MAKING THE GRADE
GLENDALE, Ariz. — Here is how the 49ers (12-4) graded in their 23-20, regular-season finale win at Arizona (10-6):
Pass offense: Colin Kaepernick gained confidence for the playoffs with clutch passes on the winning drive to Anquan Boldin and Quinton Patton, but only after a midgame lull following his first-quarter touchdown strikes to Boldin and Vernon Davis. Boldin's Arizona return featured a huge first quarter (six catches, 106 yards) and a more crucial fourth quarter (17- and 18-yard catches on final two field-goal drives). Despite 310 passing yards, protection could have been better and it was far from their best showing.
Run offense: Frank Gore was angry afterward, for good reason: 13 carries, 14 yards. Bruce Miller's absence as a lead blocker was evident. At least once, Will Tukuafu went outside, when Gore went up the middle. Anthony Dixon wasn't a short-yardage answer, getting stuffed on fourth-and-1 and losing five yards on an east-west carry. Back-to-back, end-around runs worked great for Quinton Patton (26 yards) and Boldin (11 yards), but why not save those elements of surprise for the playoffs?
Pass defense: Momentum is not on this unit's side, not after allowing 407 yards to Carson Palmer a week after giving up 348 yards to Matt Ryan (each with two touchdown passes). Where oh where is the pass rush? NaVorro Bowman gets the only sack? Carlos Rogers' hamstring injury could sideline their most experienced cornerback (and slot man). Covering tight ends is this unit's kryptonite.
Run defense: No running back had a 100-yard outing against the 49ers all season. The Cardinals amassed just 83 yards. Bowman, Patrick Willis, Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks each made a tackle for loss. Next up: the Packers' Eddie Lacy, who's run for five touchdowns in the past four games.
Special teams: Phil Dawson got his consecutive field-goal streak over with (27 in a row), then nailed a 56-yarder before his 40-yard, walk-off winner. Bubba Ventrone made another great play for the coverage unit. LaMichael James' 41-yard kickoff return ignited the winning drive. Andy Lee pinned 4 of 6 punts inside the 20, but his last was a 30-yard shank out of bounds at the Cards' 40.
Coaching: They started and finished like gangbusters. In between, not so good. What's important now is they compile a game plan that will lead to their fourth straight win over the Packers. Considering the coaching vacancies upcoming around the league, 49ers assistants can't be interviewed until Jan. 12, per league rules.
-- CAM INMAN