in the past two weeks and looks to be the same perimeter threat that he was in 2012.
READ: Colin Kaepernick Returns to Running Ways
Kassim Osgood has stabilized the 49ers coverage units since he re-signed with the team on Sept. 11. The 11-year pro spent training camp with San Francisco but narrowly missed out on breaking as a member of the Opening Day 53-man roster. An injury to linebacker Nick Moody allowed for his return. And he’s made a noticeable impact on special teams since. Most often, he’s combined with fellow gunner C.J. Spillman to limit opposing punt and kickoff returners. Where Spillman makes the shoe-string tackles, Osgood often goes unblocked because of his 6-foot-5, 220-pound frame. He is third on the team with seven special teams tackles in seven games.
READ: Kassim Osgood Sparks 49ers Special Teams
Joe Staley scared everyone, teammates included, with a late-game injury against the St. Louis Rams. With the 49ers on their way to a comfortable, 35-11 victory, the two-time Pro Bowl left tackle was rolled up from behind, sending him immediately into a state of shock. Staley screamed wildly in pain. Soon after, however, he realized he would be able to walk off the field under his own power. The 49ers truly dodged a bullet in that instance, and the locker room was able to razz the left tackle about the incident.
READ: Joe Staley Injury Inspires Epic Tweet
The 49ers head coach has been known to drop a quotable phrase or two during his time in San Francisco. Jim Harbaugh offered the most memorable quote of the year so far in an Oct. 7 press conference in Santa Clara. When discussing the ball-hawking ways of San Francisco’s ascending pass defense, Harbaugh compared it to what else, an olive jar. The quote foreshadowed the team’s defensive success during a five-game winning streak – 13 takeaways have led to nine touchdowns and five field goals.
“We’ve been kind of down on getting turnovers and sometimes things just kind of start breaking right for you. Kind of like the olive jar. Everybody’s familiar with the olive jar… You open it up and a brand new can of olives and turn it over and no olives come out. They’re packed in there so darn tight, but if you just get one to come out, just pluck one out of there and then they want to come out, they’re just flying out of the jar. So, hopefully that’s the case for us defensively. You just wonder, are you ever going to get a turnover, or interception or fumble and how can we get one. Then you get one and then you get, then they start flying your way. So hopefully that’s where we’re at.”
READ: 49ers Pass Defense Ranked No. 2 in NFL
You read our picks, now it’s your turn. Share your mid-season award selections in the comments section.