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49ers.com's 2012 Regular Season in Review

Posted Jan 2, 2013

The San Francisco 49ers will soon begin a Super Bowl trophy run as the NFC’s No. 2 seed following an 11-4-1 regular season complete with a second consecutive NFC West division title.

Led by the contributions of nine Pro Bowl performers and one of the most accomplished coaching staffs in the game today, the 49ers reeled off a number of impressive regular season wins in 2012, including five victories in primetime.

In addition to memorable contests with some of the league’s toughest teams, several individual and franchise records went to the wayside on San Francisco’s march towards the postseason.

Before the 49ers host a Divisional Playoff game on Jan. 12 at Candlestick Park, 49ers.com takes a look back at the remarkable regular season that pushed the franchise to its 19th division title in team history.

Game of the Year – 41-34 @ New England, Week 15

San Francisco’s 41-34 road victory over the New England Patriots had it all and then some more. The abundance of memorable plays made, San Francisco’s Week 15 road win was an easy choice for the 49ers’ top regular season game.

The nationally televised matchup of Super Bowl contenders featured a San Francisco road win at one of the hardest road venues in the NFL, a place where the team had not won since 1992.

Battling a tough New England team and a steady downfall of rain on a cold night in Foxborough, Mass., the 49ers raced out to a 31-3 lead thanks to a coming-out party of a performance from second-year quarterback Colin Kaepernick. A national audience saw Kaepernick lead the 49ers up and down the field with relative ease while his defense repeatedly came up with turnovers against the high-powered Patriots offense.

Despite New England’s 28-point comeback bid in the second half, the 49ers quieted the comeback with several breakout performances from offensive and defensive players, both young and old.

A 62-yard LaMichael James kick-off return led to a one-play scoring drive and Michael Crabtree’s second touchdown reception of the game. With a one-score lead, defensive tackle Ricky Jean Francois filled in for injured Justin Smith by providing a key sack.

Best Home Win – 45-3 vs. Buffalo, Week 5

If the 2012 49ers were to enter the doors of a club that featured teams to post 300 rushing yards and 300 passing yards in the same game, they’d be the only members.

San Francisco created the 300/300 club in Week 5 with a rousing 45-3 victory over the Buffalo Bills at Candlestick Park, in one of the NFL’s best all-time offensive displays. The 49ers received contributions from virtually every skill player, while the offensive line was named John Madden’s Most Valuable Protectors of the Week.

Quarterback Alex Smith led the attack with an efficient day for offensive coordinator Greg Roman, going 18 of 24 for 303 yards and three touchdowns, while fellow signal-caller Kaepernick also chipped in with a 16-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter.

But the game was well-decided by Kaepernick’s score, as the 49ers put together an impressive team-wide effort. Michael Crabtree had six catches for 113 yards and a touchdown, while Kyle Williams and Mario Manningham also hauled in touchdown receptions.

Frank Gore led the rushing attack with 106 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries and Kendall Hunter racked up a career-high 81 yards on 11 attempts. Smith also added 49 rushing yards to go along with Kaepernick’s 39 yards and 21 more from Anthony Dixon, who capped of the scoring with a 3-yard touchdown run.

In all, the 49ers totaled 311 yards rushing and 310 passing, as game-used items were later shipped off to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.

Best Road Win – 30-22 @ Green Bay, Week 1

If San Francisco’s win in New England was the team’s best effort of the season, the season-opening win in Green Bay turned out to be a close second. No matter, it still stands as our top road victory of the season as a considerable consolation prize.

The odds were stacked against the 49ers to go into Lambeau Field and defeat the league’s reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers to start the regular season, but that’s exactly what the 49ers accomplished.

San Francisco raced out to a 23-7 lead and continued to apply pressure in the face of Green Bay’s comeback bid. With an eight-point lead, Pro Bowl linebacker NaVorro Bowman provided the first and only takeaway of the day by intercepting a Rodgers pass that led to a 23-yard touchdown run by Gore on the very next play.

Smith finished the game with a 125.6 passer rating and threw two touchdown passes, out-dueling Rodgers on a day where Smith broke the franchise’s record for post pass attempts without throwing an interception.

Stat of the Year – Michael Crabtree’s 1,000-Yard Season

The 49ers know a good receiver when they see one.

In fact, if you look at the top four receiving yards leaders in NFL history (Jerry Rice, Terrell Owens, Randy Moss and Isaac Bruce), all four of them spent time in San Francisco during their careers. While Michael Crabtree is still building on his career-long resume, he accomplished something no one had done in a 49ers uniform since 2003: put together a 1,000-yard season.

Crabtree capped off his stellar 2012 campaign with an eight-catch, 172-yard, two-touchdown performance last week against the Cardinals. For the year, he posted career highs in receptions (85), yards (1,105) and touchdowns (9). Not only was it Crabtree’s first time eclipsing the 1,000-yard mark in his career, but it was the first time a 49ers receiver had done it since Owens had 1,102 yards in 2003.

By year’s end, Crabtree had established himself as one of the toughest players in the league to tackle after the catch, ranking sixth among wideouts with 465 YAC yards. In the process, he showed why teammates and coaches value him as one of the key parts of the offense.

Best Offensive Moment – Frank Gore’s 51st Rushing Touchdown

With the NFC West and a potential first-round bye on the line, Gore churned out 57 second-half rushing yards and his 51st career rushing touchdown to help the 49ers beat the Arizona Cardinals in the 2012 regular season finale.

Gore’s 2-yard touchdown plunge in the fourth quarter gave San Francisco’s all-time leader in rushing yards (8,839) and attempts (1,911) another distinction in 49ers lore – the Pro Bowl runner became San Francisco’s leader in rushing touchdowns.

The score pushed Gore past Hall of Famer Joe Perry and mentor Roger Craig on the all-time franchise list for the category. Gore finished the day with 68 yards on the ground, giving him 1,214 rushing yards on the season, the second-best single-season total of his eight-year career.

Gore also celebrated the career moment with the 49ers Faithful by launching the football from his eighth rushing score of the year into the stands at Candlestick Park. If you have Gore’s touchdown football from Sunday, consider yourself an owner of 49ers history.

Best Defensive Moment – Aldon Smith’s 5.5 Sacks on “Monday Night Football”

Aldon Smith broke on the scene as a rookie pass-rusher in 2011 and then quickly proceeded to break San Francisco’s single-season sack record in just his second season.

Aldon Smith’s 19.5 sacks came in his first season as an every down player and also earned him his first Pro Bowl selection.

The rangy, yet powerful outside linebacker truly put himself on the map with a record-setting 5.5-sack outing against the Chicago Bears on “Monday Night Football.” In a 32-7 domination of the Bears, Smith broke the MNF record with 5.5 sacks on Bears quarterback Jason Campbell.

Known for his creative sack celebrations, Aldon Smith nearly ran of ways to express himself as he nearly sacked Campbell on every second-half pass attempt. Aldon Smith finished the year with the most sacks in the first two seasons of a playing career (33.5), passing Hall of Fame defensive end Reggie White’s previous league record.

Best Special Teams Moment – LaMichael James’ 62-yard return

It was gut check time in New England and the 49ers needed a spark. After watching the Patriots score 28 unanswered points to tie the game at 31-31 in the fourth quarter, LaMichael James became a popular person on the sideline.

One by one, his teammates would come up to him and tell them they were counting on him. The rookie didn’t disappoint.

The speedy running back and return man scampered down the left sideline and rattled off a 62-yard return that instantly turned the momentum back into San Francisco’s favor.

What made James’ return even more important? It set up the game-winning, 38-yard touchdown connection between Kaepernick and Crabtree on the very next play, leading to the 41-34 49ers victory.

It was a close call between James’ big play and David Akers’ NFL record-tying, 63-yard field goal in the Week 1 win at Green Bay. Ultimately, James’ return propelled the 49ers to the biggest regular season win all year and helped them clinch the NFC West and No. 2 seed in the NFC.

Top Newcomer – Alex Boone

San Francisco featured the league’s No. 4 overall running attack in the regular season thanks to the mauling efforts of five linemen who were considered to be one of the top units in the NFL.

Two members were selected as Pro Bowl starters while three others, including first-year starter Alex Boone, were chosen as Pro Bowl alternates. Boone, a former undrafted tackle, solidified the interior of the line at right guard, as the 49ers ranked third in the league with 5.1 yards per carry.

Boone started in all 16 games for the 49ers and drew rave reviews from the coaching staff. Offensive coordinator Greg Roman once compared Boone to an 18-wheeler for the way he used his unique size and speed to block on some of San Francisco’s most challenging run plays.

Boone’s energy and enthusiasm also sparked the offensive unit throughout the regular season, as San Francisco was one of just three teams to start the same five linemen for all 16 games. The 49ers were recognized nationally throughout the season for their stellar offensive line play, as they won John Madden's Most Valuable Protectors awards in Weeks 5, 7 and 12.

Quote of the Year – Jim Harbaugh

It was billed to be one of, it not the, best regular season football games of 2012. For one team, it looked that way. The 49ers were defeated soundly 26-3 by the New York Giants back on Oct. 14 at Candlestick Park.

Last season’s NFC Championship game rematch did not go San Francisco’s way, but what happened in the aftermath spoke greater volumes about the team’s quest for a sixth Super Bowl trophy.

Following the lowest scoring output of his NFL head coaching career, Jim Harbaugh reasoned with the media that the 49ers had to move on from the Giants loss. Asked about the efforts of a reserve lineman pressed into action late in the game, Harbaugh answered the question with a broader sense of what had to happen for the team to achieve greater success. The quote, in essence, helped re-shape the second half of the season.

“I don’t think any of us feel we had our best day. And certainly wouldn’t be human if you didn’t hurt today. But, there’s no time. You’ve got to dust yourself off and ride. That’s our frame of mind.” – Jim Harbaugh, Oct. 15, 2012.

The 49ers have yet to lose back-to-back games in the Harbaugh era, going a perfect 7-0 following regular season losses since the start of last season. After Harbaugh’s “dust off” comment, San Francisco went undefeated in its next five games en route to an 11-4-1 record and the second consecutive NFC West title.

Best of TV49

49ers.com is your home for exclusive content you can’t find anywhere else.

The 49ers Faithful can find weekly all-access sights and sounds that take you inside the team with TV49’s comprehensive video team. This year, we were proud to debut such series like “Coming Soon,” “The Remix” and “Mic’d Up,” which give you unique footage and audio to bring you closer to the game. The features all accompanied postgame victory speeches following 49ers wins.

Among our favorites this year included a remixed look at the 31-21 victory in New Orleans in Week 13, Ricky Jean Francois’ contributions to the big win against the Patriots, Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson crashing the postgame celebration after the Week 2 win vs. Detroit and a “Coming Soon” preview of the Patriots game.

The Remix: 49ers at Saints

Mic’d Up: Ricky Jean Francois

Locker Room Speech: 49ers vs. Lions

Coming Soon: 49ers at Patriots

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