Here is a link to my column from the 49ers-Vikings game. The full text runs below:
What did we learn about a Jim Tomsula team — i.e. the 49ers? What did we learn in Tomsula’s debut as head coach in the Niners’ 20-3 win againster the Vikings? Well, to be accurate, Tomsula did coach one game as Niners head coach back when. What did we learn in his current debut?
We learned his team plays disciplined, for the most part. His team started off ragged, but gained self-control. His team is emotional like him but it’s not over the top. It has a professional demeanor. You can respect a Tomsula team.
People — me included — wondered if Tomsula is a buffoon. That’s because he don’t always talk so good. Based on the performance of his team, he is a savvy football man who deserved his shot. We’ll learn more over time.
We learned the Niners play excellent defense. This was unexpected. The Smiths are gone and Patrick Willis is gone. But the 49ers smothered Adrian Peterson, allegedly the best running back in the game. And they made Teddy Bridgewater, a hot quarterback, look cold. The Niners used to win with defense and lots of people thought they couldn’t do that anymore. But they did.
Credit defensive coordinator Eric Mangini. He had been an unimportant assistant coach on the 49ers but he got his chance when Vic Fangio left and he did good work.
He came into the game with the reputation as an obsessive caller of blitzes. Call him the Blitz-O-Matic King. But he didn’t blitz that much, although Antoine Bethea breaking through the offensive line in the third quarter and dumping Bridgewater for a 10-yard loss was a thing of beauty. For the most part, Mangini’s guys played straight up and they played great. And they made the Vikings, supposedly a team on the rise, look like a team on the decline.
Mangini gets praise for this and so does Tomsula.
Tomsula gets credit for creating one heck of a running game — gets credit along with offensive coordinator Geep Chryst. The Niners replaced Frank Gore with second-year back Carlos Hyde. Brilliant move. Hyde has change of direction and he moves well in tight spaces and he runs hard and he runs fast.
In the second quarter, he scored a touchdown running straight ahead, then spinning around like a point guard in basketball spinning to the hoop. He scored the touchdown untouched. Just beautiful. A move you almost never see. And he scored another running touchdown in the fourth quarter. And he drove the Vikings crazy and he was better than Adrian Peterson. Hands down.
The 49ers passing game was good. Linger over that. It could get better. But Colin Kaepernick has not looked that sharp, that dead-on in a long time. Sure, there was that grounder he threw to Anquan Boldin near the goal line in the third quarter — the Niners settled for a field goal. And he connected just once with wide receiver Torrey Smith, the speed burner who is supposed to give the 49ers a deep threat. And he sometimes threw off his back foot. Yes, he still does that.
But those are mere quibbles. He led four scoring drives. Threw no interceptions. Of course, he ran well. And in the fourth quarter when the Niners were driving to put away the game, he hit Vernon Davis for 20 yards and then for 19 yards. Impressive work. Imposing work.
He was more of a game manager than a game star. He put the 49ers in the right play and got them out of the wrong play. He managed. Hyde starred. But there is something to be said for being a game manager when you consider managing was exactly what Kaepernick could not do.
The Niners rolled Kaepernick out again and again. Why? To get him away from the pocket. To avoid sacks. He used to be a sack sap. Monday, he never got sacked. The Niners should have used that roll-out strategy years ago. Just roll the guy out. Save him from himself. What the Niners did with Kaeprnick was smart football. It gained your respect. It served notice on the league.
And I’ll tell you something else. The 49ers were tougher than the Vikings. Pushed them back. Wore them out. Just a tougher bunch. A more confident bunch. Credit Tomsula. Whatever he was preaching in the preseason it worked.
In the auditorium after the game, he said, “That’s one game. It’s a long season. We’re not there by any means.”
It was the appropriate amount of caution mixed with humility from the coach. We can say what he won’t say. Tomsula had an admirable debut in his second incarnation as 49ers head coach. He made everyone stop obsessing about his predecessor. He presented the world a good team, maybe a meaningful team. Based on their work in Game 1, the 49ers just may be a contender.
Who would have thought?
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