Today’s 34-31 win over the Los Angeles Rams was about more than football for the San Francisco 49ers.
Early this morning, quarterback C.J. Beathard got a call that his brother Clayton, 22, was stabbed and killed outside a bar in Nashville, Tennessee.
Richard Sherman said that before Beathard left to be with his family, he told Kyle Shanahan to get the win.
Tight end George Kittle, who said he’d known Clayton eight years, as he and C.J. Beathard went to the University of Iowa together, was understandably very emotional after the game.
“Definitely, I’d say the toughest game of my career,” Kittle said. “Today was absolutely terrible for me the entire day. It sucked all around. I got to talk to C.J. after the game, but overall it was just kind of a brutal day. We got that win for C.J. and I’m so happy we could do it.”
An emotional Kyle Shanahan opened his postgame press conference with the following words:
“Before we start, I just want to say how much we appreciate the Beathard family. What happened last night was very tough on C.J. and his family. It was a tragedy. Such a great family. We’ve been with C.J. here for three years. He’s as good as any person I’ve been around. Their family is unbelievable. I never got a chance to meet Clay, but knowing how his parents are, knowing how C.J. is, knowing the stuff they’ve told me about him, he was an unbelievably special person. Just our hearts and prayers are out with them. His dad reached out to us on text just about how great everyone has been on social media and just the respect everyone has given their family and stuff, he can’t appreciate it enough. I think everyone understands how horrible a thing that happened to their family last night. Our prayers are with them.”
Thoughts and prayers go out to the entire Beathard family during this time.
It was a must-win game to set up the showdown for the NFC’s #1 seed next week in Seattle, but for awhile there (a long while), it looked like the Week 17 matchup we’ve all been waiting for might not matter after all.
And then, after struggling on and off throughout the game, Jimmy Garoppolo and the 49ers’ offense came alive. Garoppolo, who had been beat up all day to the tune of six sacks, two interceptions, and a QBR of 25, became the Jimmy Garoppolo who is cool as a cucumber and leads game-winning drives.
With 2:22 left in fourth and the game tied at 31-31, Garoppolo began his fourth game-winning drive of the season. It was a drive that started with a sack, but one that saw Garoppolo convert on 3rd and 16 twice to set up Robbie Gould’s second game-winning field goal in three weeks.
“It’s the exact situation we were looking for,” Garoppolo joked. “To convert two of those the way we did, it was pretty incredible. A lot of good execution, guys up front blocking them for as long as they needed to and then, obviously, guys just making plays down the field.”
The first conversion was to wide receiver Kendrick Bourne and the second was to wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, who capitalized on the Rams’ blown coverage and reminded everyone why you trade for a receiver like Sanders.
“[Garoppolo] was resilient,” Shanahan said. “It was third-and-16, not the best situation to be in. Usually you’re not feeling great in those situations. Those guys gave him enough time in protection. I think he made the first one to Bourne over the middle and had a similar play like that over the middle, but the safeties got real wide and got the opportunity to Emmanuel down the field. So, the guys just to give him the time and for him to hang in there, the game just for everyone, wasn’t perfect. Offense, defense, or special teams, play calling, the quarterback, protections. Everything was up and down throughout the whole thing. There were a lot of times I think that each individual on our team could feel like they had messed some stuff up. But, each individual kept coming back and to find a way to end that game there at the end was pretty special.”
It says something about Garoppolo that’s been discussed all season. Yes, he makes mistakes, but nothing phases him and when it counts, he is the definition of a clutch QB.
“[H]e’s pretty damn good,” said Kittle. “He delivered that multiple times. He’s just an incredible quarterback. No matter what happens throughout the game, whether he has a poor decision or something like that, he always bounces back and he always delivers. That’s why we love Jimmy. That’s the reason we are who we are. He keeps delivering and nothing that he does is B.S. He’s a genuine guy and he just delivers 24/7.”
George Kittle is Still Everything
Before that game-winning drive, the 49ers were down 28-24 with 8:41 to go in the fourth quarter. The drive started with short pass to Kittle that he YACed (that may not be a real word but let’s go with it) for 23 yards and ended with a seven-yard touchdown to none other than, George Kittle.
Kittle finished the night with five receptions for 79 yards and the touchdown. Oh, and he delivered a block that was a huge part of getting Raheem Mostert into the end zone. Best tight end in the league.
Fred Warner = Elite Linebacker
The first half was a struggle for the 49ers and Rams’ quarterback Jared Goff was looking like 2018 Jared Goff with rollout after rollout. He was 16-of-25 with 191 yards, a touchdown, and an interception in the first half. It was that interception that loomed large.
The 49ers were down 21-17 with just over two minutes to go in the half, and the Rams were driving until LB Fred Warner delivered his first career pick-6 and put San Francisco on top. It changed the momentum and one of the biggest plays of the day.
“Yeah, honestly, I just did my job,” said Warner. “We were in man coverage and the back kind of, he checked in the protection and then ran a flat route. I hugged up on him and I think Jared probably would want to have that one back, but he just tossed it up and I took it. I took it home…That’s the play that I’ve wanted my whole career, or short career I should say. Glad I could get it in that moment.”
And with that, next week’s showdown between the Seahawks and the 49ers in Seattle is everything football fans are looking for.
It’s the difference between #1 and #5. It’s the difference between a first-round bye and travel to either Philadelphia or Dallas. It’s the difference between home-field advantage and playing on the road. In short, it’s a big game.
“It’s going to be loud,” said Garoppolo, who will be making his first start at CenturyLink Field. “We know it’s going to be a hostile environment. I can’t wait for it. It’s going to be awesome. It’s going to be a great challenge for us. All these games, it seems like every week is a big game and this time of year, they all are. We’ll go in there with the right mindset, prepare for these guys and make it happen.”
This 49ers team has had a lot of close games, and they have found ways to win in most of them. One could make the argument that they are a missed field goal and a failed fourth-down conversion away from being 14-1.
Next week is going to be tough. They desperately miss LB Kwon Alexander and C Weston Richburg. They miss S Jaquiski Tartt whose status for next week is unknown. But, there’s something about this team.
“Very unique,” said Sherman. “…[T]his is a special team. Guys care about each other, guys care about winning, guys go out there and execute. They fight until the last second, that’s what special. It’s not always special. It’s not always how you draw it up, but when you got guys willing to fight tooth and nail, until the last straw, the last play, the last moment, you got a chance…That’s what you appreciate. You appreciate guys understanding the moment, but not panicking. They’re playing great football and they are really stepping up to the challenge. That’s what I honor.”
See you in Seattle.