For a San Francisco 49ers team that looked like it was headed toward irrelevancy two weeks ago, things are most certainly looking up, as they beat the Jacksonville Jaguars, 30-10, improve to 5-5 and stay very much alive in the race for a Wild Card spot.
“It’s just coming together, right at the right time, when we’re getting to the back half of the season and we’re getting hot,” said linebacker Fred Warner. “That’s just who we are, though. All along we’ve been trying to find our identity and it’s starting to show.”
That identity includes taking care of the football, third-down efficiency, a solid run game and a very strong defense.
“Guys are winning one-on-one matchups,” quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo said. “When you can do that consistently, and we have good players, but all 11 winning one-on-ones across the board, it sets the tone. Up front, our O-line is doing as good a job as I’ve ever seen. And the defense getting turnovers and doing what they do, it adds up.”
The defense is getting turnovers. The offense isn’t committing them. Protect the football.
“We’re not turning the ball over,” said tight end George Kittle, who had a touchdown on Sunday. “We sat here after the Arizona game, bear-in-the-building type of stuff, everyone’s trying to solve problems, and we literally said have to stop turning the ball over, we have to get a couple of turnovers on defense and special teams, and that’s all we’ve done the last two weeks…We’re not turning the ball over. We’re converting third downs. We’re putting our best players in positions to make plays and they’re taking advantage of it.”
For the second game in a row, the 49ers managed a long opening drive, 20 plays for 13:05 to be exact, that set the tone for the game. It looked like they were going to go for it on 4th down and try for a touchdown, but head coach Kyle Shanahan changed his mind.
“I called the play more out of emotion,” Shanahan said. “The longer I got to think about it, I didn’t think it was the smartest decision. I wanted to take the points and make sure we got three out of it.”
So it ended with a field goal and not a touchdown, but ultimately, it gave the visiting 49ers momentum.
“Just how long of a drive it was.” Shanahan said. “I thought it was closer to two yards than one. They have a pretty good run defense. When you go that long of a drive and if we would have come out with no points, that would have given them a lot of momentum and got them going. I wanted to go for it bad. It was hard for me not to.”
It was three points, but it might as well have been 23, because the Jaguars could never recover. After running the ball 44 times Monday night, the 49ers ran it 42 times on Sunday. And that is just where they want to be.
“Deebo’s looking great,” Kittle said. “Aiyuk looked great today. Our tight ends blocked our tails off. Our O-line looked great, and Jimmy’s still slicing and dicing, so our offense is just clicking right now. Kyle is calling the right plays he knows we’ll take advantage of.”
The aforementioned Kyle agrees.
“When you have Aiyuk playing like a true staring player, Deebo, Kittle, I think it’s the first time we’ve had those three in three weeks in a row,” Shanahan said. “I don’t know if it’s true, but it’s good. And when they’re out there more consistently with the quarterback, everyone gets more consistent.”
Wide receiver Deebo Samuel was pretty much running back Deebo Samuel Sunday, as he had one reception for 15 yards but seven carries for 79 yards and a rushing touchdown.
“I don’t have anything against it,” Samuel said. “Whichever way gets the ball in my hand, I’m all for it. I’m kind of natural back there, honestly…I have the body to be a running back. I told one of the coaches, ‘Don’t get too many ideas.'”
Fair. He does have 994 receiving yards on the season, so WR1 still suits him.
Speaking of wide receivers, Brandon Aiyuk, who had a rough start to the 2021 season, is turning it around, and he did so today to the tune of seven receptions for 85 yards and a touchdown.
“We all know BA’s a talented dude,” Shanahan said. “But it takes a lot to play in this league. He started out behind this year. I rode him hard and coaches did. It was impressive being younger and new to this league, when things aren’t going your way and people are putting pressure on you, not just outside but inside, a lot of guys tend to point the finger and feel sorry for themselves, which is what worries you and you have to wait until the offseason to almost bring them back. He wasn’t like that. He kept working and tried to get better. You’ve seen it the past couple weeks but we’ve seen it in practice, too. He didn’t always get the results and targets but it just comes out the way it does.”
Samuel sees it in his teammate as well.
“It all turned around for Brandon,” Samuel said. “…[W]hen he and Kyle had that talk, you could see a different type of B.A., not afraid of anything. He got his confidence back and just go ball out on Sundays.”
Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo finished the day 16-of-22 for 176 yards, two touchdowns and a passer rating of 126.3, making it his fourth-straight week with a passer rating of over 100. He also surpassed 10,000 career-passing yards on Sunday.
“When Jimmy’s rolling, we’re rolling,” Kittle said. “He’s a hell of a leader out there.”
Josh Norman, Nick Bosa and the 49ers Defense
After his taunting penalty against Arizona two weeks ago, it looked like cornerback Josh Norman could be on shaky ground, but no.
“I talked to him the next day,” Shanahan said. “He knows what he did wrong. That was his first one here, first one on our team, which we don’t want any. I also wasn’t going to be overdramatic and make a big example of someone who had just done it the first time.”
On Sunday, Norman registered his sixth forced fumble of the season.
“He’s done it his whole career,” Shanahan said. “…He’s a physical guy who loves playing football, gives it everything he has. He’s the best I’ve seen at going for the ball, with the Peanut punch and everything. He gets that ball out at a high percentage of times. Glad guys were running to it and Fred [Warner] got it. That was a huge momentum.”
For Norman, it’s a skill he’s somewhat perfected.
“You’ve got to be a trench monster, we call it,” Norman said. “You’ve got to look for opportunities, the opps, they’re all over the field. But I respond by using this and this and you think, if I get 60 opps a game, then somebody’s going to be slipping. I look at it, I just go after the ball, but use it as much as I would do power, it’s precision, really, just keying in. Somebody’s going to come up slipping.”
Nick Bosa got his 10th sack of the season, beating is 2019 career-high of nine.
“I’m starting to get the hang of how to really get sacks, get numbers,” said Bosa. “My rookie year, I was just rushing, trying to win every time. It worked well. But now I’m really getting the hang of how the league sack leaders in the league do it. They go out there with a plan, and know when the opportunities come, they’re ready for it.”
Overall, the defense held Trevor Lawrence and the Jaguars to 200 yards of total offense.
“We’re just having fun with each other, and it’s a joy and a treat to be on this team,” Norman said.
Because things were going so well, the 49ers were able to try to get left tackle Trent Williams in on the pass-catching action on a third-and-goal play that ultimately ended in an incompletion.
“I was prepared if he scored for a penalty,” Shanahan said. “It was close. He did a good job. He got tugged a little and I know he was calling for it but it just wasn’t there.”
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Shanahan said Williams has been lobbying for a chance to get a TD reception since the day he met him.
“He’s never had one,” Shanahan said. “He’s probably as good of a tackle as you can have running a route. That’s tough. That’s my first time doing it, and it didn’t work. When you report as eligible, you can’t go in the next play, so calling that is risky and why Trent had to come out. You don’t want Trent to ever come out. He didn’t get open like he promised he would.”
Garoppolo did what he could.
“He was like triple or quadruple covered,” Garoppolo said. “I tried. It was a tough one thought. He had a nice one-hander in practice. He can do it. We’ll save that one.”
Work to Do
The 49ers head home to get ready to host the Minnesota Vikings (5-5) next Sunday at Levi’s Stadium in a game with playoff implications. But, things are looking up.
“After the Arizona game, it was pretty low, because we were embarrassed how we looked,” Shanahan said. “When we watched the tape, we saw a lot of stuff we felt we could fix. It wasn’t as discouraging as it felt during the game. I was happy with the guys that instead of getting discouraged they kept it real. Credit to the guys and coaches for not getting down when they could get down. They practiced on the details and got better.”