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What we learned Monday: Niners keep pace in NFC

The San Francisco 49ers knew they couldn't afford to lose. The Washington Redskins knew they had little to gain. It was a bad combination for competitive football.

The Niners beat up on the Redskins on both sides of the ball, cruising to an easy 27-6 win at a frozen FedEx Field on Monday night. The win moves the 49ers to 7-4 and bumps them into a tie with the Arizona Cardinals for the sixth and final playoff spot in the NFC.

It was a game that couldn't have played out any better for the Niners. Colin Kaepernick and the offense got back on track after a shaky performance in the Superdome last week. The defense provided high-grade nightmare fuel for Robert Griffin III, who never looked more helpless in an NFL uniform. The Niners didn't suffer any major injuries, another major plus.

The Niners defense kept Griffin locked in the pocket, daring the quarterback to beat them with his arm. He never came close, not even in garbage time -- previously a bastion of 2013 statistical production for the quarterback. According to NFL Media research, Monday marked the first time in Griffin's career -- college or pro -- in which his team's offense didn't score a touchdown.

The Niners almost seemed to toy with the Redskins before taking out the claws in the second half. These are two franchises stepping into opposite elevators.

Here's what else we learned in Monday's game:

  1. This was an encouraging performance by Kaepernick, who threw threetouchdownpasses and connected on five throws of 20 yards or more after not managing that feat once last week in New Orleans. Kaepernick made smart decisions and picked apart a weak Washington secondary. A good sign going forward.
  1. Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan drew up about as bland a game plan as could be imagined. The nadir came on a fourth-and-2 early in the third quarter, when Shanahan called for a backup running back to head behind right guard and directly into the sights of NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis. You can guess how that turned out.
  1. Aldon Smith looked an awful lot like Aldon Smith. Playing in his third game since returning from rehab, Smith finished with two sacks and one crushing hit on RGIII that led to an interception. Smith put the clown suit on left tackle Trent Williams on his first sack, getting off the ball so quickly that ESPN's Jon Gruden initially believed the linebacker had been totally unblocked. He kind of was.
  1. Hate to say it, but it's only a matter of time before Griffin doesn't get back up. He took another beating here and still seems unable (or unwilling) to play a safer brand of football. Shanahan should lock his quarterback in a room with food, water, a treadmill and a hard drive of Russell Wilson game tape.
  1. The missed opportunity to the right is Robert Griffin III's lost second season in a nutshell. Griffin steps up in the pocket, edges up to the line of scrimmage and hurls a deep ball ... seven yards beyond the reach of an open receiver. Last season, Griffin either a) takes off for a 30-yard gain or b) drops it in the bucket for six points. It's been that kind of year.
  1. Anquan Boldin delivered his best performance since his 13-catch Week 1, finishing with five receptions for 94 yards and two touchdowns. Harbaugh said after the game he expects Michael Crabtree back next week. That's even better news for Boldin, who is ideally suited for the No. 2 WR role.
  1. Speaking of Niners offensive weapons: Vernon Davis is fast. Crazy fast. Davis blew past Redskins defenders all night, beating linebackers, cornerbacks, safeties, you name it. This man has the potential to take games over in December and beyond.
  1. The Niners and Cardinalseach are 7-4. Just a reminder these two teams will meet in Week 17. That right there is a tasty "flex" option, Al and Cris!
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