The 49ers' upset win over the Rams in Los Angeles in the regular-season finale was due in large part to key contributions from players who came back from injury.
Often, when players have spent a considerable time away from the field, it takes a little while for them to get back up to the speed of the game. Kyle Shanahan and running back Elijah Mitchell both acknowledged the rookie was rusty when he made his return in Week 17 after missing three contests.
In the 49ers' win Sunday that clinched the No. 6 seed in the NFC playoffs, several players came back from injury and immediately contributed. Shanahan knows how rare that is to do.
“That’s something that's hard to understand, because not many human beings can relate to that,” Shanahan said Monday. “That’s just a special thing by those guys. The work that they did to get themselves the opportunity to do that.”
Sunday only was Dre Greenlaw’s third appearance this season after being sidelined with a lingering groin injury that the linebacker aggravated in Week 12. The Arkansas product was a key part of the victory over the Rams as he led the 49ers with 12 total tackles -- five solo and seven assists.
Emmanuel Moseley missed four games after suffering a high ankle sprain in the 49ers' Week 13 matchup with Seattle. The cornerback’s third quarter interception kept the momentum going for San Francisco, who had rallied back from a 17-point deficit.
“Dre, it has been so frustrating for him since the beginning of this year,” Shanahan said. “Just all the ups and downs he's had and he's been doing everything he can to get back. And E-man, just having that high-ankle sprain a month ago and how hard that is to come back from and watching him work here on the side this last month."
The 49ers secondary also saw valuable contributions from Jimmie Ward, Dontae Johnson, and Ambry Thomas, who all spent the week on the NFL’s reserve/COVID list and were unable to practice all week.
Johnson not only logged the second most tackles on the team (nine) - eight solo and one assist -- but he also played multiple positions throughout the game due to injuries. The cornerback filled in at the nickel position for K’Waun Williams, who did not feel ready after missing all week on the Reserve/COVID list and then at safety after Talanoa Hufanga (knee) and Jaquiski Tartt (groin) left the game due to injury.
Thomas’ walk off interception that locked the 49ers into the NFC playoffs was his biggest play of his first season.
Shanahan understands how much work each player puts in allowing them to play at full speed right at Sunday’s kickoff.
“They've been on a mission to try to get back, whether for one game, two games, it didn't matter,” Shanahan said. “And for us to win that game versus Houston was huge because it gave those guys an opportunity that they were waiting for. And those guys came in and they played as hungry as it seemed like they were to get out there and it’s been real tough to win without them.”