49ers

49ers takeaways: What we learned in dominant 37-8 win over Packers

49ers takeaways: What we learned in dominant 37-8 win over Packers

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SANTA CLARA -- The 49ers earned their way back onto "Sunday Night Football."

And, by the looks of things, they will not have to wait another four years before they’re invited back to the party.

The 49ers thoroughly dominated the Green Bay Packers, 37-8, on Sunday at Levi’s Stadium in a game featuring NFC division leaders.

The Seattle Seahawks and New Orleans Saints kept pace earlier in the day with victories to move to 9-2 on the season. The 49ers held onto their one-game lead in both the NFC West and the NFC while improving to 10-1. The Packers fall to 8-3.

The win matched the 49ers' win total of the first two seasons under coach Kyle Shanahan, when the club finished with records of 6-10 and 4-12.

The 49ers had not appeared on "Sunday Night Football" since October 2015. They were scheduled for two appearances last season. But on their way to the second-worst record in the NFL, the 49ers were demoted out of those games.

The 49ers were not originally scheduled for SNF this season, but they were flexed into the prime-time matchup because of the attractive billing of two of the top teams in the NFC.

Here are three things you need to know about the 49ers in Week 12:

George Kittle is back

Tight end George Kittle sat out two games with left knee and ankle issues, but he did not look as if he missed a step when he returned to the playing field on Sunday.

Just when it looked as if the Packers had a chance to get back in the game late in the third quarter, Kittle ripped out their hearts with a 61-yard touchdown reception from quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.

Kittle finished with six receptions on six targets for 129 yards and a touchdown.

Kittle figured prominently in a couple of 49ers scoring drives in the first half, too. He helped set up a field goal in the second quarter when he caught passes from Garoppolo of 18 and 22 yards on back-to-back plays.

Late in the first half, Garoppolo hooked up with Kittle for another 22-yard pass play to set up Chase McLaughlin’s third field goal of the first half -- a 48-yarder as time expired to give the 49ers a 23-0 lead at halftime.

The emergence of Kittle also appeared to help in the run game, too. Coleman, Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson combined for 111 yards on 19 rushing attempts. Mostert put the game away with a 15-yard TD run in the fourth quarter.

Garoppolo finished the night completing 14 of 20 attempts for 253 yards with two touchdowns, including a 42-yarder to Deebo Samuel, and no interceptions. His passer rating was 145.8.

Defense sets the tone

The 49ers’ offense did not have to work very hard to score a touchdown on their first offensive play of the game after the defense came through with a game-changing play in the opening two minutes.

DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead got initial pressure on Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, forcing him to step up in the pocket. Then, linebacker Fred Warner broke through to sack Rodgers and strip the football.

Nick Bosa scooped up the loose ball and returned it 6 yards to the 2-yard line. On the 49ers’ first offensive play, running back Tevin Coleman took it in for a touchdown. The 49ers would not be challenged the rest of the way.

In the first half, Rodgers completed 10 of 20 pass attempts for 41 yards and was sacked three times for minus-32 yards. Warner, Armstead and Bosa registered the sacks, which left Green Bay with just 9 yards of net passing through 30 minutes.

Rodgers was sacked five times in the game, and completed 20 of 33 pass attempts for just 104 yards.

Finding the right mix of players

Emmanuel Moseley started at right cornerback, but Ahkello Witherspoon worked his way back into the mix.

When Justin Skule struggled at left tackle in place of Joe Staley on Sunday night, the 49ers turned to Daniel Brunskill to take on the Packers’ difficult outside pass rush.

And defensive end Damontre Moore, in his second game since being signed after Ronald Blair’s season-ending knee injury, recorded a pressure that led to a sack. Moore was one of the 49ers’ final cuts before the start of the regular season.

The 49ers’ depth has come up big for the 49ers all season, and the win over the Packers provided another example.

The 49ers believe they have a bunch of starting-caliber players who are available to come off the sideline, including at cornerback. Witherspoon opened the season in the starting lineup but was sidelined for six games due to a foot sprain.

Witherspoon rotated in with Moseley as the two shared playing time on Sunday.

How George Kittle's 49ers contract hurts another NFC contender's future

How George Kittle's 49ers contract hurts another NFC contender's future

Much like 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, Carson Wentz's top receiving threat on the Philadelphia Eagles happens to be a tight end. But while the former two got great news Thursday with the announcement of George Kittle's and Travis Kelce's respective contract extensions, the latter's future outlook became even darker than it was before.

At this point, it's very difficult to see how Wentz will have Zach Ertz to throw to beyond this coming season. And even if he does, that likely means the Eagles won't be competitive to begin with.

Kittle and Kelce unquestionably are the two premier tight ends in the league -- in that order -- and they're now paid accordingly with the two highest annual salaries ever at the position. There's a shortlist of players in discussion for the next-best tight end in the NFL, and Ertz is on it.

Like Kittle and Kelce prior to signing their extensions, Ertz is under contract beyond the upcoming season. And like Kittle and Kelce rightfully were, he reportedly is seeking a raise commensurate with his production.

However, that's unlikely to come from Philadelphia. The Eagles already were going to be in salary-cap hell next season, and that was before Kittle and Kelce obliterated the previous tight end market.

[49ERS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

The Eagles currently are projected to have over $262 million in cap liabilities for next season. Last month, the NFL and the NFL Players Association agreed that the 2021 salary cap wouldn't drop any lower than $175 million due to the financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic. But regardless of whether the 2021 cap decreases or remains flat at $198 million, Philadelphia is going to have to cut costs to a significant degree.

Though Ertz carries a $12.4 million cap hit in 2021 in the final season of his current contract, he already seemed to be one of the most likely candidates to be cut by the Eagles, as doing so would create an additional $4.7 million in cap space. Not to mention, they already have a younger, cheaper and arguably better tight end in Dallas Goedert who makes Ertz somewhat redundant.

Assuming the Eagles actually do sign Ertz to an extension, though, that would in all likelihood increase their 2021 cap liabilities and remove their ability to create immediate cap space by cutting him. They're already going to have to part ways with some of the best players on their roster, and signing Ertz to the kind of deal he is looking for would further deplete their depth.

[RELATED: Kittle's record 49ers contract still a huge steal]

Now, the Eagles definitely could lower their 2021 cap liabilities with some creative maneuvering. Look no further than the Chiefs, who managed to sign Mahomes, Kelce and star defensive tackle Chris Jones to humongous contract extensions this offseason despite having exactly $171 in total cap space on March 30. That said, Kansas City was nowhere close to the kind of 2021 cap trouble that Philadelphia already finds itself in, and no matter how creative the Eagles get, it's not going to change the reality of the situation.

That reality would appear to be quite dark whether or not they keep Ertz around.

Tom Brady told Joe Montana Patriots didn't value input enough to stay

Tom Brady told Joe Montana Patriots didn't value input enough to stay

Perhaps nobody can relate to Tom Brady better than Joe Montana.

That might be as weird for Brady to read as it was seeing Montana play for Kansas City, considering Brady, a San Mateo native, grew up idolizing the Hall of Fame quarterback and rooting for the 49ers. But Brady has supplanted Dan Marino as sports radio callers' alternative to Montana in age-old "Which QB is better?" debates, and arguably has surpassed Montana as the greatest quarterback ever.

Brady, like Montana, will begin the twilight of his career in a uniform other than the one most associated with his journey to greatness. He signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in free agency after spending two decades with the New England Patriots, and Brady told Montana he didn't think his input was valued enough by the Patriots.

"I think that was one of his beefs up there," Montana recalled to USA Today Sports' Mackenzie Salmon in an interview published Wednesday. "He told me, 'They ask my advice, I tell them and then they don't take it.' So, I think he would like a little bit of input and I think they'll probably let him have that, especially with the success he's had."

[49ERS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

Montana's two-season tenure with Kansas City is a blip on the NFL's historical record, but he wasn't a bust. Before Patrick Mahomes led the team to back-to-back AFC Championship Game appearances during the 2018 and '19 seasons (as well as a win in Super Bowl LIV), Montana was the only QB to lead Kansas City to an AFC Championship Game appearance since the first moon landing. Were it not for a concussion in the '93 conference championship, Montana might've helped Kansas City end its Super Bowl drought a quarter-century before Mahomes did. 

The Buccaneers would almost certainly take that, considering the franchise's anonymity since winning Super Bowl XXXVII. Montana thinks trading Foxboro's frigid winters for Tampa will do wonders for Brady's psyche.

"I think he's gonna have fun," Montana said. "He'll be in a better place for him mentally, he'll be happier and if you look at what they did offensively last year, they threw up some crazy numbers. So you add Tom into the mix and the big knucklehead tight end (Rob Gronkowski), and they'll be fun to watch."

[RELATED: Why Kittle's record 49ers contract still is a huge steal]

Brady, 45, is signed for as many years with Tampa Bay as Montana played with Kansas City. He already has two more Super Bowl rings (six) than his idol, and Brady will aim to top Montana once again by doing what he couldn't and winning a title with a second franchise.

If that happens, Brady and Montana might not end up with much left to relate to after all.