Analysis  

 

Anquan Boldin sparks San Francisco 49ers; plus 32 questions

Two yards, and it could all be his: an emotional victory, a measure of redemption and the finishing touch on what surely would be the most satisfying opening-day performance of a long and luxuriant NFL career.

Anquan Boldin, the San Francisco 49ers' newly acquired and duly inspired wideout, waited as his head coach, Jim Harbaugh, debated during a timeout whether to attempt a fourth-down conversion that could all but vanquish the Green Bay Packers.

The Niners led by a field goal and faced a fourth-and-2 at the Packers' 36-yard line with three minutes remaining on a sunny Sunday afternoon at Candlestick Park. Boldin, quite naturally, wanted the coach to put the team's fate in his scorching-hot hands.

Get it to me, Boldin thought to himself on the sideline, and it's a wrap.

A few seconds later, on cue (or, in this case, on "Q"), Boldin delivered. He seized the moment and the ball, drifting away from tight coverage to snag a short pass from Colin Kaepernick and charge upfield for a 15-yard gain. A Phil Dawson chip shot increased the Niners' lead to 34-28 with 26 seconds remaining, and after repelling Aaron Rodgers' desperate comeback try, San Francisco had successfully begun the defense of its NFC championship.

With 13 catches, 208 yards and a touchdown -- and one charged intervention on behalf of his quarterback -- Boldin had underscored his immense value, as if the football world needed a reminder. Actually, from Boldin's perspective, it did: Deemed expendable six months earlier by the Baltimore Ravens, whom he'd helped earn a triumph over the Niners in Super Bowl XLVII, the proud receiver had balked at the team's insistence that he accept a pay cut, facilitating his unexpected exit.

"I was very surprised, especially after the run we had just been on together," Boldin told NFL.com on Sunday evening. "I thought they'd want to keep it going. I mean, I've been in this league a long time, and I understand the business side of it. But yeah, I was pretty surprised when they asked."

Due to make $6 million in 2013, Boldin's response was unequivocal: "I talked with my agent, and I said, 'No way I can do that.' When I signed with the Ravens (after being acquired in a 2010 trade with the Arizona Cardinals), I signed for four years, and I took that to heart. I was honoring my side of it. I expected them to honor theirs."

The Ravens, citing salary-cap concerns, sent Boldin to San Francisco for a sixth-round pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. At this point, it's being perceived as the most lopsided trade since Ben Affleck replaced Christian Bale as Batman.

While the Ravens struggled to muster a passing attack in Thursday's 49-27 thrashing by the Denver Broncos, Boldin energized a Niners offense reeling from the season-threatening Achilles tendon tear incurred by top receiver Michael Crabtree.

Boldin brought more to San Francisco than great hands, shrewd route running and extreme physicality as a blocker and after-the-catch runner; he also exudes attitude in a locker room full of big hitters and bold personalities. It was not at all shocking that during Sunday's most contentious sequence -- triggered by Green Bay linebacker Clay Matthews' overtly unsportsmanlike lunging neck tackle of Kaepernick as the quarterback ran out of bounds at the Packers' 6-yard line in the second quarter -- Boldin was among the first and most furious responders, charging into the fray to grapple with Packers cornerback Sam Shields as left tackle Joe Staley teed off on the shaggy-haired perpetrator.

"He knew what he was doing," Boldin said of Matthews. "We're definitely not (going to stand for that). You don't let anybody cheap-shot your quarterback. I don't care what they think -- if we had done that to Rodgers, they would have gone nuts. We weren't going to tolerate it."

Boldin caught a 10-yard touchdown pass on the next play -- a play with some controversy of its own -- and kept right on making Green Bay pay. As Boldin continually abused the Packers' secondary, the least surprised people in the old, obsolete stadium were his teammates and coaches.

"We see it at practice every day," Niners offensive coordinator Greg Roman said. "He is a special guy."

Boldin's talent has been obvious since his stunning NFL debut a decade ago, when he caught 10 passes for 217 yards for the Cardinals in a 42-24 defeat to the Detroit Lions. There was nothing subtle about his source of motivation: After a relatively slow 40-yard-dash time caused Boldin, a former Florida State standout, to slip to the second round, the receiver resolved to make everybody pay.

On Sunday, having been shunned following a highly productive postseason that included six catches for 104 yards and a touchdown against the Niners in the Ravens' Super Bowl victory last February, Boldin drew on some of the same emotions.

The two season openers, a decade apart, were "very similar," he said. "But the good thing about this one is that we got a win. So, this one was better."

Boldin, seeking to help lead a third franchise to the Super Bowl, relishes his opportunity to play with the Niners -- and to inspire some of his less-seasoned teammates in the process.

"When I came in, they told me just to be myself," he said. "They told me to come in and have input on a team with a younger quarterback and to take a leadership role. So that's what I've done. I think I fit right in."

He also walked into what is perhaps the NFL's most heated rivalry. In March, a few hours before news broke of the Niners' trade for Boldin, their fellow NFC West power, the Seattle Seahawks, rocked the football world by acquiring explosive wideout Percy Harvin from the Minnesota Vikings.

That high-profile trade, which cost the Seahawks a first-round selection and two other picks, has yet to pay dividends, as Harvin is on the physically unable to perform list while recovering from hip surgery. The 'Hawks scored only a single touchdown in Sunday's 12-7 victory over the Carolina Panthers, which is one reason I dropped them from first to second in this week's incontrovertible pecking order.

The recipient of the first of our 32Qs? That distinction belongs to the team for which 'Q,' on the initial Sunday of the 2013 season, emerged as The Answer.

We'll have far more clarity next Sunday night, when the Niners and 'Hawks do battle in Seattle. Until then, try not to perspire as we inquire:

1) San Francisco 49ers: Does Bill Leavy still have it out for the Seahawks, or what?

2) Seattle Seahawks: The next time someone asks Russell Wilson about a sophomore slump, wouldn't it be great if he reacted like Marshall Mathers getting a Rick Rubin question from Brent Musburger?

3) Denver Broncos: If Danny Trevathan went on a hot date with snowboarder Lindsey Jacobellis, what are the odds it would end prematurely?

4) Houston Texans: If rookie running back Cierre Wood has a big game against the Chargers on Monday night, will Sports Illustrated publish a cover story about his goldfish, "Larry"?

5) Chicago Bears: When Brandon Marshall saw he was single-covered by Bengals safety Reggie Nelson in the red zone before his game-winning touchdown catch Sunday, was he more excited than even his Viagra-popping peers?

6) Green Bay Packers: Don't you get the feeling that, deep inside, Clay Matthews would have been even happier laying a sideline neck tackle on Colin Kaepernick's head coach?

7) New England Patriots: Given that Tom Brady described Sunday's victory over the Bills, via email, as a "tough day at the office," should we assume that he regards some of his new teammates as more annoying than this iconic "Saturday Night Live" character?

On NFL Network
NFL Replay
will re-air the New Orleans Saints' 23-17 win over the Atlanta Falcons from Week 1 on Tuesday, Sept. 10
at 3:30 p.m. ET.

" NFL Network schedule

8) New Orleans Saints: If I told you that Sean Payton celebrated his first regular-season victory in 20 months Sunday by holding court at a makeshift bar underneath the Superdome with members of the "Duck Dynasty" cast, would you agree that the Saints have their swagger back?

9) Cincinnati Bengals: When you have a receiver as insanely talented as A.J. Green, and you go the final quarter-and-a-half of a game without scoring, how disappointing is your offensive effort?

10) Atlanta Falcons: Before the ill-fated fourth-down snap that would decide Sunday's game at the Superdome, did Mike Smith have bad flashbacks?

11) St. Louis Rams: After watching him play one game in a Rams uniform, can we conclude that Jared Cook's contention that he was underutilized in Tennessee was well-founded?

12) Baltimore Ravens: Yo, Ray Lewis -- did Jed York cause the lightning delay in Denver, too?

13) Dallas Cowboys: When it was revealed that Tony Romo merely had the wind knocked out of him -- on a brutal blow that forced him to briefly leave Sunday night's game late in the first half -- how emphatically did Cowboys fans (and especially Jerry Jones) exhale?

14) Washington Redskins: When unheralded safety Jose Gumbs showed up on cutdown day and tried to "make it to the locker room" without being asked to turn in his playbook, was he paying homage to George Costanza?

15) Detroit Lions: Does anyone abhor the Calvin Johnson Rule more than its namesake?

16) Arizona Cardinals: Is it fair to say that the Honey Badger does care?

17) New York Giants: After watching his team's six-turnover debacle at AT&T Stadium on Sunday night, how badly does Tom Coughlin want to kick some of the Giants' big butts?

18) Philadelphia Eagles: Don't you get the sense that, when Cary Williams and Riley Cooper got into it in practice last week, the cornerback was picturing his teammate in a sleeveless shirt and jean shorts?

19) Indianapolis Colts: How crazy is it that Andrew Luck has engineered more game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime (eight) in his first 17 games than any quarterback since the 1970 merger -- and that he currently might be the third-most-acclaimed passer in his draft class?

20) Kansas City Chiefs: Is defensive end Tyson Jackson destined to play for Vikings linebackers coach Mike Singletary someday?

21) Tennessee Titans: Is it possible that Bud Adams did, in fact, "spend that money" for something -- and if so, will that realization make the owner a tad less grumpy for the time being?

22) Carolina Panthers: Um, Ron Rivera -- are you sure you prefer Mike Shula over Hue Jackson as your offensive coordinator?

23) Miami Dolphins: Hey, Mike Wallace -- can I give you 60 million reasons why you shouldn't whine about your lack of involvement in the offense after a victory in your first game with the Dolphins, or do you not want to talk about it?

On NFL Network
NFL Replay
will re-air the New England Patriots' 23-21 win over the Buffalo Bills from Week 1 on Tuesday, Sept. 10 at 2 p.m. ET.

» NFL Network schedule

24) Buffalo Bills: When rookie linebacker Kiko Alonso recovered a goal-line fumble against the Pats on Sunday, did Brady realize he'd been burned by a dude nicknamed "Goldilocks"?

25) Pittsburgh Steelers: Besides Ben Roethlisberger, is any Steelers player more valuable than Maurkice Pouncey -- and will the Pro Bowl center's ACL injury blow up more than just the season opener?

26) Minnesota Vikings: Does the guy who described the Vikings' decision to give his old number to rookie receiver Cordarrelle Patterson as "disrespectful" believe No. 84 is worthy of his dog?

27) New York Jets: Didn't Sunday's unlikely triumph over the Bucs remind you of the games a certain ex-Jets quarterback was pulling out for the Broncos in 2011?

28) Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Who was more destructive Sunday: newly acquired Dashon Goldson patrolling the secondary or Lavonte David roaming the sidelines?

29) San Diego Chargers: After Pope Francis blessed his son at the Vatican last May, did Philip Rivers ask His Holiness to "absolve A.J. Smith from his sins -- like replacing Vincent Jackson with Robert Meachem"?

30) Oakland Raiders: What was more encouraging: Terrelle Pryor's surprisingly smooth performance in his second career start or offensive coordinator Greg Olson's smart game plan in his Raiders debut?

31) Cleveland Browns: When you've opened at home in 14 of the past 15 seasons -- and lost 13 of those games -- is it any wonder that some of your fans will feel compelled to eat dog bones?

32) Jacksonville Jaguars: Was Lane Kiffin guest-coaching against the Chiefs?

Follow Michael Silver on Twitter @MikeSilver.

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