Skip to main content

Anatomy of a Play: Colin Kaepernick's Game-saving 51-yard Pass to Michael Crabtree

Sitting at 4-4 midway through the regular season, the San Francisco 49ers playoff hopes would've taken a significant hit if the team had fallen under .500 on Sunday.

The 49ers avoided such a defeat, but before pulling out the dramatic victory in overtime, they needed an incredible play during their final drive in regulation to extend the game.

Using NFL Game Rewind, we bring you a frame-by-frame breakdown of perhaps a season-saving conversion late in the fourth quarter of the 49ers 27-24, win over the New Orleans Saints.

In this sequence, quarterback Colin Kaepernick converts on 4th-and-10 by scrambling outside the pocket and finding his receiver, Michael Crabtree, for a 51-yard gain to put the 49ers in field-goal range.


In their pre-snap formation, the 49ers line up Crabtree (bottom) and Brandon Lloyd (top) to run straight go-routes. Anquan Boldin is in the slot with the objective of sprinting 10 yards to the first-down marker and stoppinig. Frank Gore and Vernon Davis are in the backfield and will run across the middle of the field as secondary options. The Saints are positioned in a Cover-2 zone, meaning the two deep safeties are each responsible for half of the field.


In Cover 2, cornerbacks will typically try to jam their receiver at the line of scrimmage and ideally force him inside. Here, Saints corner Corey White, who is responsible for the shallow zone on his side of the field, doesn't make good contact and Crabtree is able to release easily down the sideline.


The 49ers offensive line picks up the Saints four-man rush while Gore and Davis sneak out into the flat. Right tackle Anthony Davis rides Saints defensive end Junior Galette around the edge, which forces Kaepernick to scramble out of the pocket.


Now near the 49ers sideline, Kaepernick still has nowhere to throw the ball. Gore (left) and Boldin (right) are covered, and Saints linebacker Curtis Loftton (center) is spying Kaepernick so he can't run for the first down.


With defenders closing in, Kaepernick spots Crabtree running free on the opposite side of the field. Instead of picking up Crabtree as he enters his zone, Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro moves down to defend Davis. Perhaps when linebacker Ramon Humber vacated his zone to guard Gore's crossing route, Vaccaro saw Davis breaking open and figured Kaepernick wouldn't be able to make the long throw to Crabtree.

Kaepernick, however, plants his feet and fires a rocket over the top of New Orleans' defense. Seeing the broken coverage, White hustles down the field to make the touchdown-saving tackle. Kaepernick's remarkably strong throw under duress was similar to the one he made against the Philadelphia Eagles earlier this year, when he found Gore open for a 55-yard touchdown.


The underrated portion of this play is Crabtree's terrific sliding catch. Running full-speed downfield, Crabtree puts on the breaks and hauls in the throw to set up Phil Dawson's game-tying 45-yard field goal. The reception was Crabtree's longest catch of the year.

Said White: "When (Kaepernick) was throwing it, I didn't know who he was throwing to. They just made a good play. We weren't defending that."

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.