SANTA CLARA – Phenomenal finishes to goal-line stands preserved the 49ers’ first shutout win since the 2019 Mud Bowl in Washington.
What did their fourth straight win do for them overall? The 49ers (7-4) are alone atop the NFC West for the first time since, well, 2019.
That invites the obvious comparison to the 2019 team’s stout defense, to which Nick Bosa said: “We’re on our way, for sure. We made it far that year, and every single year we want to get better. We have the guys to do it, definitely.”
They are not smug. They are not without faults. They are not unbeatable. But they are on a heater at the right time, with six regular-season games to survive and thrive before a playoff return.
Here are the top 10 things that caught my eye in the first of three consecutive Sunday home games, the next two of which are against the Miami Dolphins (Dec. 4) and then Tom Brady’s Bucs (Dec. 11):
10. MOONEY’S MUSINGS
Cornerback Charvarius “Mooney” Ward serves up great insight, and he put into perspective two key things in the locker room. One, he went so far as to say “this is the best defense I’ve ever played on” – three years after he and the Kansas City Chiefs won a Super Bowl against the 49ers. How so? “We’ve given up zero points in the second half four games in a row,” Ward said. “We’re just balling. Good front seven, good back four, back five. We all play to our abilities.”
As the focus turns to the next game, Ward was telling a teammate to expect a fast Dolphins offense, the quickest being his old Chiefs’ teammate Tyreek Hill.
9. ANOTHER 2-YARD-LINE GEM
Talanoa Hufanga’s first-career forced fumble came at the 2-yard line (Alvin Kamara’s second fumble of the game), with Dre Greenlaw recovering at the 1. Watching upstairs in the press box was NBC Sports Bay Area analyst Donte Whitner, whose delivered his own fumble-forcing hit at the 2-yard line on Pierre Thomas’ catch to spark the 2011 team’s divisional playoff win at Candlestick.
Another cool note, which Whitner relayed to Hufanga on the postgame show: Tashaun Gipson Sr. paired with Whitner on the Cleveland Browns when they both made the 2014 Pro Bowl. “Tashaun has been a great mentor for me,” Hufanga said. “Our chemistry … has been incredible.”
Ward said of Hufanga: “He’s become one of the best young safeties in the league. He makes plays every week. That’s another guy whose energy I feed off on – he’s all gas, no brake, all the time.”
8. WOUNDED RUSHERS
Several teammates and coaches consoled Elijah Mitchell as he sat by the water coolers and eventually on the bench after spraining his left knee. This was only his third game back from spraining his right knee in the season opener. The 49ers suspect this medial collateral ligament is not sprained as severely, but he’ll likely miss time.
Meanwhile, Christian McCaffrey played through “knee irritation,” coach Kyle Shanahan said. No word on how that happened, but Saints safety Justin Evans did take out McCaffrey’s legs out of bounds after a third-down incompletion on the 49ers’ second series.
Thus, Jordan Mason got mop-up duty and dutifully churned out 25 yards on four carries – after an initial stop for no gain – to help kill the clock. More Mason could be forthcoming. And rookie Ty Davis-Price could suit up for only the fifth time this season
7. GOAL-LINE MENTALITY
The Saints got blanked on 11 red-zone snaps, including six from the 6-yard line or closer. Charles Omenihu said the 49ers’ goal-line approach is about just “regular football. Stop them. I don’t think guys were overly shouting. Just don’t let them score.”
Added Bosa: ““Everybody was pretty even-keel today. Sometimes the moment gets big and guys will make a mistake or try and press a little too much. I liked how the defense just kept taking it one play at a time. Everybody was making plays, so it was a really good group effort.”
6. OFFENSIVE LINE CHANGE
After starting all 11 games of his NFL career, Spencer Burford’s streak looks cooked. Burford limped out of the locker room with a boot on his sprained right ankle, which doctors suspect is a lateral issue rather than a more dreaded high-ankle sprain.
The 49ers have started the same offensive line except for Trent Williams’ three-game absence with a high-ankle sprain. Good thing they’ve rotated Daniel Brunskill in with Burford since Week
5. “DEE-BO! DEE-BO!”
Unlike their past three wins, this one came with carnage, and Deebo Samuel was not exempt. He sustained a quadriceps contusion but played through that injury, which apparently occurred in the end zone on a third-and-goal completion to Jauan Jennings. While the 49ers’ medical staff tended to Samuel, the home crowd chanted “Dee-bo! Dee-bo!” until he popped up on his feet and headed to the sideline. Samuel tested his left leg on the sideline while walking it off and also riding a stationary bike. Despite two carries, he had no rushing yards for the first time in 21 games he’s played; he did have three catches (seven targets) for 43 yards and knocked a Saints cornerback from the game.
This wasn’t the first time Jennings has excelled as a third-down specialist, but perhaps never has that been more on display than this game’s only touchdown drive, which he kept alive with a 13-yard, third-and-10 conversion and a 12-yard, third-and-1 catch before ultimately capping things with a 5-yard touchdown grab, his first score of the season.
“The whole entire drive, I was just locked in, focused on the plays,” Jennings said. “When opportunity comes my way, I just want to make ’em.”
Does he like the “Third-and-Jennings” moniker? “I like the term third-and-Jauan,” he countered.
Of Jennings’ 47 career receptions (551 yards), 28 have come on third down (342 yards, two touchdowns), according to ProFootballReference.com. Garoppolo raved about Jennings’ reliability in practice and his competitiveness in games.
3. TURNOVER TIME
With no turnovers for the fourth straight game, Jimmy Garoppolo ran his streak to 137 consecutive passes without an interception. An illegal-contact penalty nullified a Saints’ interception, to which Garoppolo noted it was the right call because it inhibited Ray-Ray McCloud from running the proper route. The only time Garoppolo got “sacked” was when a fourth-and-goal play blew up from the 1-yard line. He didn’t get sacked in the previous game against the Cardinals, and less sacks mean less chances of him getting stripped of the ball.
On the flip side, the 49ers defense entered with just one fumble recovery on the season; two others came from special teams. Boom, on Sunday’s first drive, Fred Warner forced a Kamara fumble that Samson Ebukam recovered, then, on their first goal-line stand, Hufanga forced the other Kamara fumble that Greenlaw retrieved.
The Saints’ league-worst turnover differential fell to minus-14. The 49ers improved to plus-1.
2. BOSA’S MARQUEE MOMENT?
Nick Bosa has at least one sack in five straight games, and all but one game he’s played this season (Carolina being the exception). So, it was inevitable he’d get to Andy Dalton or Taysom Hill in this game, and Bosa came through on fourth-and-goal with 6:18 to go, dropping Dalton at the 49ers’ 11.
“He got him. If he didn’t, I was right there,” Omenihu said. “Bosa made a hell of a play. That’s what he does.”
Bosa has 36 regular-season sacks in his career, and 11 ½ this season. Hard to recall any of them being more timely and clutch than this one, all due respect to the eight he’s made when it really counts (in the playoffs).
1. GAROPPOLO’S HEALTH
Jimmy Garoppolo got hit on his first snap. He got blasted again on the next series. But it was a third-quarter shot to his surgically repaired left knee that ticked him off so much that he seemed to tell the perpetrator, Malcolm Roach, to get off the field, which Roach did, by the way. “It is football, but you’ve got to be smart as players, look out for one another. There’s no place for that,” Garoppolo said. “But I’m alright, a little sore, but nothing bad.”
Garoppolo was intent on staying in the game. “That wasn’t the only hit that was questionable. Throughout the whole game, it was like that. That’s football.” That’s 49ers-Saints football (see: Bountygate, 2009-11).
Garoppolo wasn’t too jovial in his postgame press conference. This wasn’t an easy
Comments are closed.