San Francisco's Ted Ginn scores on his 102-yard kickoff return vs. Seattle. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
With all the focus on Jim Harbaugh’s head coaching debut, Alex Smith’s new life in a new system and the off-season additions of such players as Braylon Edwards and Donte Whitner, Ted Ginn was a bit like the forgotten man on the 49ers roster.
The only recent buzz of note about Ginn came when he agreed to take a cut in salary last week to keep his spot on the team.
But Sunday at Candlestick Park, it was Ginn who made the two most memorable plays in San Francisco’s 33-17 season-opening victory over the Seahawks at Candlestick Park, returning a kickoff 102 yards and a punt 55 yards – both for touchdowns – in the span of a minute late in the fourth quarter, just after Seattle had scored with 3:56 to narrow the 49ers’ lead to 19-17.
After all the talk about changes in the offense and defense throughout the preseason, it turned out the special teams – and Ginn in particular -- was the team’s most special aspect as San Francisco opened its season with a victory to get off to a good start in 2011. Niners players earlier this week said they hoped they could avoid the 0-5 start of 2010 that marched them toward a 6-10 season. One of those early losses was a 31-6 decision against Seattle.
One game down, one goal accomplished.
Ginn’s performance marked the first time an NFL player had returned both a punt and kick for a touchdown in the same game since 2009. Ginn’s two return scores also doubled the entire 2010 49ers team total (a punt return by Ginn).
When Ginn was asked what it was like to have two return TDs in the same game, he told reporters, “Well, you do it in a video game a lot.”
Ginn finished with 268 return yards (176 on kickoffs, 92 on punts), averaging 18.4 yards on five punts and 44.0 yards on four kickoffs.
In addition to his two returns for scores, a 31-yard punt return also set up an early field goal.
Offensively, the Niners were effective but conservative – even drawing some boos from fans in the second half as Harbaugh stayed on the ground – as David Akers hit four short field goals (27, 24,31 and 18 yards) and Smith drove the team to a touchdown and a 16-0 lead just before halftime.
Overall, Smith finished 15-of-20 for 124 yards, no TDs and no interceptions. But, third-down efficiency was awful – just 1-of-12 – and lack of proficiency in the red zone kept the Niners from blowing the game open.
When Seattle scored to cut San Francisco’s lead to just two with less than four minutes remaining, that good start to 2011 was in jeopardy.
Until Ginn got the ball in his hands.
Then, the former game-breaker at Ohio State, acquired from the Dolphins in 2010, showed what a special weapon he can be.
Next up for the Niners are the Dallas Cowboys, who come to Candlestick Sunday for a 1:05 p.m. game.