Three weeks ago, the San Francisco 49ers were 3-5 and looking like it was time to start planning trips to Cabo in January. After Sunday’s, 34-26, win over the Minnesota Vikings, those same San Francisco 49ers are 6-5 and currently hold the sixth spot in the NFC playoff race, while they are one game behind the Los Angeles Rams (7-4).

Embed from Getty Images

“We didn’t play, we feel, as good of ball as we should have earlier in the year and I think Minnesota, me speaking for them, I think they felt the same,” said 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan. “I think both of us have been playing real good ball these last couple of weeks. We knew we had some ground to make up. And that’s why we believed it would be like a playoff game because of how the two teams are playing inspired and got everything on the line. That’s why it’s a good football game for people to watch. It’s not always the most fun, intense-wise for everybody, but I was real proud of our guys, how they handled it and all the different stuff that came throughout the game. Right when it seemed we were good, we weren’t, and guys just kept coming.”

It was a closer, more stressful game than their previous two wins, but the fundamentals were there, as they beat Vikings running the football, winning the turnover battle and making big plays when they needed them. It had all the makings of a playoff game and the atmosphere to go with it.

““I think we’re all excited to be back in the mix and have this season in our control,” said defensive lineman Nick Bosa. “We always knew…that we’re a really good team and just had to execute better, and now we’re starting to execute at the right times. And, even when guys go down, we have a next man up and we have confidence in those next guys up. So, definitely on the upward trend.”

Elijah Mitchell

With a pin in his recently-fractured right middle finger, running back Elijah Mitchell returned to the 49ers backfield, and he did so with style. The rookie had 27 carries for 133 yards and a touchdown. He also had five receptions for 35 yards.

“If you just watch him, when he runs, he runs downhill and a play that’s blocked for three yards, ends up being seven yards,” said tight end George Kittle, who was wearing an Elijah Mitchell t-shirt in his postgame press conference. “A play that’s blocked for one yard, ends up being four yards. When he gets hit, he always falls forward. I mean, in the NFL, as a running back to be able to break arm tackles, you have to be able to fall forward. If you get pushed back on some of those, you know, second longs, all those, that type of stuff, but he just runs his tail off. He’s very physical and he just makes quick decisions. He doesn’t second guess himself. He just runs downhill, which is what you need to do in our offense.”

Mitchell, who said he knew midweek that he would be available against the Vikings, said that some of that starts in the film room.

“That’s just something that our position coach [running backs coach] Bobby [Turner] expresses a lot, keep driving and protecting the ball,” Mitchell said. “So it just starts with the mindset and we always talk about that.”

Embed from Getty Images

At 5’10”, 200 pounds, Mitchell does not look menacing. That is, until he has a football in his hands.

“I think he surprises everybody,” Kittle said. “…I think guys think, I’m going to get him with an arm tackle because he’s not the biggest back in the world, but he just runs through arm tackles. And you saw that he had a catch that he broke a tackle on fell forward for 13 yards, something like that. He just does it consistently.”

Beyond that, Mitchell has tremendous vision in terms of finding space to run.

“…[H]e seems to hit the right spot almost every time,” Shanahan said.

Deebo Samuel

Wide receiver Deebo Samuel had another big day at running back. What? Yes. Samuel had six carries for 66 yards and two rushing touchdowns. The first touchdown came in the first quarter, giving him three consecutive games with a rushing touchdown.

Embed from Getty Images

He had only one reception, but that reception put him over 1,000 yards for the season.

“It felt good, but it also felt good to get the win too,” Samuel said.

Samuel left the game late in the third quarter with a groin injury and did not return. He will have a MRI on Monday.

“My groin got kind of tight once I went to make a move,” Samuel said. “So I was just like, let’s not make anything worse. And that’s why I just went down.”

Samuel, who was very emotional on the sidelines when he first went out, said that he doesn’t have “too much concern” about it.

Defense Wins Championships and Playoff-Like Football Games

Coming into Sunday’s game, Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins had thrown just two interceptions all season. Then 49ers linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair happened, as he picked off Cousins to set the 49ers up at the two-yard line. Then Mitchell happened and touchdown San Francisco.

Embed from Getty Images

Al-Shaair had himself a game, finishing the day with eight tackles, the aforementioned interception, one pass defended and a fumble recovery.

“Azeez has been huge,” Shanahan said. “Just the plays he’s made…I think he’s been one of our better players. The energy he plays with, how he runs around, how he’s prepared every week and getting his hands on those two balls at the end we’re great…”

For Al-Shaair, the strides he has made are not by accident.

“I just really just trusted myself,” Al-Shaair said. “Just being more comfortable with who I am as a player and not always trying to be like somebody else…So I think, as a rookie, like, oh man, I’d be like this guy. I’d be like that guy. But at end of the day, I’m not them, I can only be myself. So I had to really learn how to play off my own strengths and, build up my, my weaknesses and because they’re different from the next player. So I think just really focused on that this past offseason. Just really like seeing, what got me in the NFL in the first place, playing the way I play and then just fine-tuning those things and getting better.”

All of the sudden, the 49ers are very thin at linebacker, as Fred Warner left the game with a hamstring injury (MRI on Monday) and Dre Greenlaw left with a groin injury, after returning on Sunday from a groin injury.

Bosa had two tackles and one sack, bringing his sack total to 11 on the season.

Mike Zimmer

Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer complained after the game that the 49ers hold and don’t get flagged for it.

“…[T]hese guys hold all the time, so they are grabbing us around the waist, grabbing our backs, and you know officials, they don’t want to call it every play,” Zimmer said. “Until they start calling every play, they’re not going to stop doing it.”

Kittle had thoughts:

Next Up

Next up for the 49ers are the Seattle Seahawks (3-7). Their division rival is struggling, but it’s still the Seahawks and the 49ers have lost to them once this season. But this is a very different San Francisco team.

“I think we have definitely played our best football, these last three games, just in all three phases,” Shanahan said. “I thought this one was a huge one, because it’s a little different than the last two because it came down to the wire and things went good for both sides at certain times in the game. Then the momentum flipped a number of times. I thought we had the momentum big time at the beginning of the game. That’s why I was a little disappointed with a couple missed plays on offense and the pick, because it felt like we lost it right there. At the end of the second quarter, I thought we gained it right back. Then we were able to score on the opening drive of the third quarter and then the defense getting that turnover and getting us down there right away.

“All the guys that went out in the second half, it was really cool, the adversity that our guys kind of overcame. Right when you feel like you have the momentum, the kick return, which kind of flipped it back. Right when we went on that long drive, we thought we had it, then we missed the field goal and our D didn’t hesitate. They went out there and stepped it up and I was just really proud of everyone on the team and everyone involved in this building.”


Tracy Sandler

Tracy Sandler

I created Fangirl Sports Network as a place for female sports fans to follow their favorite teams with content and coverage that speaks directly to females. It started with one and then eight and now 32 NFL Fangirls and 15 NBA Fangirls.