They’ve got heart, miles and miles of heart, and it showed today.
The San Francisco 49ers – coming off a bye week filled with players added to the Reserve/COVID-19 list and about 24 hours after learning they’re going to need a new home for the next few weeks – shocked the world and beat the Los Angeles Rams, 23-20.
“…I can’t be more proud of our team, what they’ve gone through all year, but especially these last two weeks, and especially these last 24 hours,” 49ers’ head coach Kyle Shanahan said after the game. “…I can’t tell you how proud I am of those guys, how they went out there and fought. Not all of it was perfect, but their heart and energy and everything was. And I couldn’t ask for any more from those guys.”
With the win, the 49ers improve to 5-6, sweep the division-rival Rams for the season and stay in the hunt for the playoffs. What a difference a game makes.
The defense shined. The offense got it done when it counted.
Going into the game, the 49ers were without D.J. Jones and Jordan Willis, both who are on the Reserve/COVID-19 list. But that did not stop the front seven, and the defense as a whole, from playing lights out.
“They were amazing all game,” Shanahan said. “They were amazing last time we played [the Rams]. The game, it was the exact type of game that we were hoping for, just early in the week from a game plan standpoint. And then we had to run the ball and do all those things. And we wanted to make it kind of a grimy type game. When we had those three turnovers on offense still, it’s very tough to win that type of game. And that’s what made it so close. But when the defense ends up getting four turnovers, then it gives you a chance despite that. So, I can’t say enough about those guys and the staff.”
Free safety Jimmie Ward forced two fumbles – one was recovered by Kerry Hyder and the other by Kevin Givens. Givens also hit Rams’ quarterback Jared Goff while he was throwing, which led to a Javon Kinlaw pick-6.
“I was really supposed to be rushing, but I don’t know, something just told me to drop, just step back,” Kinlaw said. “I saw the ball come out, like yeah, we going to the crib. It’s all I know.”
— San Francisco 49ers (@49ers) November 29, 2020
For his part, Hyder had two sacks to bring his season total to a team-high 7.5.
Cornerback Richard Sherman returned to the 49ers’ secondary on Sunday and promptly intercepted Goff, as Sherman is known to do.
“…This is the game I love…but sometimes, absence and injury can bring back a bit of the fire, and a bit of the passion, and a bit of the love that you have for your game and it’s humbling,” Sherman said. “And I was just grateful for the opportunity to be able to go back out there and ball out with my teammates, regardless of the circumstance, regardless of what the situation is, it’s an opportunity for me to go out there and play with the guys that I grind with, so it was a pleasure.”
Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh has been a magician all season, especially considering all of the personnel changes on the field. Sherman had high praise for his DC after the game.
“…You’ve got to give Robert Saleh an abundance of credit,” Sherman said. “You have to give him an unusual amount of credit. And I don’t think he’s getting enough credit, not only here, but in the league in general. To have the injuries that we’ve hadm week after week after week, the setbacks, week after week. We lose two D-lineman in the Bye Week…We got guys who can’t practice, Kinlaw barely got to practice on a Friday. It’s week after week and he never makes an excuse. And statistically, we’re still a top-five defense in almost every category.
“There are guys out there with, Pro Bowlers, all pros, they never lost, never had an injury, never had any adversity and they’re not putting out a top-five defense. He’s not making any excuses. He’s making great plans, week in and week out, and we’re making it happen. And I expect him to be a head coach next year because of what he’s able to do. He’s able to rally men. He’s a leader of men and that goes a long way.”
The 49ers’ offense also got a boost with the return of running backs Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson, Jr. and the return of wide receiver Deebo Samuel.
Samuel had 11 receptions for 133 yards, 83 of them coming after the catch, per Pro Football Focus.
Deebo Samuel: 83 of his 133 yards occurred after contact vs LA Rams
Most by a WR in a game this season pic.twitter.com/rKE5JX99QZ
— PFF (@PFF) November 30, 2020
The 49ers had only 1/3 of the YAC Bros in the game, but he made his presence known, in every possible way.
“…I always mess with him because I’m a very soft compliment type of a guy,” Shanahan said. “You’ve never arrived. You always could get better. So Deebo’s got a lot to work on, but he’s one of the best football players I’ve been around. I mean, it doesn’t matter how good it is or how good it looks, he’s going to get it down…[He came through every single time. The way he blocked, the way he ran…So, I love that guy, but he’s got to still keep getting a lot better at everything else.”
Raheem Mostert changes what the 49ers can do on offense, which was apparent early in the game, when he ran for an eight-yard touchdown in the first quarter. He and Wilson each rushed for 43 yards.
Later in the game, Rams’ defensive tackle and powerhouse Aaron Donald forced a Mostert fumble and then sacked quarterback Nick Mullens to give the Rams some momentum. On the next drive, the Rams scored and took the lead, but the 49ers recovered.
Mullens who had a very up-and-down game was able to get it done in the final drive that led to Robbie Gould’s game-winning field goal.
“I was definitely faced with adversity during the game, would have liked to make a couple more plays and take advantage of some opportunities,” Mullens said. “With the biggest thing on the last drive, I was just trying to stay in the moment. That’s really kind of what I’ve been telling myself, just stay in the moment and you’re really only as good as your next play. Just keeping that mentality and not worrying about what happened previously, just play the next play, and it led to success.”
It was a drive that was made easier by fullback Kyle Juszczyk, who made key blocks and plays throughout the game. With 5:23 left in the game, Juszczyk caught a 20-yard pass from Mullens on a drive that ended in a field goal to tie the game. Then, with 0:35 left in the fourth, he ran for two-yards to get a first down on 4th-and-1 on drive that ended in a Robbie Gould game-winning field goal.
“…[I]t’s hard to get 33 runs in a game for some of those fronts,” Shanahan said. “…[I]f you don’t have a fullback in there, there’s a lot of runs you can’t run. And by having him in there, it allows us to get those calls, allows us to do things. And that was a huge part of the win today, just being able to get 33 runs in…And we always go to him in a pass play. And I thought for a second he dropped it. It looked like he got a little too excited, thought he was going to score. But he made that catch. It was a huge explosive one that got us down there to start. And then the 4th-and-1 at the end. I mean, he doesn’t get a lot of carries, but, when he does, he usually come through for us.”
And Now They Need a Home
Yesterday, Santa Clara County announced, that all contact sports in the County are suspended until at least December 21 due to a COVID-19 surge, meaning the 49ers need to find a place to play and to practice. However, what was frustrating to a 49ers team that has been diligent in working with the county on protocols, testing and everything in between, was the way it was handled, which Shanahan was very frank about.
“…[O]our organization has been working their tails off since training camp with the county and trying to do this above and beyond all the NFL protocols, all the protocols they’ve asked for, whether it’s masks, whether it’s tracking, getting tested every single day…And we’ve been working with them as a partner, just trying to figure it out.
And for us to be heading out here yesterday, and the relationship we have with them and for all of our players and coaches and everyone on that plane and our lives to find that out while we’re getting on a plane and no one to tell us, I mean, it was just extremely disappointing…[W]e can handle anything, and we understand how big of a deal this virus is and that’s why we’re so committed…And that’s why we think we would love to stay in our hometown where our fans want us and playing in Levi’s with no people there and only people that have been tested every single day for the last five months.
“…[T]o find that out through a tweet or a press conference where I have an entire plane coming up to me…Are we going to be gone for the entire month of December? Are we going to be quarantined for 14 days when we get back? I mean, that’s all we could talk about for the last 18 hours, because we got no answers from them. And I was just very disappointed and very proud of our guys that I couldn’t give them the answers and they could put it to the side and came out and played like that. I’ve got so much appreciation for our team, those players, and I’m very proud to be those guys’ coach.”