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Grading 49ers' offense, defense in playoff-clinching win

/ by Matt Maiocco
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INGLEWOOD — How to describe the 49ers’ 27-24 victory over the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday?

“It was an instant classic, for sure,” 49ers defensive lineman Arik Armstead.

No argument here.

The 49ers probably felt it would take 60 minutes of their best football of the season to go into SoFi Stadium and beat the Rams.

Well ... let’s do the math ... the first 29 minutes, 22 seconds were about as bad as it could have gotten for the 49ers.

But the last 30:38 of regulation and 8:08 of overtime more than made up for it.

The 49ers punched their playoff ticket with the improbable come-from-behind victory.

Here is the 49ers’ report card from one of the best regular-season games in franchise history:

Rushing offense

The yards did not come easy against the Rams. But the 49ers stayed with the run game, had some success and that helped them set up other areas of the offense.

Rookie Elijah Mitchell gained 85 tough yards on 21 rushing attempts. Receiver Deebo Samuel came through with 45 yards on eight carries, including a 16-yard touchdown run on the 49ers’ first possession of the second half. That touchdown gave the 49ers momentum and hope.

The running game was at its best on the next drive, when they stayed on the ground for 10 consecutive plays. That helped set up a trick play that tied the score (see Passing Offense).

Grade: A

Passing offense

This might have been quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo’s finest moment with the 49ers.

 

Playing with a severe thumb injury, he led the 49ers quickly down the field for the game-tying points at the end of regulation. Garoppolo’s laser to Samuel in a tight window for a 43-yard gain might have been his best throw as a member of the 49ers. Then, he hit Jauan Jennings for the game-tying 14-yard touchdown.

Jennings had two touchdown receptions to go along with his six catches for 94 yards. His first touchdown came after 10 consecutive run plays, when Samuel sold a run play to the right and tossed a 24-yard touchdown to Jennings. 

Garoppolo completed 23 of 32 passes for 316 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. And he engineered the drive down the field for the go-ahead points in overtime.

Wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk led the 49ers with six catches for 107 yards. Samuel added four receptions for 95 yards.

Under ordinary circumstances, we’d lower the grade into the “B” range due to the interceptions. But the nature of this win was just too good for us not to give the passing game our highest marks.

It should be noted that the 49ers lined up without left tackle Trent Williams. Colton McKivitz stepped in and made his first-ever NFL start at left tackle.

Grade: B-plus

Rushing defense

The 49ers’ run defense has been outstanding in the second half of the season. It was dominant against the Rams on Sunday.

Sony Michel, the Rams’ leading rusher managed just 43 yards on 21 rushing attempts for a measly 2.0 average. The Rams’ best run play came from receiver Cooper Kupp, who was credited with 18 yards rushing on his one carry. But, as a whole, the Rams gained just 64 yards on 27 rushing attempts for a 2.4-yard average.

Linebacker Dre Greenlaw returned to action and he came through with 12 tackles. Fred Warner had eight tackles.

The 49ers controlled the game up front. Arik Armstead, Nick Bosa and D.J. Jones made huge contributions with the run defense. There was nowhere for the Rams to run against the 49ers’ stout front six.

Grade: A

Passing defense

This one had all the earmarkings of a blowout from the beginning, as the Rams appeared determined to exploit the issues in the 49ers’ defensive backfield with Matthew Stafford regularly targeting Kupp.

Cornerback Dontae Johnson was given the unenviable assignment of stepping into the action at nickel back with K’Waun Williams inactive. Williams was cleared off the COVID list on Saturday, but he felt as if he could not go.

The 49ers had to move some piece around, and they put together a winning effort. Rookie cornerback Ambry Thomas made the game-clinching interception in overtime. Emmanuel Moseley returned to action and had an interception.

Stafford completed 15 of 16 pass attempts for 153 yards and two touchdowns in the first half.

The second half was an entirely different story. Stafford completed just 6 of 16 attempts for 85 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions.

 

Armstead had 2.5 sacks. Jones had a sack, while Bosa, Key, Warner each contributed a half-sack.

Grade: A

Special teams

Again, this is one of those all-things-considered grades.

Kicker Robbie Gould had a huge game, as he was pressed into punting duties after Mitch Wishnowsky was forced out of the game with a concussion. Gould averaged 45.0 yards on two punts with no return yardage. His punt after the two-minute warning of regulation ended up being a pivotal play.

And kudos to fullback Kyle Juszczyk for stepping in and handling the place-holding responsibilities. With Juszczyk holding, Gould made field goals of 42 and 24 yards. He also nailed all three extra points.

Grade: A

Coaching 

Coach Kyle Shanahan is taking the 49ers to the playoffs for the second time in three seasons, and this might have been the most-impressive game of his five seasons with the organization.

He kept the 49ers believing after falling behind 17-0. It is difficult to believe there is a team that executes better at the end of the first half. The 49ers scored for the 10th time this season with 18 seconds or less time remaining in the second quarter. The points on the final play of the first half gave the 49ers some hope entering halftime.

The offensive play-calling was phenomenal, and defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans had another masterful game, too.

The players on both sides of the ball bought into the plans and executed in the clutch.

Grade: A

Overall

Of course, tight end George Kittle was joking when he said it was part of the plan to fall behind by 17 points early in the game.

But that large deficit in the first half makes this victory over the NFC West-champion Rams even more impressive — and more memorable.

Obviously, this was not a perfect game. The 49ers maintained their composure, exhibited toughness and came through with all the big plays at the key moments.

And a big tip of the cap goes to all the 49ers fans who packed the stadium and made it feel like a home game.

Grade: A

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