The San Francisco 49ers scored 17 second-quarter points in Week 9 during a wild first half against the New Orleans Saints.
Trailing 28-13, the 49ers faced 3rd-and-3 from their own 35-yard line. That's when Colin Kaepernick found Garrett Celek for a 65-yard touchdown to make it a one-score game. In "Anatomy of a Play," we break down how San Francisco's tight end was able to take advantage of man coverage.
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Let's start with the other routes that helped McDonald get open. Torrey Smith ran a post toward the middle of the field. The Saints were in man coverage, and B.W. Webb (the cornerback towards the bottom of the image) is responsible for Smith. Jairus Byrd (the safety on the midfield logo) also breaks on the receiver. The last player to converge on Smith, however, is the key. That's Kenny Vaccaro (the safety playing down in the box). Vaccaro is responsible for man coverage on McDonald. As we'll explain in a moment, the tight end's route allows the safety to pass him off to the middle linebacker and help on Smith's post route. That's three players who all end up covering San Francisco's top wideout.
Next up is DuJuan Harris, who takes off up the right sideline on a wheel route. Not much to explain here other than safety Vonn Bell is in charge of covering the 49ers running back.
With Harris and Smith occupying four defensive backs, that leaves the entire right side of the field open for McDonald. The tight end ran a drive return route, meaning he made a move towards the middle of the field before breaking for the sideline. Remember when we said that Vaccaro was responsible for McDonald? Since it appeared that the tight end was running a shallow cross from right to left, Vaccaro passed off coverage to middle linebacker Craig Robertson (the player circled at the 39-yard line). So when McDonald breaks back to the sideline, Robertson is already in a trail position. Kaepernick made a quick read and immediately threw the ball to his tight end, who had plenty of open field in front of him.
McDonald and his 4.69-speed had little trouble out-running Robertson, who is already out of the picture. But Bell was still on that side of the field to potentially make a play. When Harris realized that McDonald had the ball, he quickly turned into a blocker and sealed off the sideline for his tight end.
Much like McDonald's 75-yard score against the Carolina Panthers in Week 2, Quinton Patton was there to ensure he reached the end zone. Cornerback Delvin Breaux, who covered Patton on the play, was New Orleans' last defender who had an opportunity to make a play on McDonald. It wasn't quite the crushing block he delivered on Luke Kuechly, but Patton still shielded Breaux off from McDonald and proceeded to follow the tight end into the end zone to celebrate. "Teamwork makes the dream work," as they say.
With the 65-yard touchdown, McDonald became the first NFL tight end to record two scores of more than 65 yards in the same season since Shannon Sharpe did so in 1997 with the Denver Broncos. Congrats to McDonald on the noteworthy achievement. There's still plenty of time for another one with eight games left to play in 2016.