Brandon Aiyuk spent the first part of the 49ers' season in Kyle Shanahan's dog house, whether the coach will admit it or not.
But the second-year pro tunneled his way out thanks to a bye week chat with Shanahan and re-emerged as a vital part of the 49ers' passing attack. Of course, Aiyuk's improved numbers are easy to point to when discussing Aiyuk's resurgence, but quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo has seen a change in the receiver's mentality over the last month.
“I think whenever a guy’s doing, you know, whatever you want to call it, chippy stuff, blocking hard, whenever he's doing little things like that it means something to him," Garoppolo said Wednesday when asked if Aiyuk has shown more of a sense of urgency of late. "And you could see that on the tape, you could see that on the field, you feel his energy. So all those things, yeah, I think whatever it was with B that made him flip the switch, it's been working for him.”
Of that, there is no doubt.
During the first five games, Aiyuk caught just eight passes for 90 yards and one touchdown. But over the 49ers' last five games, Aiyuk has caught 23 passes for 336 yards and two touchdowns as San Francisco has jumped back into playoff contention.
Aiyuk flipping the switch has given the 49ers' offense a much-needed weapon in the passing game and has impressed Shanahan, who knows it can take young players longer to rebound from challenging situations.
"I think it says more about him as a person than anything because we all know B.A. is a talented dude," Shanahan said after the 49ers' win over the Jacksonville Jaguars, in which Aiyuk caught seven passes for 85 yards and one touchdown. "But it takes a lot of stuff to be able to play in this league week in and week out. He started out behind this year. And I know I rode him hard, and his [receivers] coach did, and a lot of us did.
"And I just thought it was impressive how, being younger, being new to this league, when things aren't going your right way, and people are putting pressure on you, not just outside, but inside, a lot of guys tend to point the finger and feel sorry for themselves, which is what worries you. And you've got to wait until the offseason, almost, to bring them back."
Deebo Samuel has been the 49ers' unquestioned MVP through 11 games, but Aiyuk is a vital cog in the offense, one the 49ers need if they plan to make a deep playoff run.
The 49ers will need even more from Aiyuk on Sunday when they face the Seattle Seahawks without Samuel, who is out due to a groin injury.
Switch flipped and armed with a different mentality, Aiyuk has been a big part of the 49ers' midseason turnaround, re-emerging exactly when the team was in desperate need of a jolt.